Sometimes, you just amass talent.
Let me be clear: I’m a Mike Schur fan…sort of. Not an Office guy, definitely a Parks and Rec guy. Down with the SNL sensibility. Overwhelming cynicism makes me chuckle but I rarely laugh so heartily as when I care, and the disarming and frenetic positivity of Leslie Knope/Amy Poehler/Pawnee makes its humor irrepressible. At heart, I want to laugh at people who make me feel like I’m home with my little brother and his wacky friends, not looking down my nose at those idiots over there. That scene in that one of the last few Parks before NBC my$teriou$ly waylaid its best show, where Leslie leads Ron Swanson on a scavenger hunt for a Europe singularly Swansonian, and he is moved to tears… that is why I cannot help but chortle like Nick Offerman at the show’s deft and self-deprecating goofs, no matter how silly or subtle. What makes me laugh the most satisfyingly is the bared earnestness of honest humans. I think the Office characters were too often shaded with their own wryness to let that dimension soak.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine, despite being on Fox, has been the one new show this year I’ve watched. Like virtually all sitcoms, it took a while to strut in its shoes, and now I think it does. The talent is what got me here: Joe Lo Truglio seems like he hasn’t aged a day since The State, Andre Braugher’s second life parodying his first has worked for me since Men of a Certain Age, Andy Samberg has stuck the landing (in my opinion) that folks doubted he could from the schtickiness of SNL and Lonely Island, and Terry Crews and Chelsea Peretti are veering toward the right balance of flexing their bombast while finding their place in the ensemble. I’m still watching because I’m rooting for the stoichiometry to work out between these divergent talents.
And there is a certain something in Lo Truglio’s doe-eyed dorkiness, Samberg’s bluff and bluster, and Braugher’s multidimensional gruffness that are working for me. But its big flaw in my view is that it hasn’t done for policing what Parks does for government: satirically expose its darkness and inject it with such earnestness in its human beings (even the insufferable Jeremy Jamm character is at least earnestly reprehensible) that you can laugh at someone without feeling any betrayal of your respect for their worth as humans. Like all great humor, what would make you otherwise seethe becomes instead the object of laughter, and–this is key for me–not derision nor mockery, but cartoonish and carnivalesque revelry. Then, I chortle.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has gotten some of the way there with its characters, but not with its subject matter. I’ll see how it goes this season. Bunk and McNulty comically recovering the trajectory of bullets in a murder scene does not detract from The Wire’s unerringly serious treatment of homicide, but suffuses it with humanity. For me, if by the end of season one of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I continue to have less respect for the people on both sides of those one-way glass windows than before watching, then I’m out.