Review: ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ – ‘Into the Woods’: I fell into the pit!

Senior Television Writer
11.08.15 16 Comments

FOX

A review of tonight’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” coming up just as soon as I turn this debacle into a straight up bacle…

Due to FOX’s World Series coverage, it’s been a couple of weeks since the last “Brooklyn” episode aired. Still, the memory of “Halloween III” remained fresh enough in my mind that it was hard not to compare how much smoother and richer the show seems to be when it only does one story in a week, versus the three we often get in episodes like “Into the Woods.”

This cast is so great, and works well in so many different combinations, that I appreciate the impulse to showcase everybody by splitting them up into smaller groups. But what often happens in these three-story episodes – particularly because the series has to operate under the awful four-act structure that FOX and some of the other networks have imposed on all their sitcoms(*) – is that each plot, particularly any not involving Jake, winds up feeling under developed.

(*) For those who don’t pay attention to this kind of thing: most network sitcoms used to feature three acts, separated by commercial breaks, often but not always with a pre-credits teaser and/or a tag scene that runs during the closing credits. Several network researchers claim that the commercial breaks under that structure are too long, and encourage people to change the channel and not come back, which led to the addition of both a fourth act and an extra commercial break, making each individual break shorter but creating more breaks per episode. That means scenes and acts don’t have the proper time to build momentum, and it means that the episode as a whole has to wrap up its stories really abruptly in that abbreviated fourth act. It does no one any favors. (One of the very first things Mindy Kaling didwhen her show moved from FOX to Hulu was to go back to the three-act structure.)

“Into the Woods” certainly had plenty of funny moments across its three stories. Holt and Diaz grappling with emotions was a wonder, particularly the glimpse of Great Dramatic Actor Andre Braugher showing that he can cry funny (and also reciting magazine story URLs in their entirety). Amy’s relentless awkwardness, and Gina’s enjoyment of same, is always a treat, and Jake and Charles offered Original Terry (“The worst Terry!”) plenty to be exasperated with at Lohank’s cabin.

But each of those stories left me wanting more, and not necessarily in that classic showbiz axiom way. They all felt like they were missing out on opportunities to push the stories, and the jokes, much further than there was room for. The flashlight clip story, for instance, was crying out for either a training montage or just more exploration of Gina trying to make Amy into less of a spaz, they left a lot of meat on the bone with Matt Walsh’s brief reappearance as the perpetually tragic Lohank, and the conclusion with the fireworks, like a lot of the show’s episode-ending gags of late, felt very abrupt. The format’s to blame for some of that, but I’ll repeat my occasional plea for the show to try doing only 1-2 stories most weeks, and if that means a few of the supporting characters don’t get much to do that week, so be it.

The separate components of an episode like this are really good, but they somehow add up to less than the sum of the individual parts.

What did everybody else think?

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