Do you hear that? That’s the sound of November sweeps in the network television air. Given the current world of “peak TV” and a constant change in the way shows are being watched, one might think that sweeps have also gone the way of the television antenna. But as long as there are network channels, sweeps aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Luckily, sweeps may be gimmicky as hell, but sometimes said gimmick brings out the best in a show. After all, it’s trying to sell the audience on tuning in again and again and again. So, speaking of fun and gimmicky as hell, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s “Ava” ticks both of those boxes. The episode leans into sweeps, without completely deconstructing or even really criticizing the entire concept, and it pretty much nails everything it has to do to be a sweeps episode. In this episode alone, there’s:
- A (turkey) costume
- An emergency baby delivery
- A wall of delinquents
- A fire
- A motorcycle theft
- A motorcycle “chase”
- A loss of phone in a time of crisis
- A race against time
- The threat of too many delinquents (and their families) in the Nine-Nine
- Secret tubes
- An injury
- Stunt casting
Really, just look at this press photo for “Ava” and try to argue that it’s not all a very intentional piece of television:
None of that’s even including the fact that this is also a holiday episode (Thanksgiving) of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, making it one big multi-tasker. “Ava” is clearly a packed episode, getting the sweeps job done while also being a functioning and funny episode of the show itself. Sure, it’s very by-the-numbers, but such a thing doesn’t necessarily mean an episode or a show is doomed if it’s done well. Case in point: No one was going to make a killing betting on Sharon going into labor in the precinct, but it’s still a funny, interesting plot.
Part of why “Ava” is such a successful sweeps episode is actually because nearly every single beat of the episode is predictable… but also tremendously well-executed. The moment Terry tells Jake that Sharon (Merrin Dungey) is coming to meet him before they go on their last pre-baby break, of course Sharon is going to go into labor at the precinct. With no one to help her but Jake. And Gina. It’s Sitcom 101. Thankfully, Brooklyn Nine-Nine at least has the plot end up at the hospital so the show doesn’t pretend delivering a child is so easy that even Zack Morris—or Jake Peralta—can do it.
Where the plot really succeeds is in giving each character involved a clear function (while keeping the humor of the situation). Sharon’s function is obviously to be in labor, but she also has to somehow keep cool while in stressful surroundings… while the ideas of Holt speaking to her and the horror of returning to a hospital also cloud her judgment. Gina’s function is to begrudgingly help Jake out and also stay calm, despite her absolute disgust toward pregnancy. And Holt’s function is to be the Holt of the group, only he’s not considered the “lovable” Holt in this scenario; in fact, Sharon reacts to him and his Holtisms like a “normal” person in that world would.
Holt’s function is also to introduce his OBGYN ex-boyfriend Frederick (Nick Offerman) to the plot, giving the audience another passive-aggressive Holt relationship to latch onto. And also Nick Offerman.
The interesting thing about the earlier Holt parts of the episode is that the show makes it appear as though Holt’s “weird” interactions with Sharon may actually go somewhere; because at first description, it feels like Holt may possibly be uncomfortable around pregnant women. When it ends up being a case of Holt just being Holt (and that not changing even for a pregnant woman), it’s actually more honest and funnier than the alternative. Of course Holt would treat a pregnant woman like anyone else, only addressing her pregnancy and saying things like “fatiguing the uterus.” He has no reason to think that’s a weird way to act!
“The Mattress” had a slightly lesser version of Holt, but “Ava” gets things back on track for the character, while still maintaining some of that edge from last week. (Just look at how he interacts with Boyle here, in the best runner of the episode.) Then, once Offerman’s Frederick comes into the picture, he merely elevates an already enjoyable Holt episode. That’s quite a feat when you think about how good Holt (and Andre Braugher) already is. After the way the show used Bill Hader in the beginning of the season, “Ava” leaves the door open for Offerman and his glorious beard and sweater vest situation to one day return, whether its during sweeps or not. Hopefully that door is used, because Holt’s life and backstory is endlessly fascinating. The more characters to come from that, the better.
Then there’s the Jake of it all, which is actually pretty great too. This episode is the really a reminder of why Terry and Sharon would allow him to be their child’s godfather in the first place, as well as their own personal “godhusband” and “godwife.” He takes the role so seriously and not just because being around kids makes him look strong. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has done a lot to tone down Andy Samberg for viewers who aren’t exactly his biggest fans, but since around the time of Eva Longoria’s first appearance in season two, Jake’s characterization as an unfit adult has been a beat that’s been hit pretty hard.
He doesn’t understand simple health concepts and his entire understanding of basic life is often called into question; yet he’s still very much depicted as a skilled detective who knows how to put the pieces of the puzzles together to solve the case. The Jake in this episode, however, is the best version of Jake. No, he’s no genius—again, he brings up the “godhusband” thing—and he says “vaginal” way too much for Terry’s liking in this episode. But he’s certainly no fool in this episode, even when he’s making “oooh” jokes like he’s a middle schooler getting called to the principal’s office (something he calls out himself). He just says the wrong things, which is something everyone on this show is guilty of. This is the version of Jake that’s often passed over in favor of making him a complete unhealthy idiot, despite this characterization being the ultimate balance. Not only does he let his geek flag fly with his Lord Of The Rings references in this episdes, he uses the word “exeunt.” And no attention is actually drawn to that, despite the fact that Jake we see far too often would never say “exeunt.”
