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“He Said, She Said” is an honest, funny, exemplary episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Illustration for article titled “He Said, She Said” is an honest, funny, exemplary episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine
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In terms of greatly hyped Brooklyn Nine-Nine episodes, I’ll admit that I was dreading “He Said, She Said.” It wasn’t necessarily that I thought Brooklyn Nine-Nine would screw it up—as this has been promoted as its “#MeToo episode”—but I was reasonably worried “He Said, She Said” would lack a balance in terms of both humor and topicality. It’s the same way I actually felt about the episode “Moo Moo,” and I’m very much aware I’m in still the minority when it comes to my opinion on that episode, despite it coming at a time in my (and my family’s) life when I had every reason to very much identify with the episode.


To get a little inside baseball with you all, I was also worried when I saw the screener screenshot for this episode. It ended up being a screenshot of the hospital-bound van driver who fell for the Disco Strangler’s (Richard Finkelstein) “groovy voodoo,” but when you read the words “a difficult ‘he said, she said’ case” in an episode synopsis and see that image, your mind goes places. But those places admittedly didn’t give Brooklyn Nine-Nine the benefit of the doubt, especially six seasons in. Maybe it was the fact that the crux of this episode felt very atypical of the series; maybe it was the “fact” that this current NBC season hasn’t exactly been an all-time great (so far); maybe it was even just the fact that it was on a new network in the first place. Eight episodes in, and I admit I’m still not 100% clear on what it means to be NBC Brooklyn Nine-Nine versus FOX Brooklyn Nine-Nine, at least not as intimately as the actual series writers are.

Last week’s episode—covered by my colleague and dear friend Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya—had an organization plot that brought up the very concept of Marie Kondo’s whole... thing. To improperly quote the feature film Zoolander, “That Marie Kondo’s so hot right now.” The reason I went with the Zoolander reference specifically is to note how much of a “timely” plot like that can just as quickly turn into a dated reference. The #MeToo aspect of “He Said, She Said” is also a very timely plot, but I realized in this particular case that the very idea of someone calling out sexual harassment (at the very least) being considered just “timely” is such bullshit. (I apologize for getting especially personal during this review, but this episode is one that calls for such a response.) The very idea of an episode like this shouldn’t have to be categorized as “timely” or hopping onto a specific “trend,” because it’s such a real-life situation that happens all the damn time. For that, I’ll defend “Moo Moo” as well, because the “trend” was of course “Black Lives Matter,” but again, just expecting basic humanity shouldn’t be considered a “trend” that a television show hops onto. I’m not saying that Brooklyn NIne-Nine approaches both as such, but when looking back at the episodes, they easily get the “this is the #MeToo episode” and “this is the Black Lives Matter episode” classification. As though they could only exist in a certain moment of time when that’s anything but true.

Now that I’ve gotten that soapbox out of the way, I can actually write about the episode. Part of why Brooklyn Nine-Nine works is because it’s a “cop series” that doesn’t place too much focus on victims and criminals, but that’s a point that becomes especially apparent in an episode like this. This is an episode about Amy, Jake, and just slightly, Rosa. Briga Heelan’s Keri is certainly a character you focus on in an episode because of Heelan’s comedic pedigree, but that’s never been what this show is, and even if Brooklyn Nine-Nine is going to do an “issue” episode, it’s not going to change its perspective. That also explains the largest aspect of the case itself: There’s never any question, based on what show this is, that Keri is the true victim of Seth’s (Jonathan Chase) sexual assault. The show itself doesn’t play the game of whether Keri’s telling the truth of course, though it arguably—at least before the questioning scene at the office—leaves some space open for the audience.

