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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine subverts expectations to keep the laughs going

Illustration for article titled Brooklyn Nine-Nine subverts expectations to keep the laughs going
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Last week’s season three premiere of Brooklyn Nine-Nine pulled a bait and switch in its storytelling, in both its handling of Jake and Amy’s relationship and with regards to the very concept of the titular new captain. It was a very good start to the season, especially in the context of being an episode that should, could, and would dictate the direction of, at the very least, the first half of the season. After two seasons of the characters dancing around their feelings, Jake and Amy actually entering into a romantic relationship with each other is an important milestone in the show; because as much as Brooklyn Nine-Nine isn’t a show about romantic relationships, that type of relationship between its two leads sets the tone for the entire series. Like it or not, everything is now framed through the Jake/Amy (or “Jamy” or “Ake”) of it all. And so far, so good.

Given the rules of television, “The Funeral” should be a big deal. A fallen member of the team or someone we’ve never seen before (but the characters all adore) dies, and that death ushers the crew into making important (at least for an episode) life changes. That’s just the way it goes. But Brooklyn Nine-Nine is making some interesting choices this season, and that means the funeral is as inconsequential as it possibly can be, as it’s one for their deceased, yet only briefly known, Captain Dozerman. It’s a funeral for a man none of them really knew, and what they did know of him, they absolutely hated. Dozerman’s past life isn’t even the important part of any of this episode, but what the characters and audience do learn about him here makes it clear that he was even worse than his one episode showed—just ask his wife or all the prostitutes. The funeral itself could easily be a reason for its characters to absurdly question their own mortality and have existential crises of faith, because that’s what’s expected of it. Instead, while “The Funeral” does actually give the audience the latter in the case of Holt (and, to a lesser extent, Terry), it makes it very clear that none of it is at all due to Dozerman’s death.

Because as wacky and silly as it is, that would be unrealistic as hell, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t need to go to that very expected well. The episode actually makes sure to ignore the expected for an episode with a funeral setting, and that goes triple for the speeches at the wake (which, with the almost exception of Jake, have the characters refuse to veil the fact that their speeches are completely about themselves and not Dozerman).

That’s a pattern for the episode. Just look at early on, when Jake goes with the plan to pull off the faux bro act on The Vulture. It’s very funny while it lasts, especially as the show just goes for it in the brief period of time: The necessary douche accessory of puka shells says it all, and Jake completely commits (as does Andy Samberg, but that’s never not the case with Brooklyn Nine-Nine). Much like Jake and Amy keeping their relationship a secret in the premiere, there’s plenty of material in the concept for it to last the entire episode… and the show completely throws that out the window. Again, that’s an absolutely bold and delightful choice, because while throwing out conventions (without completely bungling it all up) is a great choice for any show, when something like a sitcom or a procedural—shows that are typically set in its ways—does it, there’s usually something that clicks. That’s what happens here, and there’s not even a format change, just an awareness of the genre.

As fun as it would be to watch an episode of Jake going “full douche” for The Vulture (and it would be pretty damn fun), it would be a very expected, sitcommy approach to the whole story. I know that when I call Brooklyn Nine-Nine out for being (or potentially being) “sitcommy” it comes across more as a pejorative term than anything else, but I’m really using it to describe the expected beats in the show. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has such a talented cast that they could probably easily get away with being a more by-the-numbers sitcom; even when the show does that, it’s not as though it’s an affront to comedy, after all. But the show does so well in avoiding those standard beats, it sticks out even more when it doesn’t and is just like any other sitcom (even with the hot cast).

It stuck out last week, when I criticized Boyle for being nothing more than Amy and Jake’s cheerleader and not actually a character himself. It was the same episode where Bill Hader did a one-note, over-the-top character—which I loved—that I didn’t criticize as harshly, despite enjoying him for the same reasons I didn’t enjoy Boyle. The difference between the two was the that the Captain Dozerman character was a small beat in a season plot with a means to a Vulture end. Boyle, on the other hand, was an example of two seasons of character development that ultimately meant he couldn’t possibly—and shouldn’t—get away with the same kind of transparent behavior. It wasn’t a matter of not finding Boyle funny in the episode, but it was a humor that made Boyle as broad as possible, almost like a walking, talking prop. That’s thankfully not the case here, as Boyle gets to actually have his own relationship drama (while briefly cheerleading for his “OTP” but in a healthier way) and sets up some future character development.


