Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pilot Reviews: Dads & Brooklyn Nine-Nine



Fox kicks off its Tuesday night comedy block this fall with two new shows: Dads, executive produced by network wunderkind Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, American Dad!, The Cleveland Show) in his first live-action series commitment, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine from the Parks and Recreation team of Dan Goor and Michael Schur. Tonally and quality-wise, these two shows could not be further apart. The former is a low-brow multi-cam without an ounce of heart, and the latter is a quirky single-cam with a boatload of charm.

Dads (Tuesdays at 8:00 on Fox)

Eli (Seth Green) and Warner (Giovanni Ribisi) run a successful video game company, but their home lives are a mess thanks to their meddling, lazy fathers (Martin Mull as Green's dad, Peter Riegert as Ribisi's). It's a classic sitcom trope at work: two generations of a family living together and finding the other totally incorrigible. And the show is about as interesting and fresh as this concept would suggest.

One might think that some often-hilarious writers of Family Guy and last summer's surprise box office smash Ted would be able to come up with something a little more... well, good. Ted didn't exactly light the world on fire with creativity, but it was consistently and crudely hilarious. But where the film could succeed because of a hard "R" rating, Dads cannot. So when Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, who created this series alongside Seth MacFarlane, go for "edgy" and "crude" humor in Dads, it comes across as merely offensive and second-rate. Jokes about a Latina woman being a maid, Eli and Warner's Asian assistant dressing up like a Harijuku school girl, all seem dated and like they're trying to hard to push buttons. Much of (all?) the humor here is based in racism, misogyny, and homophobia. There's nothing clever about making easy jokes like that. Not even the talented cast can rise above the material; all four male leads are delivering  obnoxious, cloying, loud performances. It's like no one reminded Green that there's a difference in how one acts in front of a camera rather than in a recording booth. The only leading player who comes across at all well is Mull, who can mostly be forgiven because he has the only semi-humorous character (the harebrained, clueless louse) in the series. But even the few moments of entertainment he provides doesn't lift this clunker out of the depths of mediocrity and boredom.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Tuesdays at 8:30 on Fox)

Then there's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a strange hybrid of police procedural and awkward-moment single-cam goofiness. Andy Samberg plays Jake Peralta, a zany NYPD detective with Peter Pan Syndrome. His strange tactics have made him the best detective in the 99th precinct, but when a new captain takes over (Andre Braugher, in his most entertaining role to date), he is forced to grow up and respect his job.

I've never been a fan of Samberg, but I'm starting to change my tune with his performance here. I still don't find his sense of humor all that funny, and his delivery is too broad for my taste, but there's no denying the level of charm and enjoyability he brings to Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Peralta is the perfect role for him post-SNL, affording him the opportunity to play up his immature sense of humor without sinking the whole thing into schlocky territory. That's because his supporting cast is brilliantly realized, most notably by Braugher. It's been too long since Braugher got to be truly funny as the foil to Samberg's unorthodox leading man. There is a late-in-the-pilot reveal about his character that got a true belly laugh out of me, and I look forward to seeing how his character will develop as a result. Former NFL player Terry Crews also gets to play against type as a scaredy-cat cop, and he does it wonderfully. On the female side, Melissa Fumero (One Life to Live) plays the Beckett to Samberg's Castle. The rest of the cast is equally as good, and together they create an undeniable electric chemistry.

The show itself succeeds on the strength of its concept as a parody of cop shows. Morning parade and debriefing, the scene we see in nearly episode of every procedural, is turned on its head when Peralta transforms it into a betting pool full of ridiculous one-liners, for one example. Goor and Schur wrote an original and totally refreshing script that is brought to life by the over-the-top direction of Phil Lord & Chris Miller, who used a similarly exaggerated style in their update of 21 Jump Street last year. All the pieces just fit right with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which currently stands as one of, if not the, best new comedies of the season.

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