An argument could be made that Amy is slowly making Jake “better,” but as noted in a few comments from last week’s episode, the real takeaway from the Jake/Amy relationship so far is that she’s “lowering” herself to be with him, not that he’s ascending to be with her. As much as Jake and Amy want to be together and have an attraction to each other, a lot of the characterization of Jake outside of this episode has him as way too much of a man-child to really fulfill her needs. (It’s still insane to think Jake is at all good at sex given his often-mentioned lack of knowledge on that playing field.) The thing is, we know he can be mature and focused, and that’s definitely not an Amy-based development. It just comes out very rarely to make him broad to the point of mental deficiency at times. It’s actually a bit peculiar that there is nothing on the Jake/Amy front in this episode, partially because it’s an episode where Jake looks really good as a person (and characters) but also because of the sweeps and holiday gimmick aspects of the episode. It’s Thanksgiving, and Terry and Sharon just gave birth to a child: That’s essentially a lay-up when it comes to having at least one scene for a show’s main romantic pairing. Instead, Amy finds herself momentarily drooling over Boyle, which is the complete opposite of awful in this one scenario (but makes the lack of Jake/Amy even more apparent).
Terry and Rosa’s race to get to the precinct in time for Sharon is also a fun little by-the-numbers plot, but it’s also one that’s spawned from something I’ve criticized Brooklyn Nine-Nine for before. Basically, as every one else has their meaty plots, Terry and Rosa are thrown into a C-story that simply satisfies the need for their very existence in this episode. Luckily, their C-plot here is one of purpose even before the emergency dash to the precinct and one that can at least explain how far away they are from the main plots. Even with the little screentime, it makes sense here and it’s not just a throway plot. The plot also has one of the best small moments of the episode in Rosa’s reaction to Sharon being in labor; she’s so willing to ignore whatever they’re doing for work in order to make sure Terry gets to his wife, and that’s long before the “borrowing” of a police motorcycle even comes up.
As for Amy, her pairing with Boyle is something the show doesn’t do too much (unless it’s smaller scale), despite the two characters’ crossover in personalities and appreciation of Jake. Plus, the trio of Amy/Holt/Boyle is definitely one that could put up a good fight against Jake/Holt/Gina. Boyle and Amy’s storyline transforming into the ultimate buddy cop team-up with Scully and Hitchcock is a lot of fun, and having Scully and Hitchcock almost know what they’re doing—and still paying greatly for that—is a nice way to give the two of them a “win.” Plus, this plot is really the culmination of “Ava” being the ultimate episode where Brooklyn Nine-Nine shuts up my “Don’t you people have jobs?” line of questioning.
Not only do Amy and Boyle (and Scully and Hitchcock) do a huge amount of work in a relatively short, chaotic time, Jake is able to keep the precinct under some sort of control as he deals with Sharon, and Terry is able to get the information he and Rosa needs for a case before they can get back to the precinct. Everyone is at the top of their game in “Ava,” and I’m not just talking about the members of the Nine-Nine. The episode swings for the fences and completely nails it, from the moment it starts with its pretty dark cold open (which is another bit that’s very commonplace, but the show makes it work) to the moment it ends with everyone but Boyle giving thanks. I’m definitely thankful for Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
- This week in webisodes Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs: Boyle Gives Thanks, in which Holt constantly interrupts and Boyle never actually gives thanks.
- Terry: “Also, the internet is down.”
Gina: “What? NooooooOOOoooOo. I had just clicked a link that said ‘Balloon Boy grew up hot.’ Now I will never see those pictures.”
Rosa: “Can’t you just use the internet on your phone?”
Gina: “Bitch, you know I’m out of data.” First of all, I kind of love how dated this reference will become the older it gets. Second of all, I really want this to mean that Gina informs the entire precinct when her cell phone is out of data, just so they know not to mess with her.
- Terry: “Jake, can I speak to you for a moment? In private.”
Jake: “Oooooh, someone’s in trouuuble. It’s me. I don’t know why I did that.” Goofy, awkward Jake is the best Jake.
- Barry White Jake is pretty low on the list of Jakes because of how much scary eye action it involves.
- Terry: (re: Sharon, on Holt) “He’s always weird around her, and it stresses her out. She says he reminds her of those judgmental trees from Lord Of The Rings.”
Jake: “They’re called Ents. Get a life, dweeb.”
Terry: “I don’t care.”
- Amy: “You’re gonna cramp!” (Title of her sex tape?)
Boyle: “Are you kidding, baby? I’ve been cramping for the past 20 minutes.”
Amy: “I’m so attracted to you right now.”
- It could just be because of all the television I watch and have watched, but I really can’t buy anyone asking what a “doula” is at this point in 2015. Even if that person is Jake.
- I honestly refuse to believe that Sharon doesn’t like Channing Tatum.
- I do believe that Gina’s desk would be stocked with all of Holt’s favorite chewing gum though.