In "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," Andy Samberg plays Jake Peralta, a crack New York detective who ignores the rules and lands on the bad side of his new captain, Ray Holt (Chicago native Andre Braugher).
The new Fox series is one of only a few sitcoms in the past several years set in the world of the police force. That it recalls the 1970s sitcom "Barney Miller" isn't a mistake, according to Mike Schur, the show's co-creator and executive producer with Dan Goor. The two worked together on NBC's "Parks and Recreation."
"We pretty quickly realized that there hadn't been a half-hour cop comedy in a while," Schur said during a recent conference call with reporters. "In this day and age where there are 10 million shows about every genre, every setting, every location that is possibly imaginable by the human brain, that made it seem like kind of an exciting challenge. And we were both fans of 'Barney Miller.'"
Samberg, who left "Saturday Night Live" last year after several successful seasons on the late-night comedy show, chose a cop comedy as his first post-"SNL" project mostly for the wardrobe.
"I definitely was going to get to wear a cool leather jacket, which was appealing," he joked. "And honestly, I've always enjoyed cop comedies as well as cop dramas as well as cop films and TV. I like the procedural aspect of it, and I also really like the work place aspect of it. When it comes to work place comedies there is really no one else I would want to work with than these dudes."
"Brooklyn Nine-Nine" premieres at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17 on Fox. Goor and Schur talked more about creating "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," while Samberg munched on beef jerky.
Each week does Andre Braugher get to ask, "What's wrong with you?" or a variation of that to Andy Samberg's character?
Mike Schur: Yes. The answer is yes. Most of the episodes involve Andy's character, Jake Peralta, doing something which requires Andre Braugher's character to say some version of, "What the hell is wrong with you?" That's a pretty constant theme. For example, right now, during this conference call, Andy is eating a giant bag of beef jerky. I think if Captain Holt were here he would be staring blank-faced at Andy and saying, "What is wrong with you?"
Andy Samberg: "Peralta, that's way too much sodium for you." Not to mention…
How much can you change Andy's character without sort of upsetting the balance between the two characters?
MS: Well, it's a good question. It's one we talk a lot about in the writing room, and I think that the central tension of the show comes from the fact that Jake doesn't really want to be changed that much and Holt really wants to change him and they butt heads a lot. That will be the dynamic that's set up in the pilot. Holt is a guy who wants to make the best precinct in Brooklyn. Jake is his most talented detective but he also doesn't really do things the same way Holt does, and that is a source of constant irritation and annoyance. Because as long as Jake is closing cases, which he does because he is good, he has a leg to stand on in terms of the way he conducts himself. That dynamic is the central dynamic intention in the show.
Andy, how is working on "Nine-Nine" better and different than working on "SNL"?
MS: He can't answer you because his mouth is full of beef jerky. I'm not kidding.
AS: I wasn't expecting to be asked a question. It's better in that, for me any way, it's much less stressful because the hardest part of "SNL" for me was having to create something new every week. And with this I have basically just scripts handed to me every week that are already great and a bunch of jokes that are already written, which is the hardest part of comedy, in my opinion. So in that regard it's been a lot less stressful for me.
Certainly, the hardest part changing has been waking up early versus staying up incredibly late with "SNL," which is much more my element, but I'm adjusting nicely. And I say that with full confidence knowing you can't see the other two's eyes rolling as I say it.
Is there any advice that someone at "SNL" gave you that you're using now for your new character in "Nine-Nine."
AS: No, but I will say that I took a cue from Amy Poehler in terms of feeling confident about making this decision. Not just because she seg'd successfully out of the show into a show, but because she literally did it with the same guys.
MS: Was seg short for segue?
AS: Seg was a shortening of the word Segway, yeah. And by that I meant, she rode a Segway out of "30 Rock," all the way to Los Angeles and onto "Parks and Rec." Stay tuned for the documentary.
How has your perspective of being a cop changed from when you started the show?
Dan Goor: This is Dan speaking—depending on whether or not you like the answer to this, in which case if you don't, it's Mike. We have some great technical advisors. It's funny, when we're pitching stories and trying to come up with funny and interesting things for Jake and the other characters to go through, sometimes we'll pitch something really crazy or dangerous or outlandish and every single time the technical advisors are like, "Yeah, I've done that. I've done worse. I've seen worse. I've seen tougher." And I think, over the process we already had a tremendous amount of respect for police officers in general, but we've gained even more respect and are sort of of drop-jawed at the sort of things that these guys have been through.
How do you maintain the momentum of having such a good pilot when other shows, sometimes they start slow and they gradually build, but from my perspective you guys started really strong. How do you maintain that over the course of the show?
MS: Cocaine. We do a lot of cocaine.
AS: You've given voice to my every anxiety.
MS: Well, you trust in the cast and you trust in the directors and you trust in the writing staff. If you worry about things like are we maintaining our momentum, then you are kind of dead because the only thing that you can control as you go along in a TV show that requires possibly 22 or more episodes in a year is, is this one good? And as long as you can say, "Alright, this one's good, move onto the next one," that's enough of your time to be taken up. And if you start worrying about anything else, any peripheral issue or sort of metaphysical issue about momentum or the zeitgeist or the nature of the shifting sands of comedy in the universe or something, you're just going to spiral until you collapse into a puddle. So all we do is we focus on what's in front of us ...
AS: And, by the way, if we're lucky enough that everyone agrees with you and enjoys the pilot enough that we're worried about losing momentum from the pilot, we're in really great shape and we'll consider ourselves happy.
Andy, now that you've had some experience playing a police detective, if we were to drive you to a real cop shop or to a crime scene, gave you a prop gun and a badge, how long do you suppose you could fake it without being found out as a fraud?
