A review of “The Therapist,” this week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, coming up just as soon as Judas is the Hamburglar…
Applying math to art is always a foolhardy endeavor. But I can’t help looking at this season of Nine-Nine — one of the series’ best creative stretches ever, at an improbably advanced age — and think how much of it comes down to two versus three, or six versus seven. In previous years, the show had seven main characters to service, plus Hitchcock and Scully for jokes but rarely for story purposes. More often than not, the way the creative team approached this task was with three stories per episode: Jake and his partner of the week getting the most screen time, and everybody else split up into two subplots. Dividing 20-odd minutes of television by three usually meant that one or more of the stories felt rushed, even if the individual jokes were funny. With Gina gone, this season has largely stuck with a two-story episodic structure, sometimes splitting the main cast into groups of two and four, sometimes three and three. Everything breathes better and feels more satisfying on top of the abundant humor.
“The Therapist” is the first episode in a while to go back to that familiar three-story structure. Not surprisingly, it’s more overstuffed than the show has been for most of the season. What is surprising, though, is that it’s the Jake story that ends up feeling rushed, rather than the subplots that have tended to be the victims of this arrangement in seasons past.
Both subplots this week accomplish everything they set out to do. Holt and Rosa have a sincere conversation about Rosa’s reluctance to introduce her girlfriend Jocelyn (played by comedian Cameron Esposito) to the captain. And the story prior to that conversation is peppered with some terrific gags: Holt’s contempt for actors, Holt struggling to conceal his disdain for Hitchcock and Scully’s weekend plans to prove a point to Rosa, the Jocelyn impostor Rosa hired trying to sell her molly. Terry going to ridiculous lengths to deny he owns a sex-advice book is pure humor (and, like last week’s running gag about Terry’s facial hair, a fine example of how effective it is to make the show’s resident superhuman into an utter clown). It gets the idea across nicely without overstaying its welcome.
Where we run into trouble is in the title story, where Jake and Charles investigate a murder tied to therapist Dr. Tate, played by character actor David Paymer. Jake’s dislike of therapy and the introspection that it forces on him is the kind of thing the series has dealt with before, with mixed success. Jake is a fundamentally happy, silly character, traits that play perfectly to Andy Samberg’s strengths. But whenever the show asks him to confront trauma — his parents’ divorce when he was a kid, his time as a prisoner with a cannibal roommate — it tends to do so too hastily for Samberg to comfortably make the leap to more dramatic territory. Inevitably, it feels like the show is paying lip service to some inner Peralta darkness that never feels real enough to be worth the effort. Had “The Therapist” done without, say, the Terry/Amy subplot, maybe that climactic scene with Jake stalling Tate by playing patient might have given his problems genuine weight. Instead, it becomes another story that’s neither fish nor fowl, teasing at serious issues just enough to get in the way of the humor, but not enough to offer major insight into our main character.
Or maybe the problem isn’t so much math as Jake himself. Just let him be ridiculous, and that works at almost any percentage of the running time.
(FYI, the show is pre-empted for the next couple of weeks before returning in April.)