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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

In third season, 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' squanders opportunities for character development

Star of Fox's TV Show "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" Andy Samberg during the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on Sept. 20, 2015.

Fox's “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” premiered in 2013 to solid reviews and success at the Golden Globes but has done little more than plug along since. Somewhere along the line, “Nine-Nine” became a comedy procedural: serviceable and at times genuinely funny but certainly not must-see TV. Viewers can expect a weekly case and goofy shenanigans undertaken in an attempt to avert disaster, but character and plot development are sparse.

“Nine-Nine” draws inevitable comparisons to workplace comedy starring an SNL alum, NBC's “Parks and Recreation” (2009-2015). Michael Schur and Dan Goor, creators of “Nine-Nine”, were also writers and producers on “Parks," and the similarities are impossible to ignore. Both casts share an overly energetic but ultimatelymorally upright lead (Andy Samberg’s Jake to Amy Poehler’s Leslie), a wise-cracking office administrator who drops pop culture references and is only occasionally involved in the main plot (Chelsea Peretti’s Gina to Retta’s Donna) and an overweight, bumbling older man who can’t seem to do anything right (Dirk Blocker's Hitchcock and Joel McKinnon Miller’s Scully to Jim O’Heir’s Jerry). This comparison does “Nine-Nine” no favors. Where “Parks” was constantly changing and setting the bar higher for itself, “Nine-Nine” has lapsed into a place of comfortable mediocrity.

House Mouses," which aired on Feb. 16, exemplifies the general quality of the third season. Jake, annoyed at being stuck with a low-level drug case, passes it off to Hitchcock and Scully, only to learn that the case is part of an enormous drug ring. Jake and Terry (Terry Crews) have to scramble to keep Hitchcock and Scully from injuring themselves and ruining the whole investigation. What could have been an opportunity to develop Hitchcock and Scully as characters is passed over entirely in favor of an uncreative plot and its related gaffes. At least on “Parks," Jerry underwent a number of name changes and was granted a blissful home life; Hitchcock and Scully bring almost nothing in the way of humor or heart to their show. The two supporting plots, meanwhile, are predictable and produce only minor laughs. In the best scene of the entire half hour, Gina faces her fear of businessmen by putting on a pantsuit and forcing her hair into a ponytail, but one scene cannot save the sinking ship that is the episode as a whole. With the exception of a few choice one-liners, “House Mouses” is largely forgettable.

It should be noted that the cast certainly does the best it can with the material provided. Peretti is a particular standout, delivering Gina’s ridiculous words of wisdom with relish. There is only so much actors can do to transform mediocre scripts, however.  Even guest stars such as Damon Wayans Jr., Bradley Whitford and Katey Sagal have not managed to elevate the show--not that they should need to. The writing decisions just do not add up: a recent episode featured members of the team trapped in an escape room simulation, but the setup for what could have been an excellent bottle episode was squandered on this B-plot featuring a strange mix of secondary characters.

Most remarkably of all, perhaps, is the present state of the one-time will-they-won’t-they relationship between Jake and Amy (Melissa Fumero). Most sitcoms develop a romance of this type, with the outcome usually falling somewhere on a spectrum; on the one hand, “Parks” managed to avoid sit-com tropes and create a supportive relationship, which formed the heart of the show, so that once Ben (Adam Wyatt) and Leslie were together, the show was stronger for it. Meanwhile, on Fox’s “New Girl” (2011 - present), when the will-they-won’t-they couple got together, the show’s spark vanished. “Nine-Nine” has somehow strangely fallen square in the middle. Jake and Amy’s relationship has not removed all suspense from the show, nor has it taken the show anywhere new. It is easy, in fact, to forget that they are a couple at all.

Most TV shows inevitably undergo weak periods. “Parks” itself had a universally-denounced first season. “Nine-Nine” cannot afford to attempt to survive on past goodwill, however. Network television channels like Fox have often been generous to critically acclaimed shows even when they garnered little viewership, but in the face of the competition presented by content on cable and Netflix, simply being sometimes good is no longer good enough.

Summary Despite impressive work from the cast, the third season of "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" has seen the show lapse into a place of comfortable mediocrity.
3 Stars