[Image courtesy of FOX]
by Trevor Johnson
Thus far, we’ve had five episodes of the latest Michael Schur-Dan Goor TV series Brooklyn Nine-Nine. While each one has proved better than the last, there are still plenty of questions to be answered as things progress. As with baseball, TV shows are all about their sample size. Characters and general themes take seasons, literally, to develop into the kind of stories that keep us DVRing each week. With that in mind, what better way to break down the first five episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine than in the form of a prospect scouting report? As you would find on BaseballProspectus.com, or in the hands of most (if not all) scouts, this report is written using the 2 to 8 scale. Think of it this way: 2 is awful — still better than me, but you will be fizzling out well before you reach Double A ball. 4 is replacement level, essentially a Triple A player that is stashed in the event of catastrophic injury, poor record or being the Houston Astros. Role 5 is a quality, everyday Major League player. The sum of their abilities provides nothing spectacular, but rather someone you can pencil into a lineup each day. Think Daniel Nava, or 85% of the collective rosters of the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays. Finally, 6 is above average, 7 is a multiple All Star and 8 is a perennial Hall of Famer and one of the finest players in the game (equivalent to 100 Trouts or simply being Mike Trout). With all of that firmly planted into your mind, good luck translating it to a sitcom! Aaaaaand here we go!
WHAT IS WORKING
ANDRE BRAUGHER/CAPTAIN RAY HOLT – Seriously, when hasn’t he been great? His new role as Captain Ray Holt is a perfect set up for an actor that is more than suited to thrive while also helping prop up the newcomers around him, of which there are many. The Captain is spilling over with potential and a 6 backstory. This could potentially reach a 7 grade, but seeing as we’re dealing with a comedy some angles could be shunted in ways they wouldn’t be for a black, gay, thirty-year veteran in a drama. Braugher has, however, earned a very solid 7 for his (comedic) straight-man tool. Aside from being the logical center and moral compass for the show, he has shown a consistent ability to accentuate Det. Peralta’s idiocy. His ceiling is to be this show’s Ran Swanson. While it’s a fair comp in terms of role, there just isn’t enough personality there for him to develop into a true, overall 8 the way Swanson has. Capt. Holt’s best moments so far have come as others play off him in anxious fear. The show could also find a heart in his relationship with do-gooder Det. Santiago.
Tools: Back Story – 6
Creates awkward moments – 7
Prowess and Authority – 6
Stand Alone Humor – 4.5
Projection: A solid player for any lineup, this character projects to settle in around a 6.5 and could be elevated to a 7 if the performances around him improve. Will consistently be a very strong, if not the strongest, actor in the a cast but can only go so far alone as a character.
CHELSEA PERETTI/GINA LINETTI – A fringy prospect whose projections will be all over the place depending on what the evaluator fancies in a cast member. Appears headed towards a role as a strong, dependable platoon player, ready to contribute and hold up the quality of a good scene. Her interpretive dance in front of a group of at-risk teens remains one of the funniest moments of the first three episodes, even if was disconnected from the plot and seemed a bit like the best option left on the writers table as time ran out. She seems to be playing the “Donna” role (Parks and Recreation), except with far more usage to this point. This is exacerbated by her hitting on Terry Crewes’ Sgt. Jeffords. The writers waited four full episodes to put this joke to use. Now, it would be in poor taste not to use it frequently. We’ve seen Donna use the same joke on Tom Haverford and Chris Trager and it always delivers. Peretti’s delivery only enhances lines like “Uh oh, he probably wants to talk to you about your shirts not being tight enough.” She also mixes in a 5.5 for weirdness, dawning similarities to April Ludgate and even Creed Bratton. Her role as a non-cop should also be considered a beneficial, league-average tool, providing perspective and variety to a cast whose actions could eventually lack variety. At her best, she is the center of multiple quality B-plots, much like she was at the shooting range in episode five. Peretti’s floor is a tertiary member that can nail a joke at a larger player’s expense or provide a weird anecdote that will provide humor while diverting from the issue at hand. One of the things Schur has proven handy with is a deep bench. He’s a Moneyball showrunner.
Tools: Weirdness – 5.5
Back Story – 4
Sass – 5
Change of Pace – 5
Projection: A league average or platoon character than can deliver the big joke on occasions and does her best not to drag down the team’s overall production. Reliably funny, she will benefit from truncated usage.
JOE LO TRUGLIO/DETECTIVE CHARLES BOYLE – There’s so much to love about Jo Lo Truglio that you just want to see him succeed at the highest level. Up until now he has been a classic AAAA player, someone with all the tools to dominate in theatre and improv circles but has rarely seen more than bits and pieces on the big screen. His Steve Boyle can really rock a short-sleeved oxford shirt, which in the Schur/Goor world means we’re dealing with a total boob that is all parts gullible, likable and complimentary. He’s a Screech Powers; a dorky friend that idolizes the dick main character and is constantly being embarrassed and taken for granted (stuck in a trash shoot, anyone?). Lo Truglio has the chops and raw comedic ability to be one of the strongest members of this ensemble. He will consistently talk himself into poor situations and will always seem hopeless in his pursuit of Det. Rosa Diaz. The more he is cut loose, the better this show will be. Lo Truglio just needs the right opportunity. Let’s hope this is it.
Tools: Loveable – 6
Sidekick – 6
Meek – 6
Boob – 6
Projection: A consistent and highly valuable member of the ensemble. Capable of turning in a few All Star performances, he will rarely disappoint. Ready for the opportunity, he is brimming with intangibles and WANT.
