I miss Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It’s been off the air since the fall finale, and it’s supposed to come back at some point in the spring (judging from previous seasons), but that’s too long. In these days of instant gratification from Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, taking months between seasons that you then have to watch on a week-by-week basis is torture.
Fortunately we have great shows like B99 (and also The Good Place) that make it worthwhile to wait.
In the meantime, to whet our appetites, my wife and I rewatched the cold opens of all the episodes aired to date. (If you don’t know, a cold open is the bit of the show that airs before the credits. One of the best in the past 30 years is from “Cause and Effect”, in which the Enterprise-D explodes just two minutes in.) With as many episodes as there have been, there are plenty to choose from for a six of the best, so here it is: six of the best Brooklyn Nine-Nine cold opens. Spoiler warning through the Season 5 winter finale.
6. Jake Calls Holt “Dad”, “The Apartment”, S1E18 — The best relationship of the first season of B99 is Jake Peralta and his becoming accustomed to Captain Holt’s personality. They’re very different people, although they both have the same goal: capture criminals and make their precinct (and the area it serves) the best place possible. By this point, more than 75 percent through the season, we’ve learned that Jake’s father left his mother and he grew up in a single-parent household.
So when he calls Captain Holt “Dad” after Holt tells him he did a good job, it not only advances both the overall story but also resonates with anyone who has received approval from a father figure or has wanted said approval for some time. And while that in and of itself isn’t funny, Jake’s embarrassment is amusing because of the way he plays it up.
5. My Stinky Butt, “Lockdown”, S2E7 — Captain Holt has suffered a personal loss and while Amy goes overboard with flowers Jake knows Holt would appreciate a simple message of support. Unfortunately for Jake, he sends it from his phone, via his personal email, and instead of saying “Sent from my iPhone” at the bottom, it says “Sent from my stinky butt!”
The humor comes from not knowing exactly what Jake could have done with his personal email signature — did he make a sexual joke? Was it something inappropriate? Was it something that would disappoint the captain? It turned out to not be that bad (and hearing Holt say “my stinky butt” is pretty damn hilarious), and the combination of relief and humor is what makes it work.
4. The Gift Basket, “House Mouses”, S3E16 — The team finds a gift basket of food at the office and starts trying things, all of which are good. They think it’s just a thank-you gift from someone, but when the card is revealed, trouble is afoot. At this point in the third season, Captain Holt’s husband (he is gay, which is established early on in the show) is teaching in France and has been away for a while. The gift basket was from him. Everyone panics, and after a “five minutes later” title card, they give the gift basket to Holt, except now it’s full of office supplies.
The humor here is in the subversion of expectations. Holt, as a generally dry individual, is expected to get mad, but instead he says “that man really knows me,” and everyone is relieved. And as you’ll see in the next three items, the subversion of expectations is played for many more laughs over time.
3. Holt Impressions, “Mr. Santiago”, S4E7 — While snacking on marshmallows in the breakroom, the team has a competition to see how Captain Holt would react if he ate a marshmallow. After all, marshmallows are fun food, and sort of a dessert, and as has been established the captain tends to eat plain, or boring, or healthy things pretty much all the time. Everyone tries to imitate Holt… except for Charles, who believes he would go “mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm!”
Then he walks in. And he tries a marshmallow. And it turns out that Charles was right — as he often is about food. But again, it’s a situation where we expected Holt to do one thing and he instead did the opposite — this time in an extremely silly fashion.
2. Step Class, “The Bank Job”, S4E21 — Jake and Rosa are hot on the trail of some dirty cops, led by a well-respected lieutenant, Melanie Hawkins. In order to keep from being caught out by her, they meet Captain Holt at his daily step aerobics class. As it turns out, the captain is really good at aerobics, and Rosa, being athletic, is also almost perfect. Only Jake falls behind.
I would classify this as a “reverse-fish-out-of-water” situation. Holt isn’t the kind of guy you’d expect to see at a step aerobics class (although, to be fair, he and his husband did learn how to hula-hoop, and he mastered many techniques), but there he is. And realistically step aerobics is pretty good exercise; it wouldn’t surprise me if Holt had done some research, figured this out, and decided it was his best course of action.
1. The Full Bullpen, “Skyfire Cycle”, S4E8 — Okay, I admit it, this is why I wanted to write this article. When my wife and I started watching B99, we did so on Hulu, and if you’ve never watched a show on Hulu, then you might not be familiar with the fact that many programs start with a five-second teaser showing when the program is on, what channel, and a representative clip. The representative clip for B99 is Jake, wearing a helmet, throwing a thumbs-up, giddy, moving forward somehow while Amy and Charles are behind him, cheering. For weeks as we watched the show we waited to see which episode it would be from.
Then one evening my wife said “that’s what Jake’s wearing. In the opening thing.” And, lo and behold, it was.
So basically at this point in the fourth season the team is on the night shift as a punishment. As it turns out, once a month the linoleum floors in the precinct get buffed. The night that it happens, Jake takes off his shoes, gets a running start, and tries to go from Holt’s office, all the way across the room, and to the elevator, using only the momentum from the running start. Think Tom Cruise in Risky Business.
As if that wasn’t funny enough, just as Jake gets to the elevator, it opens, and Captain Holt is there. The doors close behind them… and when they open, Holt raises Jake’s arm and shouts “THE FULL BULLPEN!”
In general Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a pretty great show. It’s representative — more than half the cast is non-white, and two of them are non-heterosexual. But more than that, unlike many shows, they’re all good at their jobs. Yes, even Gina. Jake, Charles, Amy, and Rosa are excellent detectives; Terry is a good person and a good sergeant; Holt is a leader that inspires his people to do better; and even Scully and Hitchcock have their positive points. The relationships between each of them are dynamic and interesting, and there isn’t a single love triangle among the main characters. Not once do we worry that Jake and Rosa will get together and cause strife with Amy’s relationship; nor would Charles get in the way of Amy and Jake, or Rosa and any of her partners. In point of fact, when Rosa comes out as bisexual, Charles is the person she comes out to first, and he is supremely supportive.
But when you get right down to it, the show is about the relationship between Jake Peralta and Captain Holt. The setup is classic sitcom: the slovenly employee and the uptight boss. But Jake isn’t just a slob; he’s also a great detective who knows when to do the right thing. And Holt isn’t just a stuffed shirt; he’s a leader who finds ways to get his team to adapt to what he believes is best. They should be adversaries, but I think the writers made an excellent choice by not going that route, as so many shows have done. Instead, a bond of mutual respect (which turns to friendship) is formed, and that’s not something you get in a lot of sitcoms because most of them are afraid that, with only 22 minutes, if you don’t use character stereotypes you won’t have time for the plot.
By taking the time to create realistic relationships among a group of competent co-workers, the writers of B99 have made it possible to give us great episodes like “Moo Moo”, which has two black police officers discussing racism in a way that a lot of the audience really hasn’t seen. And by building such a compelling character with Captain Holt, who would not have been so if he hadn’t had to adapt to Jake in a similar way to how Jake had to adapt to him, we would never have been able to accept the way Holt reacted to Terry’s complaint, and how he changed his mind on the issue.
So I guess deep down I also wanted to talk about that episode too.
Anyway. Brooklyn Nine-Nine. You should watch it. It’s good. The end.
Got an idea for a future “Six of the Best” column? Tweet it to me @listener42.
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