A review of this week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Trying,” coming up just as soon as I slut-shame a guinea pig…
That is very much more like it.
In recent weeks, I’ve grown a bit frustrated with Nine-Nine not only repeating old patterns, but ones that the show had mostly evolved beyond, particularly when it comes to Jake being willfully wrong about everything. “Trying” is easily the best episode of Season Seven so far for a variety of reasons, but mostly in the way it feels like nothing the show has ever tried before.
It takes a while for this newness to reveal itself. The early scenes focus mainly on the eponymous A-story: Jake and Amy doing everything they can to conceive, first by trying the heavily-structured Amy Way, then getting more improvisational with the Jake Way. But things are much busier in the background. Holt objects to being forced to walk the same beat for six straight months. Charles and Rosa hide their exponentially-increasing stash of guinea pigs. Even Hitchcock gets a subplot, as he stages a Cinderella-style search for the woman who left behind a tooth on their first date. That’s already more story than episodes had even in the Gina days, and it intentionally feels busier, too — subplots pile on top of one another in micro-scenes that go by quicker and quicker, as it becomes clear the episode is going to cover the six months that Holt was complaining about earlier(*).
(*) For a moment, I wondered if this was a way for them to do the Halloween Heist on Halloween, but we quickly blow into November and winter weather. Instead, the ancillary benefit to covering so much time in a single episode is that we’re now well into Holt’s year-long punishment, which will make it easier to transition him back when the time comes. And with Terry in charge the entire time, it seems unlikely that we’ll be getting a lot of additional, or any, interim commanding officers like Captain Kim.
Jake and Amy’s fertility troubles have to play out over a long stretch for them to have any real weight. The show could have mentioned the problem briefly in episodes prior to this one, but that’s not the same as seeing them continually trying and failing to conceive, and taking increasingly stupid approaches as they go. (Like the two of them attempting “The Hitchcock Way” after they believe Hitchcock has impregnated his bride-to-be Anna.) It’s funnier and more emotionally resonant this way, and racing through all these other subplots adds some levity to an episode that has an ultimately painful resolution for our main couple (still no success). It also reminds us that life goes on for the others, even when they’re not in Jake’s orbit. And the Holt/Terry story is the kind that you can really only do in an episode structured like this one. (Charles and Rosa might not have wound up with hundreds of guinea pigs named Claire in a more traditional episode, but they could have been stuck with enough to make the joke work.)
Nine-Nine in its Fox seasons sometimes buckled under the weight of more stories than could comfortably co-exist within 20-odd minutes of TV. In “Trying,” though, the subplots are all meant to be quick trifles that are more about illustrating the passage of time for Jake and Amy than they are about their actual subjects. Holt learns a lesson about policework, but overall, these are just pure joke-delivery systems. That’s a level on which several of these characters work best — Hitchcock most of all, but also Boyle, whose weirdness tends to be at its most amusing when there’s no attempt to emotionally ground it. As a result, this is the most purely funny episode the show has offered so far in 2020.
The more dramatic material with Jake and Amy also works. Fertility troubles are a familiar issue from both life and TV, and “Trying” doesn’t shoot for any grand statement on the subject. It just allows it to be a tough problem for our heroes to deal with, suggesting potential alternatives (IVF, adoption) that could be explored later, but largely focusing on the emotional hardship. There’s still lots of comedy here, as well, whether it’s Jake staging a fake kidnapping for sexy role-play, or Jake and Amy getting blitzed at Hitchcock’s shotgun wedding. But the closing note is entirely serious. First, Jake and Amy are genuinely turned on by each other for the first time in this months-long ordeal. The cheap and easy resolution would be that this is the thing that finally solves their problem. Instead, we cut to Amy holding up yet another negative pregnancy test, and the two of them looking at each other, disappointed but resolute. It’s not going to be easy for them, but they’ll keep working together. It’s life, which is complicated, even on a goofy sitcom like Nine-Nine.