TV

More British sitcoms could do with a New York state of mind

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the kind of joyous and optimistic comedy we don’t make here – but we really should

Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been going since 2013 and is bloody great. Andy Samberg plays a juvenile but strangely effective detective and a bunch of other people play his friends and colleagues. There’s a strict, overly serious police chief, a prissy and rule-obsessed partner, a sarcastic, extrovert secretary and a scary and dangerous female detective. Then of course there are a couple of fat, white cops who muck everything up.

It’s a classic ensemble piece. Every character pops from the screen. The jokes flow with the speed and quality of a vintage Simpsons episode. It is mostly daft, in the best possible sense, although it is unafraid to do serious subjects in a disarmingly funny way from time to time. The boss is a black, middle-aged gay man. The show has won awards for its portrayal of LGBT characters.

It is extremely similar to the classic of the genre Parks and Recreation, another sitcom about a group of ordinary folk in everyday work getting into largely inconsequential adventures. Both are silly, yes, but at their heart they are about the little families people form in the workplace – and the love they share with each other. Fundamentally, they are positive and optimistic shows about people at their best. All of which is thoroughly un-British sounding, isn’t it?

US sitcoms seem able to draw comedy not just from the dark and tragic corners of humanity but from the bright and joyous ones too

Our sitcoms aren’t about love and joy and ordinary people doing boring jobs in an entertaining way. Our sitcoms are about grotesque caricatures like Alan Partridge or Basil Fawlty. They aren’t about ordinary, lower-middle class people doing everyday jobs in everyday places. They are more likely, these days at least, to be about freaks on the fringes, like in People Just Do Nothing or This Country. And the characters of British comedy tend to be cynical or angry or miserable. Look at the people in The Office. They hate their crappy jobs. The only one who shows any enthusiasm is David Brent, and he’s supposed to be the tragicomic stooge. In Fawlty Towers the only character who ever seems happy is Manuel – and that is portrayed as a form of mental illness.

In Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks and Recreation all the characters unapologetically love their jobs and their colleagues. They take pride and draw delight from their work. I’m not saying US comedies are better. But they seem able to draw comedy not just from the dark and tragic corners of humanity but from the bright and joyous ones too. And, in the case of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, do it without being schmaltzy for annoying either. It’d be nice to see the return of a British sitcom that was able to draw irony, pathos and LOLs from love as easily as it does from shit.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is on Netflix now

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Rebus star Richard Rankin on TV reboots, defying his late dad's advice and getting his arse out
TV

Rebus star Richard Rankin on TV reboots, defying his late dad's advice and getting his arse out

Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith on friendship, TV and saying goodbye to Inside No 9
TV

Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith on friendship, TV and saying goodbye to Inside No 9

Doctor Who star Millie Gibson on hope for Ruby Sunday and lessons learned from 'magical' Ncuti Gatwa
TV

Doctor Who star Millie Gibson on hope for Ruby Sunday and lessons learned from 'magical' Ncuti Gatwa

Marge starts a union and fights for workers' rights in powerful new episode of The Simpsons
TV

Marge starts a union and fights for workers' rights in powerful new episode of The Simpsons

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know