“Jake and Amy work an uncrackable case while Holt adjusts to a new beat; Hitchcock looks for the love of his life.”
That is the synopsis for this week’s episode of Brooklyn Nine-NIne, “Trying.” Now we know that the “uncrackable case” for Jake and Amy is unrelated to the Nine-Nine, as it ends up being about their attempts at trying to have a baby. But only going off the title and the synopsis, prior to seeing the episode, I actually wrote in my notes that I was “assuming this is the episode Amy gets knocked up.” That it ends up being the episode where that simply doesn’t happen—and the series tackles the stress and struggles of that fact—arguably makes for a better plot than the alternative. I actually want to commend Brooklyn Nine-Nine for acknowledging the difficulty and stress that can come with attempting to conceive a child. It’s a serious topic that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is able to handle appropriately, while still managing to bring its own humor to it and keep it tonally in line with the show.
The plot is also the very best part of this particular episode.
Despite the framing device of Hitchcock’s divorce party/wedding/divorce party and the successful way the episode jumps through six months, “Trying” is a structurally strange episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, at best. At worst, it’s kind of a mess. (Again, pointing to my notes: Right after Amy bailed on her meeting with Terry and then Terry started talking to Boyle about guinea pigs, I wrote, “This episode is oddly structured.”) Part of that stems from the fact that Holt’s Hedgehog… er… Groundhog Day-esque time loop plot is easily the stuff of A-plot material, yet it doesn’t get anything close to that type of focus at all. And then it ends up with a weak wrap-up to its lesson learned. Another part of the problem is the Boyle/Rosa plot, which, simply put, turns Boyle and Rosa into idiots. Outside of the fact that the “Boyle doing guinea pig things” in front of Terry does track, this episode especially does him and Rosa a huge disservice, as the existence of their plot leads to an extremely funny moment… in the Jake/Amy plot.
The six-month time span of this episode suggests that writers Evan Susser and Van Robichaux had a difficult task of making that part work. And on multiple levels, it actually does. Again, it works for the Jake/Amy A-plot. It also works for the big meta joke of the Holt/Terry plot—
Terry: “That was so long ago. A lot’s happened since then.”
Holt: “Well, to me, it seems like mere minutes ago. Because I’ve been living the same day over and over again.”
—and even somewhat for Hitchcock’s Prince Charming/Cinderella plot and the party framing device. But even for the latter, that involves suspending disbelief when it comes to the idea that neither Hitchcock nor his Cinderella, Anna, would be at Shaw’s Bar on the same night and time ever again for six months. For Boyle/Rosa, the idea that they allowed the guinea pig farce—which begins with the concept that suffering and death are imminent for these creatures, instead of Boyle doing something like donating them to Nikolaj’s school or literally anything rational—to go on for half a year makes them look like complete fools. To the point where Rosa’s early comment about being the “mushy” one of the group loses its humor, because the episode manages to defang her in a way previous episodes that actually provide real characterization for her, like last week’s episode, tend to avoid.
However, credit where credit’s due, as the six-month time jump is necessary for this season and for Brooklyn Nine-Nine moving forward. As I noted earlier in the season, with Holt’s one-year demotion, the power of TV magic is necessary to get through things as quickly as possible and return him to his post as Captain. This episode tackles Holt’s demotion to uniformed officer more than recent episodes have, though it’s still not one of the series’ biggest priorities. In fact, that remains one of the series’ weak spots. Things like the promotion of Amy and Terry to Sergeant and Lieutenant, respectively, and the demotion of Holt to officer are the types of plot points Brooklyn Nine-Nine is always interested in moving toward, yet never seems to be interested in actually delving any deeper into after the fact. “Trying” somewhat follows Holt’s officer struggles, with no mention of a partner replacement for him and a discussion of his supposed continued frustration with this post, despite the past few episodes having him only interact with the squad anyway. Based on the time loop component of the plot, of course Holt learns a lesson about why doing the same post for six months is important. Unfortunately, the way it’s played—specifically when we see Holt having a Russian conversation with the street vendor during the montage—it actually spoils what the episode is going for when it “reveals” (after it’s already been revealed) and he realizes he can speak fluent Russian.
Still, it’s a plot that has Holt dunk on Terry, which is always funny.
Another part of the structural issues of this episode is that “Trying” never, at any point, tries to slow down. Fast-paced comedy can be great, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine understands the need for breathing room. And that’s something that only exists in the Jake/Amy plot. In a way, the fact that everyone and everything (even the guinea pigs) are go, go go, while Jake/Amy are having issues conceiving is actually brilliant. In execution, it just makes for a strange episode outside of that plot.
