Recurring Cast: Andy Samberg, Melissa Fumero, Terry Crews, Stephanie Beatriz, Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti and Andre Braugher
Sometimes a common compliment you can give to a comedy series is ‘this show doesn’t even need any new material. It can pretty much live off the jokes it already has’. By that, we mean that the series has spent so much time building up several clever in-jokes and recurring gags that sometimes we look more forward to them than we do the new stuff. For example, Family Guy can just have Quagmire say a catchphrase, roll out a chicken punch-up and throw in a celebrity cameo cut-away and pretty much call it a day. Everything else is just window dressing. However, very rarely, do we have a show that seems to do just that. Sitcoms always find new ways to keep the steam going, never taking the audience up on their offer to have a lazy day in the writer’s office. However with Brooklyn Nine Nine, I couldn’t escape the fact that the series was living off of the jokes that it had already built up, rather than trying to mine any new material.
There are a lot of amusing characters here and Brooklyn Nine Nine is the kind of sitcom that just enjoys putting them into odd situations and seeing how they would react. Holt is one-note, expressionless and gets odd amounts of enjoyment from seemingly mundane places. Amy is a busybody. Rosa is a psychopath. Gina is Chelsea Peretti. And in defence to the third season from Brooklyn Nine Nine, no one loses their charm. It is still fun to spend an episode hanging out with Andy Samberg and Terry Crews, wildly blundering their way through a case involving a cage of kittens. But while Season Two used the momentum of these interesting characters to give us engaging storylines and interesting situations, Season Three throws the characters into a ring and just let them do the heavy lifting. And this is why a lot of the early episodes of Season Three fall very flat. Andy Samberg is just as electrifying as ever, if not more so, as he fits the role like a tailor-made glove at this point in the show’s run. However, there isn’t really too much to compliment his oddball behaviour. For example, the biggest change with his character is that, rather than trying to win over Amy Santiago, he actually is dating her. However, while this is thankfully just as strong as the awkward flirting stage of the comedy, there is a sense that the script is just throwing these two personalities into a room and having them fire off of one another. There is a less immediate thrill, as the jokes need to be taken at face value. There is no growing romance or sub-plot blossoming in the background, meaning that as soon as the laughs die, there is nothing left to stick around for. There is also the case of an over-use of some of these jokes. Take Andre Braugher’s Holt, for example. In previous seasons, he was the show’s secret weapon, straight-faced but able to take a joke from solid to outstanding with a well-timed, monotone quip. However, here, his style of humour is pulled out far too often. His small bouts of happiness are under-mined by the fact that he descends into self-indulgent behaviour a few times too often. Much like Spock in Star Trek, his emotional beats are best when played with a ‘less is more’ attitude. Not only is Holt’s sudden fascination with pop culture (an undercover mission sees him recount the story arc of Sex and the City), used too frequently, it is also slightly over-the-top, as if a lid has been left off of the joke. There are moments, Holt dishing out high fives at a funeral, that could be argued to be a step too far, taking the character from his solid footing to the realms of nonsense.
So Brooklyn Nine Nine spends about 70% of its episodes following this trend, exacerbated by retreading old ground like Peralta and Holt’s annual Halloween bet and another confrontation with the Pontiac Bandit. Everything is funny, but is merely ticking over. Then, in the final third of the show, it does something rather interesting and devotes the final few episodes to one, single storyline. The set-up is introduced even earlier, a brand new character dropped into the show. At first, it feels like another misstep for the season, a brand new, wacky figure for the show to mine jokes at, that you will either find amusing or grating, as he brashly bullies his way into the ensemble, taking up a large chunk of screen time usually saved for other characters, in a bid to make you bond with him early on. However, then a plot point jumps up that throws the characters together into a rogue operation that seems them taking on a notorious gangster and a mole in the FBI. At times, the show is unsure of its footing, occasionally feeling a little awkward at spending time developing story, rather than dropping another joke, but the third season definitely picks up speed swiftly and surely. It is difficult not to binge-watch this story arc in one sitting (I gave into the temptation almost immediately, clearing my schedule to ride the rest of the season out to its end), the thrills coming thick and fast, the satisfaction suddenly hitting the peaks of Season Two’s glory days. Yes, this change in pace comes too late to save the poorest season yet, but it does prove that somewhere Brooklyn Nine Nine is capable of more than it thinks it is. Perhaps they are only just starting to learn this and hopefully Season Four will see the most adventurous helping yet.
Final Verdict: The end saves the day, but on a whole, Brooklyn Nine Nine feels stilted and trapped in a decaying formula.