AS: Well, it depends on if it's an area near any college kids because that's who recognizes me the most from "SNL." But assuming no one had ever seen me anywhere else, I would say maybe 30 seconds.
Not that I'm not taking it seriously, but I don't want to belittle how much training and how much work actual police officers put in to get to a point where they really know what they're doing. I can pretend like I know how to fly a plane, but we wouldn't be in the air very long. I know it looks like I don't know what it actually takes. Let's put it that way.
It's fun to see Andre being funny in a cop show. What do you, Andy, think of Andre as an actor and as a person and as a funny actor/person?
AS: As an actor, I am completely in awe of him. This is like a Juilliard-trained, Shakespeare in the Park heavy. He knows exactly how to play drama and has so much experience in that regard. So I'm learning from him every day watching how he approaches things and etc.
As a person, I think he's fantastic. He couldn't be warmer. It's been funny because I feel like so many people have this impression of him that he is very intimidating, but I haven't really seen any of that. He's been nothing but warm and collaborative and interested and interesting.
And comedically, he gets better everyday but he really started off great, in my opinion. Because of that gravitas that he has and that actual acting training and because that's so the opposite of where I come from and how I've gotten into comedy, I feel like our characters play perfectly into our experience leading up to this point. He's able to ground scenes and let me sort of act like a maniac all around him like a yipping little dog in a way that has, so far, been really funny. And I think there is no doubt about the fact that he understands comedy wholly and gets the timing of it. Every now and again he'll ask about the logic of a joke, and often times he's right to ask and we'll make an adjustment and it makes it funnier.
So yeah. I think that pretty much covers it. I am all in favor on all three fronts. I think he is awesome.
I'd like you to speak a moment about how you feel about your success starting from SNL, going into the movies, and now you're a lead character in a terrific sitcom. Tell me how that feels.
AS: It feels more and more impossible every time I do something new. When I was 8 years old, I decided I wanted to do "SNL" and that was pretty much all I thought about until I was actually on it. So everything from the point I got to audition, really, has been icing. I'm incredibly grateful for it all and to be able to have done movies and to have done "SNL" and now this. It's so far beyond what I imagined happening for me. I thought that I would probably try and do standup for a while, unsuccessfully, and then get a different job and be sad. Yeah, it feels incredible. I feel incredibly lucky.
Is there any room for any spontaneity or any ad-libbing at least, because you are very funny and you do come up with a lot of very good things on your feet; so is there anything incorporated in that?
AS: Absolutely, we try and do as many takes as it takes to get as-scripted exactly how we want it, and then we'll do multiple takes where were we just go for broke and try different stuff. There is always a writer on set and a director-producer on set and that week's director on set and the whole cast on set, many of whom are trained comedians and writers as well. So even if we're going off of a scene that's written, if we feel it's not totally clicking, we'll brain storm and come up will alt's and give ourselves as many choices in the editing room as possible.
DG: I just want to say, Andy frequently has the best joke in an episode. He will come up with it on the set. He's an incredibly funny performer and writer, and so, thank goodness there is a lot of spontaneity.
AS: Well, I am blushing, and eating beef jerky.
DG: And eating a lot of jerky.
How often does Holt being gay come up? Is that something you touch on frequently or not?
DG: Yeah, it is. I mean, it's a part of his character. We think of it as a character trait that's like a guy who's from Orlando or something. It's a fact of his life and it has certainly influenced what kind of person he is and the shape that his career has taken, but it doesn't overwhelm him. It doesn't define him. It's not the entirety of who he is.
I think it's usually mentioned once an episode or something and we have plans in the future to get more into his personal life and possibly meet his partner/husband, but that won't happen in the first little batch of episodes. We really wanted to focus on the precinct and the work family before we got into the personal lives of the characters.
Does he have a partner?
DG: Yes, he does and the back story is that he is married.
MS: Our intention is to treat it much the way that we would treat him having a heterosexual marriage. That being said, it obviously, as you saw in the pilot, it informs his backstory and his perspective, and that is a backstory and a perspective that plays in multiple episodes going forward.
Is Captain Holt testing detective Peralta's ability to do his job or is he kind of jealous of how smart he is in solving the crimes, and will they ever be happy with each other?
AS: I don't think that he's testing his ability so much as his potential. He sees that Jake is a good detective with a lot of good instincts, but that he could be a really great one and a leader. And he's choosing to be lazy and selfish and play in his own lane, and he's challenging him to be more.
MS: When Dan and I first started conceiving of the character in the show, we had this character detail for Jake that he was the kind of kid in high school that bragged to his friends and would say, "I didn't even study for that test and I got a B." And the idea was that Holt comes along and says, "Hey, you should study and get an A." That was the essential dynamic of the two characters.
AS: Oh my God, I love that. I'm finding more and more parallels between Jake and I as the show goes on. He's based more on me than I realized.
I wanted to know, Mike, if you might ever get a small character on this show, à la Mose from "The Office."
MS: I think should we be fortunate enough for the show to last a long time. Let's say it lasts nine years, I think what will happen is that at the very end it will be revealed that this entire thing was a dream in the mind of Mose. Like, the camera will slowly push past as Jake Peralta assumes the captaincy and the command of the Nine-Nine, it will slowly push outside and into a hospital room where a dehydrated Mose will be lying on a cot somewhere, and you'll realize that this entire thing was happening in a snow globe next to his bed.
DG: Then they'll push out further and it will be some fishes …
AS: By the way, Fox wanted that to be the way the pilot ended, and we insisted that it could not be.
MS: Yeah, we laid down the law there. We we're like, "No, this is not about Mose Schrute. This is about something else entirely."
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