By Yvonne Villarreal Los Angeles Times
Andy Samberg is having trouble keeping his toothy grin in check.
There’s no studio audience. Or the pressure of performing live. So it’s a bit of a relief when the “Saturday Night Live” graduate breaks a scene — more than once — on the set of his headlining Fox cop comedy, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
The episode finds his character, the competent-yet-juvenile Det. Jake Peralta, plotting revenge at a local bar against an archrival with the aid of his co-workers.
The 35-year-old comedian is a year into the career seesaw that afflicts even the most promising alums of the comedy Ivy League.
For six seasons, Samberg was “SNL’s” go-to goober. Then a movie career wobbled. In an atypical move, he starred as an American hippie in the BBC series “Cuckoo.”
Viral video superstars Lonely Island, the trio of “SNL” writer-rappers led by Samberg, saw their January video, “Yolo,” featuring Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar, notching more than 50 million views on YouTube, and their third album entered the Billboard charts at No. 10.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” premiering tonight from “Parks and Recreation” vets Mike Schur and Dan Goor, has the industry eager to pin down Samberg’s place, like the Amy Poehlers and Adam Sandlers before him.
The pilot episode has Samberg in his wheelhouse: His character imitates Donnie Brasco alongside a teddy bear, wears a necktie around his belly, and, in a later scene, dons a brightly colored Speedo.
“The character of Jake is like me if I was actually smart,” Samberg joked. “We have the writers to fill in all the smart blanks, and then I get to be silly and stupid, which is how I am in real life. So it’s like the perfect blend of my dumbness and their smartness.”
“Brooklyn” is planned as an antidote to the fast-paced, high-stakes cop dramas overrunning the prime-time grid.
Samberg’s first thought: “I was, like, ‘You think people will believe that I’m a cop?’”
He naturally sought Poehler’s advice on what to expect in headlining a network comedy.
The actress predicted “it won’t be long before (Samberg) is hosting the Golden Globes.” But an endorsement from Zooey Deschanel, star of the network’s hit comedy “New Girl,” is what sold Samberg.
“I’m interested in stability,” Samberg said, but “wanted some reassurance that I wouldn’t feel caged in terms of what the schedule … entails in doing a show like this. So if this ends up killing my mojo, I’m going to blame her.”
Meanwhile, the star is hoping for perks.
“When we shot the pilot, I was driving home at the end of a long day, and I was going a little fast. All of a sudden I saw a cop car, and I was, like, ‘Oh, no, it’s the cops!’ Then I started daydreaming of using this role to get out of speeding tickets and to score free doughnuts.”
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” premieres at 8:30 tonight on Fox.