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Brooklyn Nine-Nine - The Big House (Part 1) - Roundtable Review

28 Sept 2017

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Laura and I will be doing roundtable reviews of this season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. At present they are in the form of a conversation; this may change during the course of the season.

Bradley: Laura, I don't know if you know this, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine returned. I presume you haven't been counting down the days to this premiere from May, or anything like that.

Laura: Haha, good one. I may not have been doing this physically, but mentally, sure. I was definitely excited for the premiere and that cliffhanger certainly didn’t help my nerves.

Bradley: It was a humdinger, even if I was never as impacted by it as you were. I think, more than anything, it was just nice to have the show back. This wasn't its best episode but it did pick up largely where it left off last season in terms of quality. To be perfectly honest, that's all I wanted.

Laura: I would agree with you in every regard here. I really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t my favourite premiere. That honour still goes to "Coral Palms I". Both premieres took unprecedented risks for the show, and I think the payoff was greater for that one. But this one was nothing to sneeze at.

Bradley: No, but I'd suggest that it did have some of the funnier moments in a while - or maybe that's just because it's been four months. It managed to strike a nice balance between finding the humour and treating this quite serious situation (albeit one that will not last long) with the gravity it deserved. It's pretty emblematic of how much the show's grown, especially over the last season or so, in figuring that balance out. Rosa's side of things made that especially evident; it was the funniest half (Holt helps, obviously) but also the one with the most sincerity, I felt, ending aside.

Laura: Yep. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous to see how they would handle the clashing tones, which doesn’t make sense since the majority of season four did this near-flawlessly. But prison seemed a lot more daunting to me than other stories, I guess. Well, that worry was put to rest fast. Aside from the horribly sad gag with Jake getting beat up by the guard, over and over again, which seemed a bit over the top, it was a pretty fun episode!

Bradley: "Moo Moo" was obviously the most serious story they've done and they did that magnificently. This is serious but it's less so and won't last long, so I don't expect the exact same sincerity. I don't think Jake's assault was over the top. This being Brooklyn, that wasn't really going to have much consequence. It works nicely as a gag and to propel into Jake becoming a snitch, so, by all means, beat him up. And I think too that actually having him be attacked just once would remove the humour from it - seeing how quickly Wilson got violent brought a chuckle, but trying to work out how Caleb would screw up, again and again, was great. It was sort of quintessential Brooklyn in its silliness, and I'd always rather the show benefit from that than try and do something different.

Laura: Funny that you bring up “Moo Moo” - since I kind of expected this episode to deal with similar themes from that one, due to the setting of the episode. They kind of touched on it at times but I don’t know if it was enough for me. I will say that Jake getting beat up that much led to him and the warden talking about how hard it is for trans people in the prison system, and that scene was worth the price of admission.

Bradley: Exactly. And, like I say, on a show that prides itself on its silliness, a scene like that is pretty much all you need in terms of addressing larger issues. This isn't a documentary or anything like that so I wouldn't want or expect too much in that vein. In terms of sincerity, the priority should be the characters, and I felt like it was. Rosa's fear felt evident from her opening scene and I enjoyed them packing comedy into the middle before fully addressing it. Jake's was underplayed by him, as you'd expect. His final scene was about as close as they got to exploring it and it was very Jake.

Laura: True that. You never want a show like this to get too preachy, which is what episodes like “Old School” and “Moo Moo” excelled at. It’s a fine line, and these writers walk along it well. Yes, let us address Andy Samberg for a moment. What an underrated dramatic actor! That final scene was beautiful, it reminded me of “The Oolong Slayer” for reasons I’m not sure I fully understand. But “Everything’s fine. I’m talking to you.” will be stuck in my head for the next few days for sure. And to touch on Rosa, the magnificence of her fears was shown through her dynamics with Holt, as they almost always are. They cried together. He convinced her not to run away. This dynamic is one of the best the shows’ got, and having Terry there too is yet another one the show does really great things with. Everyone knows you’ve got gold with just about any pairing you can come up with, but for my money, two (three) of the best were shown here with excellent scenes worthy of their talent.

Bradley: That is an odd one to be reminded of. But yes, Samberg was great. It was such a simple line that pretty impressively summed up the situation in its tone. Rosa's an interesting one because on the surface you'd expect her to be able to cope with it pretty well. (I'm reminded of the undercover scene in late season three when they all agreed Rosa would fit into the ladies' prison better than Amy.) And yet her fears weren't at all surprising. You're right in saying her dynamic with Holt is superb and I'm glad they went that route to address this here. Plus, in addition to its dramatic nature, Holt's misunderstanding of Pimento's 'non-sexual' email was quite brilliant.

