My ideal sitcom crossover daydream goes something like this: As part of a health-club sting operation, detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) from Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine goes undercover to arrest Ilana (Ilana Glazer) and Abbi (Abbi Jacobson), the lovable BFF's from Comedy Central's Broad City, for stealing towels and lotion from the spa where Abbi works. Once Peralta hauls the girls down to the station for questioning, an ad-libbed, winner-take-all tickle fight for the future of network TV comedy breaks out. Will Brooklyn Nine-Nine's genial, generous absurdism save the day, or will Broad City's earthy, lewd local color prevail? Or will they combine to create a consistently hilarious best-of-both-worlds hybrid that will alter the course of not just pop-culture history but history itself?
Then I snap out of it and sigh. At least I can praise these two new shows for getting so good at what they're doing so quickly.
This year's Golden Globe winner for Best Comedy Series, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, is, and will probably always be, the bigger hit. But Samberg, who also won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy Series, is hardly its unquestioned star. Like the other members of Brooklyn Nine-Nine's gifted, multicultural ensemble, Samberg's part of a team, and when he's not in the spotlight he occupies himself by quietly poking fun at numerous cop-show conventions. (In the pilot, he greeted his new boss thusly: "Hi, Captain! Welcome to the murder.") Eighteen episodes in, the series is still finding new character combinations involving Samberg's detective Peralta, his uptight partner Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), strong, silent enforcer Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), hotheaded family man Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews), and ambitious detective Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero).
Although I enjoy Samberg's smiling, painful acceptance of every obstacle and humiliation thrown his way, he's probably the third-strongest cast member. The Brooklyn Nine-Nine season-one co-MVPs are Andre Braugher, who plays precinct Captain Ray Holt, and Chelsea Peretti, who plays Holt's assistant, Gina.
Casting the serious-minded Braugher as Holt may have seemed like an unconventional move at first, but it is starting to pay off big time. Because the suave, efficacious, whip-smart leader infuses every word with dramatic significance, stock phrases like "multiple homicides" and "excellent work, detectives" are uttered with the same gravitas as nicknames like "Terry Titties" and "Meep-Morp." If you listen to him long enough, everything Captain Holt says starts to sound like a potential punch line, especially whenever he starts using any overly... long ... dramatic ... pauses.
Peretti's nasally, just-woke-up half-whine also adds extra comic beats and bounces to her dialogue. Too often, Gina lurks in the background as the civilian administrator and resident weirdo; she calls herself "The Paris of people" and claims she has eight underwear drawers, "because I'm civilized." However, episodes in which she plays a key part, like "The Slump" and "48 Hours," are among the series' best to date. And luckily, Gina's street smarts are given the same weight and importance as her quirks; after all, she was the first person in the precinct who (correctly) picked up on Captain Holt's "gay vibe."
Parks and Recreation co-creator Michael Schur and colleague Daniel J. Goor are the two creators of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and their new show shares their alma mater's uncommonly deep respect for its characters' eccentricities. They've also made a few structural changes to the single-camera sitcom format. The fake-documentary interview segments and hidden-camera reaction-shots have been replaced with Arrested Development-style flashbacks that serve as jokey background info or necessary backstories whenever the show slips into police-procedural parody mode.
Interestingly, Parks and Rec star Amy Poehler is one of Broad City's executive producers. But Glazer and Jacobson's comic sensibility isn't as warm and fuzzy. Broad City is a dirtier, more risqué sitcom, with plenty of frank sex talk, guilt-free drug use, and general wrong-side-of-the-tracks tomfoolery. Yet even though it's only five episodes into its run, Broad City feels like a more confident and fully formed show that's just hitting its stride.
That could be because Glazer and Jacobson already figured out the dynamics of their relationship by writing and starring in dozens of YouTube shorts (try "Work" and "Date Night," then go exploring). As a result, it's hard to imagine two TV characters who enjoy each other's company more. Ilana is a loud, gross, liberal-arts college graduate (or dropout); Abbi is her cautious, less confident best friend. Ilana is the physical and confrontational one who swipes many of the show's best lines; after last week's episode, "The Lockout," I'll never hear the words "sandwich shop" the same way again. And Abbi, who's always muttering to herself as part of her ongoing struggle with the world, turns out to be a talented physical comedienne; her outdoor parkour session with a clueless trainer was another "Lockout" highlight.
Their codependent relationship is like an East Coast version of the strange platonic friendship between Portlandia's Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen. But Broad City's will-they-or-won't-they scenario is actually one of its better running jokes: Ilana's veiled desire to sleep with Abbi feels like a sly dig at the limits of liberal-arts college tolerance.
As critics and subcultural tour guides, Glazer and Jacobson's experiences as two broke girls in the city is far less cartoonish than Two Broke Girls and far less frightening than Girls. Their abiding interest in New York City's ever-roiling waves of oddball humanity, which wash up everything from lecherous locksmiths to spectral shipping employees to ne'er-do-well roommates' boyfriends, give their mundane adventures in the concrete jungle specificity and uplift. Plus, as Ilana's laconic boyfriend Lincoln, comedian Hannibal Buress is an ideal third wheel. Buress is like a grown-up Oliver Wendell Jones who gave up computer programming once he found out about online porn.
Jacobson's and Glazer's girly version of Workaholics (which airs right before it) may not be for everyone. But they are the precocious comic daughters of Poehler, Tina Fey, and Nora Ephron. They're smart, funny, sexy, and irresponsible, and I love them a lot.
Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m., FOX
Wednesdays, 9:30 p.m., Comedy Central