“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” just wrapped up its strong second season with its best episode of the year, dealing with Jake and Amy's awkward attraction for each other, Captain Holt trying to avoid being promoted out of the Nine-Nine by Chief Wuntch, and Boyle helping Diaz on her birthday. Rather than do a review, I reached out to “Brooklyn” co-creator and showrunner Dan Goor with some emailed questions about both the events of the finale and season 2 as a whole, coming up just as soon as I Don Johnson it…
Did you know when you made the finale who the new captain would be? If not, do you know now, whether the specific performer or at least the type of character it is? And what are you comfortable saying?
Dan Goor: We did not know who the new captain would be when we came up with the finale. We were really attracted to the idea that Holt's story for the season came down to a battle with Wuntch and that he lost that battle. It also seemed really juicy for Holt to say goodbye to the crew and leave the precinct and then to end the season on the elevator doors opening and cutting to black right before we see who the new captain is. Greg Daniels and Mike Schur always preached the gospel of ending the season in the most exciting way possible, even if it meant painting yourself into a corner, because you'll have the entire hiatus and pre-production to figure out what the hell to do.
Our writers room reconvenes on Monday (May 19) and the priority one will be figuring out who the new captain will be. As of right now there are no firm names, types, genders, or ages, but I've talked with a few of our writers and there are a lot of cool, funny ideas. It's really exciting and scary to set up a cliff-hanger like this one.
Season 1 ended with Jake leaving the squad, but for an assignment that we knew would probably lead him back to the Nine-Nine. Now you've reassigned Holt, and while I assume you're not looking to part ways with Andre Braugher, this is presented as something that will be harder to undo. Why did you want to go in this direction at the end?
Dan Goor: Andre Braugher IS NOT LEAVING THE SHOW!!!! It's scary (and totally understandable) that people might think that after watching the finale. We love Andre and we love writing for Holt, and he's obviously one of the best, most important parts of the show. Period. End of story. One of the reasons that we had Gina join Holt was that we thought it would make it clear to the audience that he wasn't leaving, but that the two of them would be in a separate office for the beginning of the season. Another reason was that we learned from Jake leaving at the end of season one that it's valuable for a character who's not going to be in the precinct to still be with at least some of your other characters. With Jake going undercover, we set up a situation where he really couldn't even see the other characters. With Holt and Gina in the PR department, they'll still be able to have contact and be in stories with the precinct, which will allow us to keep them there for longer than we kept Jake undercover.
We wanted to go in this direction for several reasons. On the one hand, it seemed like a really interesting, meaty way to end the season. And on the other, it seemed like a great way to mix things up and put new stresses on Holt and all of the other characters. Holt is very good at being the captain of a precinct and (as much trouble as the gang may give him) he enjoys doing it. I'm really excited to see Holt working a job he hates, a job which is difficult for him, and for him to have a real desire to be back at the precinct. Also, the crew has gotten somewhat chummy with Captain Holt, so it's exciting to mix things up and throw in a new captain and his new assistant. Finally, there's an opportunity for us to deal with a different set of issues now that Holt is in this office. It's interesting to think of the pressures and conflicts he would undergo as the mouthpiece of the NYPD in a time like this.
Did you have any storytelling goals going into season 2 beyond being as funny as you could? Were there certain story ideas or character combinations that were inspired by the first season that you tried to incorporate?
Dan Goor: We wanted to continue showing Jake's maturation as a cop, as a person, and as a potential love interest. We also wanted to move Amy closer to her goal of impressing the captain. Also, we wanted to show that Charles had grown out of his infatuation with Rosa. To a certain extent we did that in season one with Vivian, but we wanted to go even further. Strange as it may be, we felt like his ridiculous sex romps with Gina were a sign of maturing — he has gotten over going full Boyle. We also wanted show how deep Charles and Jake's friendship can be by having Charles stand up to Jake and have his own opinions (in “Stakeout” and in “Capt. Peralta,” among other episodes). Another real priority for us in terms of storytelling was deepening Rosa's character. That's why we introduced Marcus, to show a more vulnerable side to Rosa.
The season begins with Jake and Amy dealing with the awkwardness of his feelings for her, and it ends with them making out for real, but in between, you only touched on that stuff intermittently. Having done a bunch of romances on Parks that burned at different rates, how do you decide how quickly you wanted this to happen, and how often you needed to stoke that fire in the interim?
