Once upon a crime, "The A-Team," "Starsky & Hutch" and "Magnum P.I." charmed viewers with a balance of action and laughs. Even "Hill Street Blues," the greatest cop drama of all time, had its fair share of black humor.
But somewhere along the line, most crime procedurals lost their sense of humor. The graphic violence that runs through franchises like "Law & Order" and "NCIS" are designed to make you grimace more than guffaw.
"The Rookie: Feds" is determined to offer some comic relief. In the series, debuting at 9 p.m. Tuesday in KSTP, Ch. 5, Simone Clark (Niecy Nash-Betts) is a former high school guidance counselor who becomes the FBI's oldest rookie. She also happens to be a Black woman, a demographic woefully underrepresented in the bureau. The setup is ripe for drama but the writers leave plenty of room for mischief.
Among the comical bits: A fellow agent once starred in a TV series called "Vampire Cop," a clear dig at TV's current obsession with the supernatural. In one early episode, Clark makes an arrest in a wedding dress and freaks out when she dings up her father's car.
She's also shocked when colleagues and crooks don't find her charming.
"Simone thinks everyone is in love with her," Nash-Betts said during a virtual news conference earlier this month.
The show's light-hearted moments wouldn't work without its lead, who previously played law enforcers on "Reno 911!" and "Scream Queens."
"Those were more like Keystone Kops," said Nash-Betts. "This is more like the real deal."
Viewers first met Clark last season on "The Rookie," another show that tries to find humor in uniform. That series' star, Nathan Fillion, can appreciate the challenge.
"Niecy finds comedy very, very easy. It's not," said Fillion, who will make occasional appearances on the spinoff. "All you have to do is stand next to her, watch the whirling dervish and react as every man would."
Nash-Betts said she knew she had found a welcoming home the first day she showed up on set to meet the rest of the cast and get weapons training.
"It was the day that I found out my grandmother passed away," she said. "I was kind of quiet. Somebody looked over and said, 'Are you OK?' And I immediately started to cry like a baby. Everybody got up and just put their arms around me, like a group circle that had known me all their lives, and I said, 'Man, I've got the right bunch right here.'"
Nash-Betts has shown she has ability to give a subtle and heart-breaking performance, as she did in "When They See Us," the 2019 mini-series that earned her a third prime time Emmy nomination. She's just as effective when she goes big, delivering her lines like a zealous gambler who just made Bingo. That comes in handy here, whether she's going overboard to kiss up to the boss or getting into a heated argument with her father about institutional racism.
"Pivoting from something funny to something tragic or something emotional to something scary is a real skill set," said co-creator Alexi Hawley. "Not everyone can make that turn."
Nash-Betts previously got a chance to show her ability to juggle in "Getting On," HBO's under-rated series about stressed nurses. Those kind of roles are hard to come by.
I've come to know that comedy is the harder of the two," said Nash-Betts, who married singer Jessica Betts in 2020. "It's a blessing when you get to marry them, which is what I'm able to do here, bake a little bit of that comedy into the seriousness of a script, and I love it."