A review of tonight’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine coming up just as soon as I balance besmirchings…
In sitcom history, there are generally two kinds of serious episodes: 1)The Very Special Episode, where an otherwise silly comedy takes a temporary detour to discuss an important issue; and 2)The sitcom that so naturally weaves back and forth between light and dark that it doesn’t seem remarkable at all when there’s a more dramatic moment. The first kind is rarely done well, because the show doing it simply isn’t equipped to shoulder a heavier burden, and you wind up with something like Jessie Spano quoting The Pointer Sisters while high on caffeine pills. But the latter kind is pretty common these days, not only on comedy/drama hybrids like Atlanta or Girls, but more traditional comedies like Mom and Speechless.
Parks and Recreation was one of that latter group: ridiculous 95% of the time, but human enough that when we needed to feel deeply about the state of Leslie’s career, or April and Andy’s relationship, we would. But even though Dan Goor, Mike Schur, and some other Brooklyn writers worked together at Parks, the new show is more at 98 or 99% silliness, and isn’t always successful at pivoting into a more emotional moment, mainly because that’s not one of Andy Samberg’s strengths.
So when I heard that the show was going more topical, and more serious, with a story about Terry being racially profiled by another cop, I wondered if Goor and company could pull it off, or if it would seem out of sync with everything Brooklyn does best.
Fortunately, the serious half of “Moo Moo” felt honest and real without undercutting the show’s usual goofiness, and it felt like a good way to take advantage of both the inclusiveness of the cast — if Terry Crews was the only black regular on the show, this story plays very differently — and the varied skill sets of the ensemble.
So while the entire squad knows what happened between Terry and Officer Maldack, and they’re rightly dismayed by it (even the “woke” Hitchcock!), the bulk of that story rests on Crews, who’s done good emotional work before on Everybody Hates Chris and elsewhere, and on Andre Braugher, who would be the best dramatic actor on television if he wasn’t busy giving one of TV’s funniest performances. The two co-stars play the Terry/Holt conflict as something real and honest, but still within the overall tone of the show. And the script deftly sprinkles in just enough jokes even into the heavier scenes — like the hilarious running gag about Holt’s loathing of Margo and her tales of Scottsdale — that it doesn’t feel like Brooklyn has transformed into something else entirely. Terry can tell Holt the story of why he became a cop, and how terribly the encounter with Maldack made him feel, and it’s an utterly sincere moment, but then the scene can conclude with another Margo joke without undercutting what came before. Everything is low-key enough to make the point without sledgehammering the viewer, or the jokes.
Meanwhile, the other actors mostly got to stick with the silliness, even though the babysitting subplot was directly tied to Terry vs. Maldack, as would-be parents Jake and Amy had to deal with Cagney and Lacey’s difficult questions about being black in America — and, thanks to Amy, about being a woman in America. This was mostly played for laughs, and rightly so, but Samberg and Melissa Fumero were able to pivot as much as necessary when they had to get real with the girls for a moment.
Given the state of both America and American policing, it can be hard to do a show about cops and not address some very real and difficult subjects. Brooklyn is for the most part best off resisting the urge to do big message stories, but “Moo Moo” kept things simple and smart enough to work.
Some other thoughts:
* I don’t know if Braugher’s delivery of “There are no highlights in Scottsdale, Margo!” is in the top 5 for him on this show, but man, was it great.