You see, while I’m curious to know what this episode would have looked like had Keri ever possibly been lying about her sexual assault, that’s a curiosity that comes with the acknowledgment that this is Brooklyn Nine-Nine and not Law & Order: SVU. (Or any version of Law & Order, really, besides maybe Law & Order: Los Angeles, which was very bad. I watched every episode of it.) This is the same property that went into “The Crime Scene,” which at least entertained the idea that the Nine-Nine isn’t always right or won’t always catch their perp. However, the very concept and execution of that episode worked hard to suggest Jake (and then Rosa) would not be able to keep the promise of finding the veggie-loving killer. This episode, on the other hand, is smart to cast the effervescent Briga Heelan as an objectively “cold” character—the show never calls her such, but she’s definitely a true part of the finance world that Jake and Amy are infiltrating, so it’s, unfortunately, the best way to describe her and the other female character—who could have been lying. (This is not something the show pushes, but there is an infinitesimal chance of it being a possibility because of the talent behind it. Again, that chance increases on any other show.) The fact that Beefer’s (Matt Lowe) moment of “feminism” is actually a moment of attempting to move up the professional ladder is even the type of thing that could have motivated someone like Keri.

Because Keri does not come from a world of emotions, just like Beefer, that’s typically the go-to reasoning in a television show (and I suppose real life) that suggests a story like hers is a lie. But Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t shame this character for not exhibiting the “right” emotions, as the Nine-Nine are always diligent in their work, no matter the assumption. (By the way, the smartest choice of this episode is Holt’s moment in the cold open to dismiss Hitchcock for the week. It was honestly better not to risk it here.) This episode isn’t about the guest character’s trauma after the fact (of being attacked or being shunned), but it doesn’t need to be—because that’s not the show Brooklyn Nine-NIne is. But in being the show it is, it still tackles this story very well. When Amy says, “This kind of thing has happened to literally every woman I know. I just wanted to help make it better for this one woman.” and tells her pre-Nine-Nine story, it’s not just some late-season character trait. A lot of female viewers will see themselves in this episode, if not in Keri, then in Amy or even Rosa. Or a mix of these characters. The “feminist”/”realist” argument between Amy between Rosa is also just as honest as Amy’s episode-ending, enthusiast “We can be different and still have the same cause!”


That break room scene is also the best scene of this plot from a general serious acting standpoint, by the way. Andy Samberg, of course, gets the most opportunities to allow that to come through, but Melissa Fumero has been the stealth MVP of the series for a long time, not just in terms of comedy. Amy telling Jake about her pre-Nine-Nine harassment hits like a ton of bricks without also being “too much.” Because very much comes from a place of truth. That was also the case for “Moo Moo,” even if I don’t necessarily believe it was executed as well.

And with this particular moment, it’s worth noting television is not particularly a director’s medium, but sitcoms especially get short shrift on that front. There are certain sitcoms that go for an ever-changing visual language on an episode-by-episode basis, but that’s honestly never been Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s style. That’s not a criticism or an insult, but it, in general, always makes it more difficult to criticize the directing aspect of an episode, especially when there’s an especially notable director behind the lens. In this case, Stephanie Beatriz doesn’t do anything too special with this episode. But her work is certainly commendable during that Amy/Jake break room scene, where she knows that all you need is close-ups on both Melissa Fumero and Andy Samberg and to let them do their jobs. It’s not a scene that’s necessarily your go-to when it comes to “directing” and “comedy,” but that’s what the Holt manhunt scene is for. (As seen in the image for this review, the office questioning scene also has some gems in terms of direction.)


In terms of an overall episode theme, there is also the “he said” of Holt’s oft-talked about encounters with the Disco Strangler. Again, going with the very sad expectations of this episode, the synopsis troubled me when it came to this plot: “Holt becomes suspicious after learning his lifelong arch-nemesis died in a prison transport accident.” To me, thinking about the A-plot of this episode, the B-plot was going all in on a wrongful death police corruption conspiracy. Thankfully, the episode went with the much more fun plot of Holt refusing to believe the Disco Strangler was dead. (Again, NBC’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine goes to the well of its longest-lasting bits for new viewers and long-timers alike.) This is surprisingly a very funny episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine on both sides of the plot fence, but there’s something especially hilarious about every moment where Holt has to ask Terry and Boyle if they’ve heard this particular story before. (They have.)

