A review of tonight’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine coming up just as soon as I’m deep in the ham crate…
I’ve been rewatching Parks and Rec with my daughter, and it strikes me that Ron’s secret identity as cool jazzman Duke Silver is a joke the show probably wouldn’t have done even half a season later, but that got grandfathered in as a running gag because it was introduced while the writers were still figuring out what made Ron tick and what the characters’ boundaries were. It’s not that Ron couldn’t occasionally retreat to a persona diametrically opposed to the one his co-workers see, but that it’s such an extreme change, it then renders the many other times where we see Ron acting out of character (say, his giggling love of puzzles) a bit less surprising and special. There comes a point, after all, where all these out-of-character moments happen so often that they have to be considered in character. Duke Silver always makes me laugh, but it’s also not a surprise that he comes up much more rarely the longer the series goes on.
I bring this up because Brooklyn has had to walk a similar line with Captain Holt. It’s amazing to hear Andre Braugher scream out “Hot damn!” or “BOOOOOOONE!” or talk softly about hula hoop technique, but a lot of what’s funny about those moments is that they’re wildly at odds with what Braugher and the writers are doing with that character 95% of the time. Go to that well too often, and Holt’s still funny simply because Braugher’s an acting god and the jokes are good, but the contrast isn’t nearly as strong, and the returns are diminished.
The difference between Holt and Ron, though, is that we know Holt hasn’t always been this way, where Ron basically has. (He built his first chair at 5, then rebuilt it at 9 with his factory wages because the quality of the original wood was wanting.) We’ve seen the flashbacks of Holt with his afro, as the kind of cocky lone wolf detective Jake would idolize. He wasn’t always this finely-tuned robot, which gives the Brooklyn writers more leeway to periodically give us hints of a version of the character very much unlike the one we know.
The title story of “Bad Beat” not only gives us Holt behaving abnormally in an amusing way, but helps fill in some of the gaps between young Holt and the contemporary edition. Recovering from a crippling gambling addiction seems the exact kind of thing that would help push our man into the more uptight figure he is today, even if there were signs of that figure even in the past: just savor each glorious pause as the young Holt announces, “I’d like to bet $20,000 on Yabba. Dabba. Doo,” or consider that Holt’s tell is his use of contractions when he’s bluffing(*). (He even drops a double contraction — “shouldn’t’ve” — when his life is in danger in the climax!) This is not the first time he’s fallen off the wagon, as alluded to when Jake and Terry threaten to tell Kevin about what’s happening, but you can very easily see how each gambling episode has pushed him to retreat further into robot mode.