Police Are Funny

 

“What are you watching?” I asked Mark and Sue Ann. “Brooklyn 99” they cheered in duet. “We’re binging,” they added. “We can’t help ourselves.”

“Hmm,” I thought, tucking away the information for a rainy day. The rainy day came and I checked it out on Wikipedia. Brooklyn 99 is a police sitcom. The last of its kind I remember seeing was ‘70s show Barney Miller. I was just a kid and thought character Sgt Fish (Abe Vigoda) old and impossibly hunched. The only other thing that stood out in my memory was the show’s sweet New York style jazz-pop theme.

I checked out an episode on YouTube recently. Vigoda (RIP) didn’t look as old and hunched as I remember, and some of the characters were smoking inside the precinct/set. What kind of crazy world is this? It was not as funny as the laugh track suggested. The theme still rocked though. Time to apply myself to Brooklyn 99 and well, to be frank, I am not terribly enthusiastic because try as I might, I am not a huge fan of shows based around policing.

Great sitcoms get three things right – sharp writing of a consistently high standard, an ensemble cast of well developed characters centred on a charismatic lead, and some neatly played and positive moral lessons based on astute observations on human nature. Being funny also helps.

In Brooklyn 99 the charismatic lead is a wise-cracking detective with a Die Hard fixation called Jake Peralta (Adam Sandberg). Cracking wise is an especially New York kind of thing: think Groucho Marx and Alan Alda and dare I say it, Sandberg is right up there with the grand masters. Otherwise, Brooklyn 99 is a grandchild of that other great New York staple, absurdist (think Seinfeld).

As for that ensemble cast, mostly they are foils to Peralta’s hi-jinks, and damned good foils they are too. There is best friend and sidekick, the hapless gourmand Charles (with tastes well above his pay grade), goody two-shoes and ambitious high achiever Detective Amy Santiago, and civilian administrator Gina, Peralta’s oldest friend and the all-knowing ‘go to’ character. Think Donna from Suits with an extreme case of narcissism, endearing and a wee bit sexy.

In charge of the day-to-day running of the 99th Precinct is the buff sergeant Terry Jeffords, the rather wonderful Terry Crews from Everybody Hates Chris. A reliable sort who refers to himself in the third person, there’s Gina, a detective who Terry describes in Episode One of Season One as ‘tough, smart and really scary’, and finally precinct leader Captain Raymond Halt.

Raymond Holt is as dry as the sands of the Sahara. He is also black and gay. A veteran of the less enlightened ‘80s NYPD, he describes a former partner from those times as homophobic. “He wasn’t racist so I consider his homophobia to be the lesser of two evils”. Jake throws his funny about like there is no tomorrow, Holt’s funny is altogether different but as a duo they are a devastating straight man/funny man team.

The cast is otherwise filled out with police veterans Hitchcock and Sully, two aging detectives determined to do as little as possible as they meander toward retirement, and it is here that Brooklyn 99 wobbles a bit as it walks a fine line between crafty absurdist and low grade farce. Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker – son of Bonanza superstar Dan Blocker aka Hoss) and Sully are a matter of taste, and it’s an acquired one. If one had to go I would vote for Hitchcock.

Great sitcoms have a solid stable of recurring characters that in this case include US Postal Service Investigator Jack Danger (Peralta: “Awesome name.” Danger: “It’s pronounced Dungar I and I prefer Jackie to Jack.” Peralta looking deflated: “Of course you do.”) and The Vulture, a detective with a penchant for showing up at the right moment and taking credit for busts he had nothing to do with, hence the name.

Created, written and produced by the team who gave us Parks And Recreation, Brooklyn 99 is funny, endearing, astute and very hard to turn off. With that in mind there are four seasons of it available for streaming. You have been warned.

Anyways, Brooklyn 99 got me curious about the NYPD, and this is what I learned: New Zealand (population 4.7 million) has some 12,000 police staff, 9000 of whom are sworn officers. The force’s current annual budget stands at about $1.5 billion dollars (NZ).

New York (population 8.5 million) has 34,000 uniformed police officers and some 20,000 other staff in various roles with a current annual budget of $4.6 billion (US) – 15 percent of the city’s total tax take.

Who said TV comedy was not educational?

 

 

* The Internet and ‘TV on Demand’ has revolutionised the way we watch TV shows. No longer beholden to television networks and their programming whims and scheduling, we can watch back-to-back episodes of new and old shows to our heart’s content without those annoying advertisements interrupting the narrative flow. TV viewing has suddenly become more accessible, democratic and a hell of a lot more fun. ANDREW JOHNSTONE scours the available channels and finds the best of the best, so you don’t have to.

 

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