Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been one of TV’s most reliably funny and happy sitcoms for its entire run, but the fourth season — which concluded tonight with yet another big cliffhanger — was the show’s best and most consistent so far. Co-creator and showrunner Dan Goor tried a few new things — a season premiere featuring only Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher, a more serious episode where Terry got racially profiled by another cop, a bunch of mini arcs where the squad was in some form of peril or other — but it was mainly a matter of execution rather than a radical shift in approach.
I had a long conversation (edited and condensed slightly below) with Goor last week about the season, the cliffhanger where Jake and Rosa were successfully framed and convicted for a dirty cop’s string of bank robberies — which Goor doesn’t know the resolution to yet — the ongoing challenge of making time each week for one of TV’s deepest and funniest comedy ensembles, figuring out where the line is that allows Captain Holt to be both hilarious and in-character, and a lot more, coming up just as soon as I’m in Argentina surrounded by scorpions… or maybe not surrounded by scorpions…
Did it feel like anything was different about the season as you were making it?
I think that, one, we had a really fun start to the season in Florida. And by not having everyone in that first episode, and allowing ourselves to do the special Jake and Holt episode, I think maybe we opened ourselves up to more experimentation, and a more playful attitude. I think we did a lot of episodes of the season that had been pitched that I’d been, in the past, that I’d been to conservative to do. For instance, “Serve & Protect.” I was afraid that was really too meta, but I think maybe I relaxed a little bit and allowed us to have a little bit more fun with the writing staff, and maybe that helped. And then, I just think every year, the actors just become more and more comfortable in their characters and better at their characters. So that always helps, too.
You’ve got a high-class problem, you’ve got seven great regular actors — nine if you’re counting Dirk [Blocker] and Joel [McKinnon Miller] — whom you’re trying to squeeze into 21 and a half minutes of action every week, and it feels like sometimes, the show might be better off if you did just an A-story and didn’t worry about servicing everybody else. You finally did that this year. How did that feel, and had you been toying with doing that before in seasons past?
We’d considered doing it before in a way that would have been, I think, more along the lines of that great Parks and Rec episode from the last season, where Leslie and Ron were walking together. Interestingly, I think the converse is, sometimes we have to spend so much time on the A-story that I think it takes away from the rest of the ensemble. I guess the other way to do that would be just a big A story that has everybody in it. But I sometimes look at Modern Family and think it almost seems like they have B and C-stories only, not a big A-story. And that allows them to service their characters a lot more.
Certainly, I would not have objected if “Serve & Protect” had had another five minutes of eyebrow pumping.
Yes, I know. Trust me, I wish there were more [pumps]. We ended up playing it on a loop, it went on and on two minutes longer.
Jake will always be in that A-story, and then it’s a matter of figuring out who’s paired with him and what everybody else is doing. Is that something that’s become easier over the years?
No, that is still so difficult, I have to say. One thing that I think we also opened up this year was the first time Jake was not in an A-story. It was Terry in “Moo Moo.” And I do think that that opens us up to the possibility of doing that again, or us having an A-story that isn’t driven by Jake. Which we’ve done occasionally with Charles, where it’s Charles’s story and Jake is along for the ride. I think in season five, you’ll probably see more stories where it’s like, it’s Terry’s story with Jake, where it’s Holt’s story with Jake. I just think ultimately, we’re gonna have to do that.