And on the topic of the Jake/Amy plot, “Trying” does manage to do a great balancing act when it comes to the comedy and realistic nature of their conception woes. “The Jake Way,” “The Amy Way,” “The Hitchcock Way,” etc. are all these simple comedic beats that progressively reveal the very real frustration that comes along with all of this, as is the moment (before it’s walked back) where Hitchcock’s able to impregnate Anna immediately:
Amy: “What kind of perfect person do you have to be to get pregnant?”
Hitchcock: “We’re having a baby!”
Amy: “Oh, rot in hell!”
This plot and episode are especially carried by Andy Samberg and Melissa Fumero’s performances. I’ll probably be thinking about the earnest moment between the two at Shaw’s that transitions into the crushing final moment of Amy revealing she’s still not pregnant for a long while after this episode and after this season concludes. Naturally, Samberg and Fumero pull off the broad beats—like mouthful of vitamins Jake and drunk Amy—of the story well, but it’s when the jokes stop and you just have head over heels Jake and crushed by failure Amy that Brooklyn Nine-Nine reminds you just how versatile these two are. The way Jake looks at Amy in the final moments of this episode, reassuring her and reminding her that they are a family—baby or not—is the type of thing this episode will and should be remembered for.
“Trying,” technically has six months of material to cram in—and that’s the joke—but as much as the episode keeps going and going, it lacks the substantial nature that one would expect from that device. Season Six even did the passage time better (and better-served Rosa) with “The Crime Scene,” so it’s not like there isn’t a recent example for the show to crib from. But let me make a few things clear about this episode. While “Trying” is all over the place, the Jake/Amy plot in this episode is stellar. Holt/Terry is funny, though it’s hurt by a combination of not being the A-plot, its conclusion, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s larger issues when it comes to really diving into changes of the status quo. Hitchcock’s plot is also funny, though it could also use more time.* That’s another reason why “Trying” is so strange: It’s got three plots that could easily all anchor their own individual episodes, but only one is allowed to. So because of that—and the Boyle/Rosa guinea pig plot—the episode is easily the weakest of the season so far. Luckily, this season has been so strong, and the Jake/Amy plot is really good.
- *I couldn’t think of where in my review this would fit, so here it is: As upsettingly close as Hitchcock and Scully are, I’ve never really pinged any underlying gay tension between the characters, until this episode. Not just based on the content itself but the episode’s direction (from Kim Nguyen, whose direction makes the guinea pig stuff work at all), specifically, Joel McKinnon Miller’s acting. It’s not just the gay wedding cake, then the second gay wedding cake, and Scully’s shifty reaction to that acknowledgment both times. It’s the fact that Scully seems content (or at least unfazed) when he hears that Hitchcock lost Anna’s number—to the point where I assumed at first that he was responsible for it—and that he makes sure his wedding officiating prioritizes his relationship with Hitchcock over Anna’s and how much he wants things to just be the two of them. This isn’t the first time the boys have had issues over a woman getting “in the way,” but I feel like this is the first time it’s happened with such a blatant queer component. If there’s not a follow-up to this, then it’s just lazy gay jokes in this episode for no reason. And if there is a follow-up to this, it honestly came out of nowhere, especially if it’s unrequited.
- If there’s one issue I have about the Jake/Amy plot, it’s that the topic of adoption never really comes up, until briefly at the very end. It’s especially glaring considering Boyle’s son, Nikolaj (who is even mentioned in this episode), is the result of adoption. Television, especially, is still very bad when it comes to never considering adoption in these types of situations or seeing adoption as much less than a biological connection. (The latter is a major reason why I could never enjoy Once Upon a Time for the two seasons I watched it. If you ever want to hear me rant, buy me a beer and ask me about it sometime.)
- What’s a sexier calendar invite: “8 p.m. Coitus” or “7:55 Foreplay?”
- For the record: Holt loves “monotony,” not “tedious.” He also picks favorites, and Terry? Not on the top of the list.
- We get far too little of Hitchcock’s toothy search for his Cinderella, but at least we have him attempting to stick the tooth in Amy’s mouth.
- In an episode of great Samberg and Fumero moments, drunk Jake and Amy’s simultaneous reactions of acknowledgment during Holt’s passive-aggressive wedding speech are pretty great.
- Jake’s right: Wario is a cheater. (Also, shoutout to his Megan Rapinoe soccer jersey. He’s a real winner in this episode.)
- Yes, that is Brooklyn Nine-Nine writer-producer Neil Campbell as “Larry Britches,” aka “a very normal guy who’s a friend of Hitchcock’s” A relative of Neil Campbell’s Ian Britches from “The Night Shift?” Sure, why not?