March 25, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”


BROOKLYN NINE-NINE kicked off the beginning of the end of the 2013-14 network television season tonight, the first full-season series to reach its finale, so it’s time to start making some summarizing judgments about the year in television.  Brooklyn was the best of the fall’s comedy pilots, and unlike some of its brethren (Hostages may have been the best of the drama pilots), it stayed on course all the way to the end.  Brooklyn, by all measures except one, had an exemplary opening season–unfortunately, that one exception came in its ratings, which started out disappointing and have recently been flat-out bad, but luckily FOX’s comedy line-up is such a mess that Brooklyn, along with The Mindy Project, was renewed anyway.

Brooklyn comes from good pedigree:  co-creator Michael Schur was a writer/producer of The Office and co-creator of Parks & Recreation, and his fellow co-creator Dan Goor comes from Parks & Rec as well–but every network season is a graveyard of shows with great pedigrees.  Schur and Goor avoided that, in spades:  even The Office and Parks & Rec had both needed significant tinkering after their initial group of episodes, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine has had a handle on its tone from the start.  It’s broader than both of those shows, and less serialized in its plotting, but it has the same knack for creating an ensemble of comic voices, and a way of deepening those voices as viewers get to spend more time with the characters.  The series wasn’t a slam-dunk:  neither of its two marquee stars, Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher, had ever done sustained character comedy before, and it’s hard to imagine two other actors whose styles might have clashed as badly.  But Schur and Goor’s instinct that their extreme disparity could become a weirdly funny rapport turned out to be exactly right.  Samberg has found some heart under his sketch comedy schtick these days, and Braugher has turned his basilisk gaze into a witty deadpan–and his occasional forays into more Samberg-ian humor are all the funnier for it.

All of this was on display in tonight’s season finale, written by Executive Story Editor Gil Ozeri and Gabe Liebman, and directed by Samberg’s Lonely island co-conspirator Akiva Schaffer.  The set-up was Samberg’s Jake Peralta being told by the chief of police to close his investigation of a civic leader with high connections, and being brought up on charges when he didn’t.  To get the goods on the bad guy, Jake needed the help of Braugher’s Captain Holt and fellow Detective Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), which eventually required the gay Holt to show how effectively he could flirt with a woman judge when required, and all three to do some ballroom dancing–at which Holt, of course, was shockingly dazzling.  The great thing about this storyline was that without pushing too hard, it hit character buttons as well as laughs:  Holt had to show his trust for Jake, Jake had to restrain the feelings he’s developed for Amy over the course of the season, and by the end of the episode, the rebellious Jake had to do what Holt ordered–get fired from the NYPD–because he believed in his boss.

Meanwhile, the rest of the cast was mostly embroiled in the B story, which ended the saga of Detective Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) and his misbegotten engagement to Vivian (guest star Marilu Henner).  It had his former crush Detective Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews) and precinct civilian hand grenade Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti) determined to cheer him up, an effort that involved an outfit from The Matrix, an “egg-sack,” 2 hours of talk about “ample lips,” and which culminated in a lot of drinking and Boyle waking up the next morning in bed next to Gina–to their mutual horror.

There have been some missteps along the way–some episodes are more tightly written than others (the parody of Now You See It was marvelous, others less so), the revelation, late in the season, that Jake and Gina had been friends since childhood was clumsy and seemingly unnecessary, and the show sometimes steps over the tonal line and makes some gags too big for the characters.  (Terry and Gina are the most cartoonish of the leads–sometimes their hijinks are hysterical, but sometimes they feel like they’re from a different show than everyone else.)  Mostly, though, Brooklyn has been assured and engaging.  A good example is the character of Amy, who started off in the pilot as simply the ultra-competitive, by-the-book butt of Jake’s jokes, but whose bizarrely tongue-tied, self-conscious veneration of Holt has humanized her; she’s now strange enough that she and Jake make sense as a couple.

The finale left the show with plenty of room for development next season.  Jake’s “firing” was a fake-out, as he prepares to spend 6 months on an undercover investigation for the FBI, and he’s finally confessed his feelings to Amy, while who knows what could come of Boyle and Gina.  Not cliffhangers, exactly, but signposts for fall.  On a schedule as weak as FOX’s right now, it would be unwise to predict breakout success for any of its shows.  Brooklyn Nine-Nine, though, seems to have what it takes for a long if niche-y run for a happy if modest audience.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."