WHAT ISN’T WORKING
ANDY SAMBERG/DET. JAKE PERALTA – Let’s get one thing straight before this goes any further: you are reading the blog of two of the biggest Saturday Night Live fans left under the age of 40. I wish nearly every former cast member all the success in the world because it is certain that at one point or another they made me laugh uncontrollably (there are some that always sucked, and as far as they go, who gives a shit?). But so far, Samberg has shown very little during his early days in The Show. Now, these things take time. Perhaps in light of their previous track record, Schur and Goor have decided to bring Samberg’s Det. Peralta along slower than usual which could in the end enhance the experience and keep later plot lines more fresh if they’re developing over three episodes towards the end of Season one, rather than six or nine. Up until this point however, Peralta has been little more than a dick pulling around a 3 for clubhouse guy. It took the intrusion of an asshole from a special unit (“The Vulture”, played well by Dean Winters aka Mayhem or The Beeper Guy) to force Peralta into teaming up with his willing peers. Moreover, Samberg is pulling a 4 for screen presence. The question remains, can he carry a successful show? We all watched him grow from skit extra and Digital Short hero to cast average contributor on SNL. He is going to have to undergo a similar improvement here. Now, I would never count out this show’s team and their ability to transform comedians with far less screen experience into league average stars. We have seen flashes of improvement in episodes four and five as Peralta stopped taking his coworkers completely for granted and started relying on them as valuable resources. That device, the camaraderie and cooperation will be this show’s best tool, should it develop properly.
Tools: Locker room Guy – 4
Screen Presence – 4
Balls (both in Speedo and hubris) – 5
Room for growth (both in Speedo and potential) – 6
Projection: He’s the star of the show, the 1.1 pick, the cornerstone. Things have to improve. He can’t stay this much of a dick, but I also don’t think the show works if he isn’t at least a bit of a dick. Will he end up the type of actor that can carry a sitcom? Well, if chubby Jim Halpert can do it…
TERRY CREWES/SGT. TERRY JEFFORDS – I need more. Much more. Sure, his character has provided some comedy and he earns a 5 in “being a total wuss.” But seriously, I bought a certain body wash because a small part of me was scared Crewes would find me and hurt me if I didn’t. I cheer extra loud when he comes on the Jumbotron at Dodger Stadium and tells me to AND I’M NOT EVEN A DODGER FAN. This has been a clever device for the writing team but I just don’t want it to drag on. Seeing him shoot a gun in Episode 5 was promising (I do not advocate gun ownership or use). Seeing him build a castle for his daughters: also cute and endearing. But at some point, I need this man to be the bad ass that he is. Seriously, he is a 9 in scary badass tool (I just did some research and a 9 level in anything is literally impossible. I guess he’s an 8 but if you read this, Terry, it wasn’t me, it was stuffy old men that Billy Beane also thinks don’t know shit. You’re welcome, Billy *wink*). It has been smart to temper that scary badass-ness to begin the show, but at some point, I’m going to need him to rip a guy’s head off and suck the brains out the neck, as you would a high quality prawn (also something at which I’m sure Terry is also a 9 8 tool). Please, tell me this is in the cards?
Tools: Badassery – 8 (but really 9)
Savoring Brains – 8 (ditto)
Selling Body Wash – 7
Hurting People on This Show – 3
Building Fairy Castles – also 3. Please don’t hurt me, Mr. Crewes.
Projection: I’m fine with him being a slow burn. While I assume he will stay in the office for a large part of Season 1, he will have his moment as a skull crusher. The opportunity to have him break out of frightened character has already proven too perfect to sustain for twenty-plus episodes. I look forward to his conquest of humanity.
WHAT IS TOO EARLY TO CALL
STEPHANIE BEATRIZ/DET. ROSA DIAZ – Too early to predict much beyond Straight Face tool (7) and Sassy tool (6). For someone with one joke thus far, she has been very involved in each episode. Beyond that, I’m not really sure what she does well. More time spent on camera with Lo Truglio’s character will only elevate her game. She will never be an All Star player but has potential to be slightly more than a cast-average contributor. I’d buy her shersey.
MELISA FUMERO/DET. AMY SANTIAGO – Let’s be honest, she’s adorable. However, like many of the characters before us, her best moments were nonexistent prior to Episodes 4 and 5. Her desire to not only impress the Captain but also improve his day came through as an endearing and understandable device for the overachieving ball of nerves. There are moments of quality, very muted, flirting between she and Peralta in Episode 5 as well (on the bus and when she only wants to role-play if she can stab him to death). She seems to be an early Pam Beasley/mid-run Ann Perkins hybrid. Just how deep into plots Santiago gets will be an interesting trend to follow. She could also play and integral part in Peralta becoming less of a dick and more a part of the cast. If a romance between the two (one that seems to be another slow burn, judging by where we are currently) can improve cast chemistry and cohesiveness, we should all be on board. She has plenty of female lead potential, a difficult task while sporting an ugly pants suit.
This formula has worked twice before. Granted, The Office had Steve Carell to entertain while the cast around him improved and Parks and Recreation took a season and a half to really get rolling. That being said, we have to trust the people in charge here to have ironed out the kinks in their blueprint. Look for Brooklyn Nine-Nine to be far more of an Office progression, one where the cast grows around a stable, established (yet nowhere near as amazing as Carell) star in Braugher, rather than Parks where most, if not all, the cast showed up with either prior cache or an ironed out, provocative character. This is a cop show. There’s a reason Law & Order has existed for, what, my entire lifetime? (Dick Wolf nods while drinking Ace of Spades atop a pile of gold coins, fake badges and swimsuit models). The cases should come easy. It’s the relationships within the Nine-Nine that will take time. The show has a solid 6 potential; I wouldn’t shop it anytime soon.