Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Making a Murderer and other telly

Well, late to the party with this one, as usual.

It’s on its third season. I saw the first season advertised on Edinburgh buses and thought, well, whatever, a cop comedy, I donno, probably involving some sort of Saturday Night Live people, maybe, maybe not. And then we spent the next few months finally watching all of Breaking Bad, after which of course all shows are a bit of a let-down. (Seriously, Breaking Bad is indeed a wonderful show, but after all, it’s what it says on the tin: it’s about a guy who starts out basically decent and who, in the course of finding out what he’s capable of doing, discovers that he’s capable of enormous villainy. And it’s not about much else. This is not a criticism; it’s classical drama, it’s the steady revelation of character through action, I’m all for that. But there were times when we just wanted to watch something more…fun.)

None of the foregoing parenthesis explains why we subsequently hooked up with Making a Murderer. Seriously, in the history of documentary television, outside of The World At War and anything about serial killers, has there ever been a more loathsome figure than Manitowoc County District Attorney Ken Kratz? I cannot remember seeing anyone in a documentary who I hated more. Obviously the filmmakers picked and chose what they wanted from all their footage, but something about Kratz’s complete uninterest in the presumption of innocence, his sanctimonious lecturing about how evil the defendant was, and above all I think the vile, toxic stupidity that made him so unaware that it was perfectly obvious that even if Steven Avery had killed Theresa Halbach, he, Ken Kratz, had utterly failed to prove it – all these things made him come across like somebody who should never been allowed to participate in the justice system. There are a bunch of people in Making a Murderer who seem to have been at best negligent and at worst criminal, but most of them looked like they knew they were doing wrong. Kratz’s blithe, calm confidence in his own righteousness is what made him so despicable. His only rival was useless defence attorney Len Kochanski, who shared Kratz’s stupidity and utter inability to maintain the presumption of innocence but who lacked Kratz’s insufferable pomposity. Instead, Kochanski had the giggling, imperturbable self-regard of someone who believed that the entire murder trial was something that was happening to him, rather than to his client.

Okay, enough about Making a Murderer, except to say that the revelation that Kratz had been forced to resign after making sexually harassing text messages was sweet, and that if Steven Avery really is guilty, I don’t understand why he continues to slog away as if he isn’t. If he really did do it, but not the way he was convicted for doing it, he must know that the truth will eventually come out, and so he would have nothing to gain by tirelessly trying to get people to reopen the case. Instead, he tirelessly tries to get people to reopen the case. The only conclusion is that he’s either even more stupid than people think (which makes it hard to believe that he could have cleaned his own trailer so meticulously as to remove not only all traces of the victim’s DNA, but also all traces of the cleanup), or that he’s innocent.

Which brings us to Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a sitcom about cops from among other people Michael Schur, who brought you Parks and Recreation. (I have not gone on and on about Parks and Recreation only because this blog is supposed to be about music.) Brooklyn Nine-Nine is part workplace comedy and part police procedural, and stars SNL alumnus Andy Samberg as a hotshot cop who dislikes playing by the rules, and Andre Braugher (Homicide) as the by-the-book new precinct captain who insists on reigning in Samberg’s character. The twist here is that Braugher’s character, Ray Holt, is gay, and this is his first command; having been an outstanding detective, he then came out and was immediately reassigned to public affairs work, because that’s what the police department thought a gay police officer ought to be doing. Now that he has his own precinct, he’s determined to prove that a gay captain can run as tight a ship as anyone else.

Well, it may not sound very promising, and it takes a few episodes to warm up, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a treat, with an outstanding ensemble cast and a nice blend of genuine police procedural stuff and daft humour. I am not an SNL-watcher and so Samberg is not someone I’m familiar with, but his character, Jay Peralta, is a true character: cocky, lazy, brilliant and annoying in equal measure. Melissa Fumero plays the precinct’s most dedicated detective, the very straitlaced Amy Santiago, and they’ve managed to avoid making her the eternal Straight Woman. Santiago is a helpless suck-up to Captain Holt, who is utterly uninterested in flattery, but she has a nice line in put-downs (when a sleazy detective says goodbye to her with ‘Stay foxy’, she smirks back ‘Die lonely’.) In a notable piece of diversity casting, the show has not one but two Latina characters: Stephanie Beatriz, who before this show was doing a lot of Shakespeare, plays the epically bad-tempered Rosa Diaz (she has an endearing blog on in which she shares her experiences on the show and gives advice on skin care.) And there are a bunch of other very fine actors too, but we’ll just wheel back to Braugher’s performance as Ray Holt, which in some ways is a fascinating variation on another character from a show created by Michael Schur: Parks and Rec’s Ron Swanson. The difference is that Holt is utterly, almost absurdly dedicated to his own job in a way that Ron is utterly, almost absurdly dedicated to subverting his own job. Holt is also wonderfully deadpan, uttering lines like ‘That is literally the funniest joke I have ever heard in my life’ in exactly the same stony monotone that he uses for almost every utterance. (This leads to a nice gag: in one episode, all the detectives are sharing stories of how hard it is to figure out what Holt really thinks, with flashbacks to all of them witnessing him saying different things in the same tone of voice. However, with one utterly rubbish detective, we see a flashback of Holt furiously bawling the guy out about how useless he is and flinging paperwork at him, and then we cut back to the guy in the present, still puzzling over the incident and wondering ‘It’s like, what is this guy thinking?’)

So, that’s our quality cop sitcom fix taken care of for the moment. Looking forward to seeing how things go over the next two seasons and a half.




Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Making a Murderer and other telly