Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: praise for a TV creator who’s doing all the right things.
Michael Schur earned an express pass to the TV Pantheon on the strength of Parks and Recreation, the NBC sitcom he created with Greg Daniels of The Office. But his subsequent efforts have only strengthened his claim to the title of one of the century’s most influential, successful and inventive creators.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which Schur co-created with Dan Goor, expresses much of the Parks DNA: a diverse and multitalented ensemble cast; a vibrant office bureaucracy; carefully honed directing and editing rhythms that maximize each story’s comedic potential. This year, Brooklyn took a turn into serialized storytelling, with a multi-episode arc about an investigation gone sour, culminating in Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher) entering the witness protection program and assuming new identities in Florida. This storyline deepened the stakes and revealed the dramatic core at the heart of the show’s comedic pageantry, but it never sacrificed wall-to-wall jokes. Without the foundation laid by the three prior seasons, such a bold storytelling move might have fallen flat. But under Goor’s leadership, with input from Schur, the show navigated choppy territory and emerged out the other side with some of its funniest and most satisfying episodes to date. And the cold opens, as Alan Sepinwall has pointed out, have been exquisite all year. “Like yeast!”
Schur isn’t involved in the day-to-day on Brooklyn because lately he’s been hard at work on his new NBC series The Good Place, currently about three-quarters through a delightful first season. Good Place represents a departure from the Parks/Brooklyn formula in some ways — its premise depends on metaphysical and philosophical elements far headier than anything on either of those shows, and its central story has already shifted under the feet of the characters several times. But it shares Schur’s fundamental interests in questions of what it means to be a good person, as well as his shows’ penchant for perfect casting – Ted Danson is a genius, here and everywhere else.
I’m glad there’s a place (a good place, even) for these shows on network TV, which has largely ceded the platform for coherent artistic statements to the likes of cable, subscription services and online streaming. And I’m glad Schur continues to be one of the most prominent people trying to make the most of that space. The constraints of the network model and his storytelling interests have dovetailed nicely in the past, and they did once again this year. Best of all? There’s plenty more in the works from the factory of Michael Schur. Bring it on.