Dan Goor: This is a really difficult question. I feel like our show does several different types of episodes: police procedural, workplace comedy, and romance. We try to mix it up so that we're not doing too many of any one of them in a row. As a result, it sometimes seems like we're only touching on the romance stuff infrequently.
I don't know that there's a perfect burn rate for romances as a whole, but I think we came pretty close to the right rate for Jake and Amy. In the beginning of the year, we wanted her to rebuff him and for him to take a little bit of time to get over it. We wanted him to seem mature and for the audience to root for him to get her, so we didn't want him to just start dating right away. That said, we began to worry that we were making him too weak and pine-y. The tough thing is that if you say, “Jake should take three episodes to get over her (of which we'll only do a Jake-Amy story in one of those episodes),” that translates in non-TV human time as a month. Now all of a sudden, Jake hasn't gotten over Amy for an entire month and it seems strange that he's pining after her.
This is very long-winded and I apologize for that, but as I said, it's a difficult question. The other facet is that the show isn't built around the Jake-Amy romance and so in order to service Jake's other stories (Jake-Holt, Jake-Charles, Jake-Terry, etc), we are only able to touch on their story intermittently by default. Finally, I'd say we wanted to let their chemistry grow and to show them as friends and colleagues as much as romantic possibilities for one another, which meant we sometimes had them in stories which are not overtly about their romance, but hopefully show the audience their chemistry.
Related to that, one of the things that feels unique about the Jake and Amy tension is how open they've been with each other about it. There's been very little Jim & Pam-style secret pining on this show, and even outside love interests like Sophia and Teddy never stuck around too long. Do you think some comedies overdo it in erecting obstacles between potential lovers, or was there something specific about this pair of characters that allowed you to have them frequently talk and joke about how at least one has feelings for the other?
Dan Goor: Obstacles are great. You don't have stories or arcs without them. You just have people saying “I want this” and then getting it. Unfortunately, we now have 50 years of television and so a lot of obstacles have been done or used on other shows. We definitely use them (big or small) whenever and wherever we can.
I'm really happy that we've made Jake and Amy so upfront with one another. It feels true to their characters. First of all, it took Jake a long time in season one to say something to Amy, but once he did, we didn't think we could make him backslide into being a person who couldn't/wouldn't speak to Amy. The writers are all really vigilant about making sure that Jake and Amy are upfront and adult with one another. These characters are cops, who face dangerous situations. It seemed crazy that Jake would be unable to work up the nerve to tell a girl that he liked her. Also, I think it's a good thing for the character, in terms of making it clear that he can be mature and adult, that he's able to tell Amy how he feels.
Also in the romance department: is Boyle's crush on Rosa gone for good? There were several times throughout the season, where I wondered if his feelings for her were going to resurface, but he seemed happy to help her with Marcus instead. If you're done with that aspect of their relationship completely, why?
Dan Goor: I will never say never, but basically never. I think Boyle has moved on from his infatuation with Rosa. First of all, it feels like we've played that comedy so I wouldn't want to do it again. Secondly, Charles has matured: he's gone from infatuation, to real love, to casual sex. That's a sad statement about what I think maturity is. I like the fact that Charles and Rosa are good friends. He risked his life (and his butt) for her, and she's always had his back. I could see Charles back-sliding into ill-advised sex with Gina, but I don't see him becoming infatuated with Rosa again. That said, I'd also like to see Charles date more this season. He's really funny when he's in love.
A few times this season, you had stories building to Jake having a brief psychological epiphany about his abandonment issues, or a bunch of deaths he feels responsible for. He tends to be a very light-hearted character; do you feel he needs more shading than you had previously given him? And should we expect more of that in the future?
Dan Goor: That seems like a loaded question. Or a leading one. Do YOU think he needs more shading? I'm only kidding. Our goal is to give all of our characters, especially the main one, more shading as the series goes on. To that end, I think his speech to his dad at the end of “Captain Peralta” showed a lot of growth. You can definitely expect to see him continue to grow. The one caveat is that you can't have him become totally self-aware or there's no show left. So some growth, but not too much.
Where did the idea for Madeline Wuntch come from? And beyond her skills as an actress, how much of a bonus did you think it was to have The Closer taking on Frank Pembleton?
