Andre Braugher and Andy Samberg are two actors whose paths seemed unlikely to cross. Braugher is one of America’s finest dramatic actors, with credits including the iconic role of Frank Pembleton on “Homicide”, “Men of a Certain Age” and last season’s “Last Resort.” Samberg is perhaps best known for his Emmy-winning “Saturday Night Live” sketch “D*ck in a Box.” Yet they are this season’s funniest sparring partners on FOX’s new comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” The show was among the most enthusiastically received at this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is about a NYPD precinct filled with quirky characters. Samberg plays irreverent-but-talented detective Jake Peralta, whom Samberg describes as a comedic version of McNulty on “The Wire.” “Instead of drinking and gambling, he was doing gags.” Braugher is the by-the-book new police captain Ray Holt, who is frustrated by Peralta’s lack of respect for his authority.
The two performers are as different as the characters they play. Said Braugher, “We have really, really different approaches to scenes. I treat the script very seriously. I don’t change the script unless something’s broken. But these guys, they come from a tradition where they change the script because we’re going to do it a million different ways. And that’s kind of a switch-up for me. I’ve spent my life fixing scripts and trying to tell the playwright’s story, and they’re ready to change that at a moment’s notice.”
Braugher got to showcase his acting skills in the pilot’s most unexpected scene, in which Holt reveals that his insistence in following the rules comes from the struggles he has endured as a gay police officer. Braugher embraced playing a gay character. “I’m looking forward to it. My main concern was to make sure it was not a stereotype. I had a long conversation with [showrunner] Dan [Goor] in which he reassured me that this would not be a character that would embarrass me or anyone that I love. So I think we’re going to have something that will be full and rich.”
Goor wants to play the married Holt’s relationship “in the same way that we would play a heterosexual relationship between the captain and a wife. On “Barney Miller,” occasionally you’d see the wife and occasionally you wouldn’t. But I think that definitely would be a fun thing to explore…. In talking to cops, we talked a lot about how the job impacts relationships.”
Though they joke around on the job, the officers take their work seriously. “We wanted to make sure people understood these were highly skilled detectives,” said executive producer Michael Schur. ”I think it’s important for the show to work,” said Samberg, “because otherwise why do you care? If he’s actually good at it, then him being a jackass is kind of forgivable.”
The show is more in the reality-based vein of “Barney Miller” than the outrageous satire of “Police Squad.” “We didn’t want the show to be a case-of-the-week. There are a lot of aspects to police duty. You can be on parade duty and frustrated that you aren’t solving a crime. That being said, when we do do a crime, there will be some high-stakes murder-y crimes, and there will be more silly stories. This is an actual police show with funny characters and funny stories.”
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” may be the most diverse broadcast show not created by Shonda Rhimes (“Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy”). That’s deliberate. “The New York police force is roughly 50% Caucasian and roughly 50% non-Caucasian. We used that as our guidelines,” said Schur. There are two African-American actors (Braugher and Terry Crews) and two Latinas (Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz).
Schur revealed that they wrote the script without assigning ethnicities to any of the characters, then simply cast the best actor for each role. “It’s awesome,” said Beatriz. “It never happens that you look over and there’s another Latina actress on the same show as you, and we’re not doing accents and we’re not supposed to be ‘spicy’ … It reflects the United States.”
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” premieres Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 8:30/7:30c on FOX.