There is a price to be paid when you're an actor whose public identity was forged singing about gift-wrapped genitalia: Nobody's going to buy the idea of you playing a cop. The only weapon I can picture Andy Samberg holding is a cat that barfs laser beams. Fortunately, you don't have to take the former SNL star too seriously to roll with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a sitcom from the producers of Parks and Recreation that smartly pokes at police-show tropes and creates a promising comedy playground where the Motherlovin' jester can cut loose.
With its very first scene, Nine-Nine's pilot articulates its refreshing points of difference. Samberg's cocky ace detective Jake Peralta introduces himself by addressing the camera, making like a plays-by-his-own-rules paladin. But Jake, an inveterate imp, is just goofing with a camcorder, trying to coax a giggle out of his straight-arrow partner (Melissa Fumero), and we realize that the comedy is neither a pure spoof of crime-time fare (à la Reno 911!) nor a mockumentary-style sitcom. Samberg glides through the pilot with his irrepressible What, me worry? air, but never lapses into muggery. Jake is surrounded by far more idiosyncratic characters, who imbue Samberg's flippant po-po with credibility. Standouts include Chelsea Peretti as an office administrator who is snark incarnate, and Joe Lo Truglio as a blunder-prone detective smitten with an admirably demanding colleague (Stephanie Beatriz).
Despite being a star vehicle for Samberg, Nine-Nine is truly an ensemble, and the pilot tells a story that skewers a cultural archetype popularized by two gone-solo SNLers the glib, iconoclastic, all-about-me hero (Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop and Chevy Chase in Fletch). Andre Braugher slyly playing to and against his cool, imposing Homicide persona is the enemy-of-fun boss with whom Jake must clash. Yet Captain Holt represents a provocative twist on the cliché ballbuster: He's a gay man who has battled decades of institutional bigotry to gain command. Suddenly, Jake has to worry that his casual impudence and self-centeredness disrespect and subvert the authority of an estimable man. It's a good problem for Jake to have and Holt enjoys letting him have it. An irreverent comedy about the limits of irreverence? Now, there's an arresting premise for a next-generation hot fuzz. B+