The “worst” part of the episode is the pacing, which is at its most obvious during the most casual funeral possible, and Boyle almost suffers as a result of that (and the editing). It’s most notable at the part of the episode that says “no thank you” to the subversion of expectations, as Boyle rants to Rosa and Gina about his “relationship” issues with Lieutenant Singh (Archie Panjabi). It’s an episode bit that’s on par with a classic “he’s right behind me, isn’t he?” as Boyle goes on and on and rants about his own relationshp issues to Rosa and Gina, only for them to have to ask him to wait until after the funeral to do so. They—as well as other cops—are seated, right in the middle of the ceremony. However, the scene right after is a continuation of a scene before, where the actual funeral has yet to start, and Jake is still being scolded by Mrs. Dozerman. If you’re not quite sure, look right behind Jake and Amy during the scene: No one is seated unlike the Boyle/Rosa/Gina seen right before. It’s such a small moment in the episode, and it’s easy to ignore, but it also makes the super sitcommy moment from Boyle the most out of place part of the episode.

As far as the rest of the Boyle subplot goes, his reaction to Lt. Singh being a vegan is very much on point (despite the way the outburst goes), as is Rosa and Gina getting into his head about not knowing his funeral hook-up at all. Boyle is very much a romantic character, so the concept of him simply hooking up since season two does make little sense, and it’s nice that his friends/colleagues know him enough to really point that out. Plus, Archie Panjabi is great, as small as her part is.


This is also a really great episode for Holt, which isn’t just something a person can say for every episode simply because Holt is Holt. Of course Holt obviously has moments in the show where he’s not at the top of the world: Besides being a black and gay cop in the NYPD (which has lead to plenty of fun flashbacks from a viewer standpoint), he has Wuntch around to verbally joust with him at almost every single turn, and he’s in a paper-pushing job he hates now. Holt’s life and career certainly aren’t made of roses, even with him always being at a solid baseline, tonally. So seeing his behavior in “The Funeral” is so much different from the usual, as much as his voice may remain the same.

Again, Dozerman’s death and the looming face of mortality aren’t the problem: The problem is the idea of not being needed or being remembered, even after just a week of absence. Based on the season two finale, Holt at least knew that leaving the precinct meant leaving the individuals he cared for as family (plus all the extras). Here, as excited as he can be to return to the 9-9, he’s hit with the brutal realization—as fraudulent as it is—that the world has moved on with him, and he might not have made as big of an impact on his former subordinates as he thought. It’s absolutely untrue, but the idea of him believing that rings true, as does him wallowing (in the only way Holt knows how to wallow) as a result of it. It’s a vulnerable Holt, which is the best Holt—whether it be nerdy Holt, zinger Holt, or now, wallowing Holt.


Holt ultimately ends up being a life saver for Jake and Amy’s relationship, but it’s thankfully not just because he’s a prop in service of the plot. He’s their father figure, and it’s not just important he helps them get out of a scrape (like an actual father figure): He has to approve of their relationship, and he does so without ever saying it. Of the two episodes that Brooklyn Nine-Nine has provided for season three so far, the show is doing quite a good job of working with the amount of change that is happening in its world, and that’s an excellent sign. It’s great to be surprised by a show’s choices, and that’s exactly what Brooklyn Nine-Nine is doing this season.

Stray observations

  • This week in webisodes Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs: I don’t particularly want it, but if Boyle and Lt. Singh’s hypothetical sex tape were to leak…
  • I also could have done with an episode of The Vulture practicing crane kicks with Boyle. This is why the show dropped the ball at not “going full douche!” Thanks a lot, Scully’s butt! This is why his wife is leaving him (and his butt).
  • The Vulture: “I read the file. She’s a mom. Not interested.” Dean Winters has reached a level of perfect douchiness in his roles, but I can’t deny missing “love interest” or “leading man” Dean Winters (see: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles). It’s even more frustrating while watching Blindspot, where the male lead could easily be swapped out with Dean Winters with no one noticing (unless they noticed an improvement).
  • Boyle can have sex 23 times in one hour. This is an upsetting fact I wish I didn’t know. Keep up the good work, Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
  • My reaction to Boyle calling Gina “G-spot?” “No.”
  • How disturbed should we be that Amy is turned on by Jake’s Holt impression? Because I’m very disturbed.
  • Sort of like with Bill Hader, Brooklyn Nine-Nine decided not to be selfish with Jon Daly. That’s a shame.
  • “The alcohol has rendered me a simpleton.” Drunk, wallowing Holt broke my heart. Then One Drink Terry started dancing to “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves,” and my heart soared.
  • “This is my first time in a church” is our bizarre Jake quote of the week. That has to be absolute nonsense, right?
  • Bring back the mango yogurt!