A pool of dried blood sits on a marble floor that is tagged with evidence flags. Detectives mill about the kitchen, fastidiously attempting to reenact the murder. Warning: This is not their crime scene. Annnnnnd they might be a little buzzed.
Here on the L.A. set of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and his fellow officers are trying to crack a case in which a wife is believed to have corkscrewed her cheating husband to death. Commiserating over a few off-duty cocktails after this case was taken away from them, these detectives had the bright idea of breaking back into the crime scene, and now they are acting out scenarios in hopes of locating the missing murder weapon. Samberg raises his voice an octave and plays the wife, while another detective, Charles (Joe Lo Truglio), gets the husband so wrong he’s demoted to impersonating a door. More role-swapping ensues, which begets an idiotic theory (”The corkscrew is still in the body!”) before levelheaded Amy (Melissa Fumero) offers up an intriguing hypothesis that sends them running out of the apartment toward justice.
This may sound like a rather intense, high-stakes plot for a Fox comedy sandwiched between Dads and New Girl, but as Lo Truglio explains, ”The crimes are there to create stakes so that you care that the characters solve them and don’t get chewed out by the commissioner.”
”Would you say the crimes create more steaks than your local butcher?” Samberg asks him.
”I wouldn’t,” deadpans Lo Truglio. ”And I’d be wrong.”
From the producers of small-town-government comedy Parks and Recreation comes big-city-cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which stars Samberg as a self-assured detective who excels equally at solving crimes and goofing off, much to the consternation of his new no-nonsense captain, Ray Holt, played by two-time Emmy winner Andre Braugher. (We know what you’re thinking: Finally Samberg and Braugher team up!) Nine-Nine looks to generate laughs not as a parody like Reno 911! but as a grounded workplace comedy that happens to feature chases, shoot-outs, and interrogations. If you want a point of comparison, you’ll have to go all the way back to the hit ’70s comedy Barney Miller. ”The fact that that’s still the touchstone for network comedies about cops is crazy, because it was so long ago,” marvels Michael Schur, who reteamed with his Parks colleague Dan Goor to create Nine-Nine. ”It’s hard to find any non-trodden ground in network-TV land, but this seems a little bit unexplored.”
While the dearth of police comedies flashed opportunity, so did the surfeit of police dramas. ”There are so many tropes that people are familiar with that you can just tweak a little to make them comedic, like interrogating a perp in an interview room,” notes Goor. ”In addition to talking about the crime, they get into a fight about what is the best cheese from France.”
The search for cops who could sweat a suspect and tell a Roquefort from a Reblochon led producers to Samberg, who’d just exited Saturday Night Live and shot a six-episode BBC comedy, Cuckoo. Says Schur: ”We pitched the show to him, and as we were explaining the character in this verbose, florid way, he said, ‘Oh, it’s comedy McNulty,”’ a reference to Dominic West’s talented, insubordinate detective on The Wire. ”We were like, ‘Yes…that’s the two-word version of our rambling description.”’ Here is Samberg’s recollection: ”They said, ‘We want you to be the lead detective. He’s a hotshot, but he’s kind of immature and sweaty.’ I was like, ‘I’m listening…”’ Samberg also listened to his ”role model” Amy Poehler, another SNL vet, who successfully partnered with Schur on Parks and as a producer had a hand in shaping her character. Offered a similar setup, Samberg signed on.
For Samberg’s onscreen boss, producers set their sights on Braugher, who knew a thing or 10 about playing a cop, having starred as Det. Frank Pembleton on the acclaimed NBC drama Homicide. ”We did a , and we didn’t know if he was funny,” says Goor. ”We knew he was a great actor, and within the first two minutes he had us laughing. And in minute 3, he just smiled a gazillion-watt smile, and it was like the front glass on our computer shattered…. It was like, ‘Okay, this is the character.”’ Braugher, whose comedy experience includes the TNT dramedy Men of a Certain Age, was flattered by the interest. ”Very rarely do successful comic showrunners say, ‘Get me Braugher!”’ he says. ”So if these guys feel I have the temperament, the warmth, and the comic timing to be a part of this, I want to take my shot.”
Spoiler alert: Our straight man comes with a bit of a twist — he’s not straight. The idea to make Braugher’s character gay originated when producers were searching to establish a reason that the new captain was only now getting his first command. ”My most important question was: Is this the defining aspect of him, or is this one aspect?” says the actor. ”And if we work with it, are we going to treat it respectfully? They answered correctly. I want Holt’s sexuality to be as extraordinary and as commonplace as it is for everyone.”
At the show’s heart is Holt and Jake’s frustrated-master/annoying-apprentice dynamic; in the first episode Jake takes Holt’s advice to wear a tie, only to accessorize it with merely a Speedo below the belt. (”Instead of getting more and more naked, I have to put on more and more layers every week,” jokes Samberg. ”The series finale would be me in an Eskimo outfit.”) Sums up Schur: ”Jake is the guy who says, ‘I didn’t even study for that test and I got a B’; Holt comes along and says, ‘You should study and get an A.”’
One person who wants that A from Holt is Amy, who has a button-pushing rivalry — and a hint of romantic tension — with Jake. ”We definitely have fun with that,” says Fumero, ”especially when we’re ad-libbing.” Lo Truglio’s divorced Charles isn’t shy about his work crush, a tough detective named Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz) whose hobbies include scowling and silence. ”She’s free to speak her mind when she needs to,” notes Beatriz, ”which isn’t very often.” Adding to the precinct’s dysfunction is Terry (Terry Crews), a first-through-the-door detective who lost his edge after having daughters, prompting a desk-duty reassignment. ”He’s still a badass,” warns Crews. ”When he thinks about his kids, it’s his kryptonite and he instantly can’t work.” And then there’s s#!$-stirring civilian administrator Gina (Chelsea Peretti). ”She doesn’t care about the cases that they’re working on, and she’s very into her own world,” says Peretti. ”She’s this little weirdo in the corner.”
Funny she should use that word, because that’s why the producers set the show in the Big Apple. ”In terms of a place where weirdos live, New York wins every time,” says Schur. ”A feature of the show will be door duty, knocking on doors. It’s like Laugh-In — whatever door you open, there’s someone interesting standing there.” (In the pilot, it’s Fred Armisen.) Episodes will deliver high jinks and lowlifes: Holt sequesters the detectives until they find evidence to arraign a jewelry-thief suspect Jake arrested on a hunch; Jake sets out to steal something from Holt’s office after Holt insists there’s no such thing as a perfect crime; and Jake has a fling with an oddly sexy medical examiner that may derail a murder investigation.
Samberg has other ideas percolating, too. ”I want to do something where I’m shooting a gun sliding across the floor or jumping sideways,” he muses. ”If I could be pumping a shotgun like Sarah Connor at the end of Terminator 2 and blasting something, I don’t think there’s a dream I’d rather have on screen more.” And it’s slightly more hardcore than an Eskimo outfit.