Several years ago, every Thursday evening I would get together with my friends to watch the renaissance of NBC's "must see TV": "The Office," "Parks and Rec," "Community" and "30 Rock."
It was a veritable Golden Age of life and laughter.
But the current state of television, while full of ambitious dramas, has no such slate of comedies. What we have now are bland, laugh track-driven shows, like CBS's "The Big Bang Theory," or shows so afraid of online political backlash that they aren't really comedies, like Netflix's "Master of None."
The one exception that I've found to this, the one comedy that can save me from the humorlessness of our modern world, is "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" — Fox's ensemble police comedy that returned to the airwaves last week. While it never quite hits the heights of "must see TV," "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" does enough to send laughless nights back to jail where they belong.
The show's greatest strength is its solid bench of characters, led by Andy Samberg as the show's talented-but-immature lead detective. Samberg has overcome his obnoxious "Saturday Night Live"-style of comedy to become both funny and endearing. Samberg's Jake Peralta became a cop because of a childish obsession with action movies (notably "Die Hard"). In one Christmas episode, his dream becomes reality when he finds himself trapped in a bona fide hostage situation (season three's "Yippie Kayak").
Granted, it's a department store in suburban New York rather than an office high-rise in LA, but still — pretty good for a weekly network sitcom.
Co-starring is Andre Braugher as the precinct's no-nonsense captain. Braugher leans on his previous detective acting experience from his years on the police drama "Homicide: Life on the Street" to play a seriously funny police captain on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." With a talent for making the deadpan delivery of otherwise mundane dialogue somehow hilarious, he's earned three Emmy nominations for his Capt. Ray Holt.
While these two are clearly the principal focus of the series, the remaining five series regulars (Joe Lo Truglio, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Melissa Fumero and Chelsea Peretti) are no less serviceable and earn their share of laughs.
Beyond that though, the key to the show's success and near-limitless re-watchability is the way the lineup is mixed every week. Each episode features three storylines, with the seven main characters matched up differently, so there are an exponential number of combinations. This gives every episode the feeling of being the same, but different. ("Community" did this too, at least in its early years.)
The show features a lot of supporting talent from "The Office," "30 Rock" and "Parks and Rec" in front of the camera, so you'll recognize a lot of faces (even if you can't necessarily remember the actor's names).
In terms of tone, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" owes most to "Parks and Rec," using the same gimmick of stocking the show with colorful characters — although instead of the colorful townsfolk of Pawnee, Indiana, "Nine-Nine" has colorful cops and robbers passing through the precinct. The through-line for this inspiration may be Peretti, who was herself a writer for "Parks and Rec."
Given that it's a show about cops, the "Nine-Nine" features more of its share of action — such as Peretti's character creating a homemade fireball or a shoot-out in a tactical village exercise —which opens the door for a lot of physical comedy as well, like when comically oversized, former NFL player Crews destroys a building's foundation by closing a door too hard or crushes a Magic 8 Ball with his bare hands.
Very much like modern dramas, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" does feature ongoing storylines, but never to the point of distraction or, as is often the case with comedy, at the expense of the laughter.
Season four ended with a cliffhanger where two of the detectives had been found guilty of a crime they hadn't committed. Will they be exonerated and get revenge on the crooked cop who framed them? Probably. Will it be funny? We can but hope.
Because the longer a show stays on the air, the greater chance it will become long in the tooth. But "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" has such a good formula, I'm confident the show will stay funny.
But if "Nine-Nine" stops delivering the laughs, we've got nothing left.