Laura: Hehe, that gave me serious vibes to last year’s “Skyfire Cycle” for a scene I probably don’t even have to mention again. You bring up the undercover stuff, which is great, that also reminds me of the scene at Pimento’s 'funeral' where she tears up. Rosa is definitely changing and she’s not the same person she was in season one. Which is refreshing, really.

I’d like to bring up the “gay card” scene at this time. If I could pick two scenes for SOTW it would be the ending and this one. I want to know your thoughts about it before I say more.

Bradley: She, like all characters ever, had to develop, and hers has been good. There's something to be said for her being the cold person she was in the early days, and that still shines through. But her becoming, for want of a better word, softer is certainly not a problem. With regards to the gay card scene, I was far more amused by his line that sparked the question of him playing said card than the response he gave afterwards. That manner of talking, as you might suspect, isn't really my thing. The seven equals signs scene was far better, for me.

Laura: It’s not a problem, and it’s really welcome with me.

Sigh. Maybe it’s just me relating to Holt’s lack of desire to have children, whether that is a heterosexual ideal or not (it is), but I loved that line and that scene. Andre Braugher saying, “Yas queen”, and then snapping is the scene I want to see before I die. And then it will play on a loop at my funeral.

What were your thoughts on the cold open? I thought it was really effective, even if I called it being someone’s dream as it was happening.

Bradley: Like I say, the hetero-normative comment was terrific. But I'm less convinced about "Yas queen," and I'm more than happy with the idea that it's just me. The fact that it was a dream was obvious from the get-go; it quickly became clear it was Boyle's, which was the only question. This was probably one of the weaker cold opens I can remember, which is fine. It certainly wasn't bad, and was a fine way to start the season, but we've seen plenty funnier. It did, though, do a great job of recapping last season's finale in 22 seconds and making it feel entirely natural. The Hitchcock bleeding thing was the funniest part of the open.

Laura: It’s just you, my friend.

Not every cold open needs to be bat-shit crazy or knee-slappingly hilarious. So a more serious approach worked for me. Boyle’s love for Jake is so potent here, and his desire to touch him on visiting day was amazing to watch.

Oh god, Hitchcock, what was he even doing in this episode. Rosa said he was the most in-character person during the visit but was he really? I mean, yeah, his shirt came off, but was there any indication his wife(?) was in prison? Or did I completely miss a good setup?

Bradley: That's true, although I'd suggest even its comedy was relatively tame by the show's standards. Not every cold open is a gem, of course, so it's not an issue. I had the same thoughts on Hitchcock. I'm pretty sure there was no explanation for who the woman was; neither Holt nor Terry knew why he was there and then he just started enjoying the glass. Funny, but largely in the absurdity of it.

Laura: I want to touch on the new faces in prison - Caleb and Romero. What were your thoughts on them?

Bradley: Caleb's a fun addition. The recurring gag about him being a cannibal worked nicely, and, like I noted before, him messing up the assault footage was great. The fact that he seems like a such a decent guy and then is revealed to be one of the worst offenders, you'd say, is plenty fun. I like Romero, too. Lou Diamond Phillips is a strong actor and he strikes a nice balance between that intense, gang leader vibe and making his scenes fun. Beef Baby's a great nickname. And a word too for Toby Huss, who I will never not love.

Laura: Agreed with everything. More on Romero: I loved, as was in my nature to, Jake and Caleb’s discussion on whether or not to strike a deal with him. "And how anti-semitic is he?" "Average." "Then let's give it a shot!" The casual Judaism on this show from Peralta’s part has been a joy, but I always thought they could do more with it. This comment was really great for that reason. And, yes, Beef Baby is out for blood.

Bradley: That was a very strong line. Fair to say that was about as good as he'd get in prison, so a good choice from Jake. One more thought from me: the Epix line was great. As I believe I noted in "Chasing Amy" last season, the pool of people that appeals to is, outside of professional television critics and myself, basically no one. But I'll appreciate it for all those others who do not.

Laura: I appreciated it for you, and I correctly assumed you would love it.

Final thoughts: It was a fun time and they balanced tones very well. I’m so thankful to have this show back in my life and I cannot wait for what this season has in store!

Bradley: More hilarity, I'd expect.

Laura: That’s a fair assumption. And I wouldn’t be me without leaving on a prayer circle to have more Kevin this season.