Cheers, Friends, Seinfeld, 30 Rock, Golden Girls, The Office, Parks and Recreation; NBC has given us some of the most iconic sitcoms of all time and Brooklyn Nine-Nine is poised to be its newest tentpole sitcom.
After being unexpectedly dropped by Fox after five beloved seasons, Brooklyn Nine-Nine was picked up by NBC for a sixth season and last week’s premiere garnered 3.6 million viewers—up 71% from last year’s season premiere at Fox.
Even before Brooklyn Nine-Nine came to NBC, the peacock network was already making their own similar show to the Andy Samberg-led cop comedy, Superstore. Now in its fourth season, Superstore is an amazing show that lacks the type of rabid fan base Brooklyn Nine-Nine boasts.
This doesn’t make sense to me because they’re practically the same show.
The pilots of each show feature a couple whose “will they won’t they” chemistry become essential to the arc of the show. That couple is made up by a likable, goofy white guy with a Jewish name that starts with a “J” and a by-the-book Latina woman named “Amy.” In Superstore, that couple is played by America Ferrera and Ben Feldman while in Brooklyn Nine-Nine it is Samberg and Melissa Fumero. Try and convince me that was a coincidence.
While one show is about retail workers and the other is about cops, neither show is really about the work. It’s about the workplace. The type of comedy they deliver is also similar. Brooklyn Nine-Nine fans love the cold opens that don’t relate to the rest of the episode, while Superstore has quick scenes around the store that don’t connect to the plot.
At a party, bringing up Superstore will usually leave you with empty stares leading to the question, “You watch that?” (I know from experience). But why? This writer would argue that Superstore is actually a better show, but it simply doesn’t have the same following.
It all has to do with the idea of “cult” and “cult hits.” There are two types of sitcom fans. Some fans watch sitcoms because they are comforting and deliver easy laughs. These fans gravitate to shows like Full House or Two and a Half Men—you don’t need to watch every episode, the jokes are easy to get, and you can easily play it in the background while you eat leftover pasta with your mom.
The other group of sitcom watchers loves highbrow comedy. These fans are obsessed with cult hits the mainstream doesn’t really ‘get’ like Arrested Development, You’re the Worst, or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. They’re the wine snobs of slapstick and still complain about Party Down only getting two seasons.
When Brooklyn Nine-Nine debuted in 2013, the most watched shows on Fox were American Idol and Sleepy Hollow. Fox didn’t have a single sitcom in the top 50 most watched shows for that year. Brooklyn Nine-Nine felt cultish when compared to sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, yet it still seemed accessible enough to watch with your parents. However, it never truly broke out, never averaging more than 2.59 million viewers in a season. The feeling of knowing and loving something too cool for the mainstream is still there for Nine-Nine fans.
Superstore never got that. When it came out in 2015, even though shows like The Big Bang Theory still topped the charts, cooler and hipper shows were already coming out. 2015 brought us Schitt’s Creek, Catastrophe, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and The Last Man on Earth; all of which competed for that loyal cult audience. Superstore got lost in the competition.
On paper, Superstore looks hokey to comedy audiences. It marketed itself a little more like Two Broke Girls than The Mindy Project, which doesn’t make sense for a show that deals with issues regarding unions and illegal immigration, but it makes even less sense for a show that seems to be written for comedy fans and not sitcom watchers.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine fans probably won’t watch Superstore even if they would love it, mostly because it is hard to convince comedy lovers to watch things they have already passed judgment on and that is why NBC needed a show that already captured that audience.