Fox premieres two new sitcoms Tuesday. One I would recommend; the other, I would not.
Let's begin with the better: "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," which deems Andy Samberg ready for prime time, is set in a New York police precinct; its noble lineage runs back to "Car 54, Where Are You?" and "Barney Miller," but it shares DNA with every comedy in which a group of nonconformists and nincompoops are charged with some responsible task. The faces are fresh, but the school is old.
Samberg's detective, whose wisecracking ways do not belie but certify his effectiveness ("The only problem he hasn't solved is how to grow up," says his sergeant, played by Terry Crews) is a cousin of Hawkeye Pierce and Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale; in "Saturday Night Live" terms, he is Chevy Chase in "Fletch" and Eddie Murphy in "48 Hours" and the first decade of Bill Murray's film career.
Samberg is, in fact, a little irritating — not every actor is a Murray, a Murphy or even a Chase — but when he's not required to be smart-alecky and self-satisfied, he can be nearly as attractive as he's meant to be.
And he's not alone here. It's an ensemble piece, smartly staffed and most unusually featuring Andre Braugher as the new button-down station-house chief. Not often seen in sitcoms — "not ever" might be accurate — Braugher plays his part straight without actually being a straight man and grounds the wackiness.
The series, which also features Melissa Fumero (a fellow detective in a contest with Samberg for most arrests), comedian Chelsea Peretti, Stephanie Beatriz and Joe Lo Truglio, is in most respects a typical action-comedy. But it has a nice swing and surprises you often enough, usually with some throwaway line, to feel invigorating in the end.
"Dads," too, has a good, slightly oddball cast. Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi play old friends and partners in a successful video game company; Ribisi is the shirt-and-tie business guy and Green the unbuttoned conceptual genius. Martin Mull and Peter Riegert are their fathers; Mull fancies himself a wheeler-dealer; Riegert is a rootless, compulsively caustic ladies' man. Their sons reflect them.
The series made some minor headlines when it was presented at the Television Critics Assn. press tour this summer — tweeted reports made it sound like the riot that greeted the premiere of "The Rite of Spring," except that that was a masterpiece of music and this is a sitcom whose executive producers include Seth MacFarlane. Fox has been running ads in which negative quotes from critics are contrasted with enthusiastic reactions of Ordinary People (of many races, significantly, since the show has been accused of indulging in "racist" humor.)
Here are a couple of sample lines.
Mull: "It would have been a billion dollar deal if someone had told me the correct pronunciation was Shiite Muslim."
"Thanks to your beautiful maid for making all this food" — Riegert mistaking Ribisi's wife for a maid, because she's Latino.
There are jokes about Jews and Puerto Ricans; they are meant to reflect poorly on the speaker, certainly, not on the subject. Much talked-about was a scene in which, to sell a game to some Chinese investors, (Hmong-Thai American) Brenda Song dresses as a "Japanese schoolgirl." (Because: Asian.)
When she tells her bosses, "I've just promoted myself to VP of game development and I'm taking next week off," we are meant to take this as a sign that, little sailor suit notwithstanding, she is in charge of her own humiliation.
The typical retort when one objects to this sort of thing is that it's all in fun and your fault if you can't take a joke — and indeed, that the joke in its very existence implies an ironic self-awareness that puts it beyond criticism. That is a kind of wishful thinking, of course. Some jokes are just tired and bad.
I saw Don Rickles in concert a few years ago; much of his act is predicated on dated stereotypes, and much of the audience was young and found him hilarious (as I buried my face in my hands). This feels to me a little like that.
To be fair, we are supposed to find the sons as flawed as the fathers. One might easily say that this is a series about kids who don't know how to accept love as much as it is a series to mock the old (their bathroom habits, their noises, their mess). But it does mock the old.