It’s also a little thing in terms of the big picture, but this is the rare Holt plot with Terry and/or Boyle that doesn’t rely on him insulting them for laughs. Sure, those insults land with Terry, but the Boyle slams have always felt like punching down on Holt’s part. That doesn’t occur in this episode, and in fact, both Terry and Boyle get to have fun at Holt’s “old man reciting the glory days” expense. It’s not that I want every member of the Nine-Nine to be nice to each other—my personal favorite sitcoms of all time understand the art of a good pile-on—but there’s truly a time and a place when it comes to the eternally optimistic Brooklyn Nine-Nine. “He Said, She Said” manages to find the perfect balance for this dynamic, which is the best way to describe Lang Fisher’s script for the entire episode.


Going back to the A-plot, the smartest thing it does is acknowledge Jake’s role as the supportive ally in this situation and not go with the “leading man” decision of having him save the day. (An “ally” is better than an “advocate,” which is how assaulter Seth immediately describes himself when it comes to the very concept of women. Of course he was guilty.) Amy is the one who has the “Eureka!” moment after his supportive, understanding reaction in the break room, and that’s a choice that matters. Just like it matters—even on a minuscule level—that Scully is furious Hitchcock was rightfully sent away this week. It matters that this is also a hilarious episode, with the A-plot showing how you can actually make this type of story funny (Seth and Beefer’s bits are hilarious, albeit upsettingly realistic—the same with Keri’s testimony, especially when Scrooge McDuck is brought up) and the B-plot giving Andre Braugher even more material for his necessary Emmy reel.

In conclusion: More television shows should have Briga Heelan breaking sexual harassers’ penises. There’s got to be an FX series in there somewhere.


Stray observations

  • We’ve now officially gone from sad reviews where Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been canceled to the series being renewed for a seventh season. To that, I say: Nine-Nine!
  • Stephanie Beatriz wrote a piece for Glamour about the road to and process of directing this episode. You should give it a read.
  • Thanks again to Kayla for covering for me the past two weeks. Just to be clear, I’m 100% with her on grading “The Crime Scene” an A, though I think I’d have given “The Honeypot” something closer to the B.
  • While it would not have worked out because of her dreams of having a Scrooge McDuck-esque pool of money, I was kind of hoping Keri would somehow become Holt’s new assistant. Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s greatest “weakness” is having extremely talented comedians and comedic actors in guest roles and bit parts—Paul F. Tompkins has been joking about that very fact on Twitter post-season seven renewal—and the latest version of that is this Briga Heelan guest appearance when the Great News wounds are still fresh. (Just to be clear, Heelan has deserved great comedic recognition since her first appearance on Cougar Town. That’s how good she is.)
  • Holt: “Zowie. I’m young.” Give Andre Braugher a goddamn Emmy. No, I will not be even a little objective anymore.
  • Holt: “Take a close look: This is the most dangerous man in America. 5’8”, hunched over. 93 pounds. With grey hair and blue-grey skin. If you encounter him, keep your distance.”
  • The repeated yelling is such an old, hack joke, and I laughed every time Holt/Disco did it. Terry and Boyle’s awkward and annoyed reactions helped, I think.
  • Since I took some time to really focus on this review, I saw some criticisms (from men, which isn’t a slam but simply the perspective I noticed) of this episode based on past Brooklyn Nine-Nine situations. The Boyle/Rosa of it all was of course mentioned, which the series was ultimately smart enough to course correct on. (Boyle’s general weirdness, however, comes as part of the family component of the Nine-Nine.) I also saw the “Title of Your Sextape” bit brought up, which has more legs to stand on… but is also a component of the Jake/Amy relationship canon. (This isn’t me making light of it for shipping reasons, because anyone who’s read these reviews since season two knows it took me a long time to get on board with Jake/Amy at all.) Again, I go to the “family” component of the Nine-Nine, where the inner circle has a certain relationship and dynamic that excuses certain things, even though I also know the concept of family doesn’t negate bad behavior at all. I’m really opening this up for you all to discuss because I admittedly didn’t think about it in the first place.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.