Dan Goor: The idea for Madeline came from the thought that the precinct and Holt needed an enemy. Downward pressure on the gang is great for stakes. So we started from that place, but very early in the pitching process we realized how much fun it would be if Wuntch was Holt's personal nemesis from early in his career. I love what she brings out of him. Actually, a bunch of the best pitches for the character were Kyra's. She pitched that in their backstory Wuntch had been rebuffed sexually by Holt (the flashback of her taking off her trenchcoat), and also she pitched that Wuntch should kiss Holt on the lips, which we had her do.
As a person who loves great television, it is a class-A bonus that The Closer is taking on Frank Pembleton. The bonus class system is very complicated, but it should be noted that a class-A bonus is in the upper 18% of bonuses.
Is there a whiteboard in the writers room where you guys keep track of all the things that Terry likes? Or is it safe to assume that he likes most things by now?
Dan Goor: Terry is a man of discriminating tastes. He likes many things, but he also dislikes many things. He's just less vocal about what he dislikes. Perhaps next season, we should hear more lines like “Terry abhors veal.”
You're juggling a big cast (counting Joel and Dirk), and the show also incorporated a lot of guest stars this year like Garret Dillahunt, Ed Helms, Eva Longoria and the return of Craig Robinson, among others. How tough is it to find material for everyone in a given episode, and especially in ones with prominent guests? Are you ever tempted to give one of the regulars a super-light week – say, Gina is on her phone the whole time but occasionally glances up long enough to insult Boyle – or would that feel like waste of a natural resource?
Dan Goor: We are tempted to do that and it does feel like a waste of natural resources. From an editing perspective, it's great to have 3 stories you can cut to. That said, I think some of our stronger episodes only had 2 stories, which allows both stories to breathe. The tough thing (as you noted) is that means some people have less to do. I've been pretty happy with how much we've been able to give everyone over the course of the season, but there are times where certain actors are necessarily light in certain episodes.
In “Sabotage,” we see that Scully and Hitchcock can actually be good detectives when they feel properly motivated. We've talked before about finding the sweet spot between making the characters seem plausible as cops and letting them be funny; did you feel it was necessary to tell the audience that these two weren't total clowns, or was it just an unexpected story you could tell? And should we look forward to future bursts of competence, or was that a one-time thing?
Dan Goor: That was actually the second time they proved themselves to be good cops. The first time was when they expertly deduced where the secret bathroom was in “Unsolvable.”
There was no pressure to show they were competent cops. In fact, I was worried that it might be too cartoony to show they were capable of being competent and chose not to be. Our compromise was to make it clear that being competent had taken everything they had and left them unhappy and exhausted.
You did sequels to both “Halloween” and “Pontiac Bandit.” Should we expect both – and perhaps “Jimmy Jab Games” as well – to become annual features, like the Tammy episodes on “Parks” or the Bar Wars episodes on “Cheers,” or did both of those just happen on their own?
Dan Goor: I think that as long as we keep having good ideas for “Halloween” and the “Pontiac Bandit,” we will continue making them annual features. They are really tough to break, but really fun to watch. I don't think we'll add any more sequel-y episodes, because if we do too many, it begins to feel like the whole season is just a repeat of the season before. When we were breaking season 2, we originally had a few other “pt.2″'s on the board, but we felt like we risked annoying the audience.
Two months later, people are still arguing about the solution to Captain Holt's brain teaser. Does this please you, or do you wish you had chosen one that was less ambiguously phrased?
Dan Goor: First of all, I love that people are arguing about an incredibly nerdy word problem. Secondly, for time I had to edit out a few words here or there which may have led to the confusion. That said, I think it's pretty clear what Holt was going for. Most people who hear the solution realize it's right, even if they had a problem with the wording beforehand.
The real question is: can we make a word problem-based-episode an annual event? And the answer is: yes (if we want to be canceled).
“HOT DAMN!” Discuss. And, more broadly, where do you draw the line for jokes about Holt acting out of character so that these non-robot moments don't start to feel routine?
Dan Goor: It's always a judgement call. Andre is so funny, so unbelievably funny saying these things that it's very difficult to ever not put them in the show. But we really try to make sure that Holt remains Holt-y and that we don't over-indulge ourselves. The other difficult thing is not relying too much on how funny Andre is when he says something very in character, like “antique globes”. It's important that there's a joke there and not just a group of funny sounding Holt words.
Hot damn! and Velvet Thunder are my two favorite two-word phrases spoken by any human being ever.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org