Brooklyn Nine-Nine returned for its seventh season with a two-part premiere. A review of “Manhunter” and “Captain Kim” coming up just as soon as I give you a foot five…
Every previous season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine ended with the status of Jake and/or Holt within the squad very much up in the air. It’s a tradition that has generally led to memorable finales and sluggish premieres, as Dan Goor and company are forced to foreground plot over comedy until all our characters are reassembled back in their usual configuration at the Nine-Nine.
When Season Six concluded with Holt being demoted to beat cop, it seemed an easier cliffhanger to undo than, say, Jake and Rosa being framed and sent to prison. But “Manhunter” and “Captain Kim” suggest the show is treating this new status quo as something that could, and maybe will, last the whole season. Holt is depressed about his reduced rank, and he and Jake go too far in sabotaging his replacement, but no one at any point suggests there is a way to overturn this yearlong punishment. They’ll just have to ride it out for the duration.
This plan seems smart for a few reasons. First, it presents a very promising change to the status quo. It has Holt still working alongside the others, but in a total 180 of the usual power dynamic. Now, he has no authority — even his new partner Debbie (amusingly played by Vanessa Bayer) acts like the alpha, as she has more recent experience walking a beat — while protégés like Jake and Amy have to adjust to being able to give him orders. Because they have such affection and respect for Holt, they can’t even revel in that privilege, because it weirds them out. Which is funnier than if they were just lording it over him.
Second, as I alluded to earlier, the show rarely escapes these cliffhangers gracefully, so better not to even try. It should be easy to get through one season — and a shorter, 13-episode season, at that — with Holt enduring this lowly status, and then it should be even easier to slide him back into his old office at the start of Season Eight (which has already been ordered). I’m sure in the end, it will prove more complicated than that, but it certainly doesn’t need to be.
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That said, this week’s episodes were a mixed bag, particularly in how they leaned on other overused aspects of the Brooklyn formula. “Captain Kim” in particular returned to a couple of concepts the show should have outgrown by now: the replacement captain who is quickly pushed out, and Jake behaving in a stupid and self-destructive fashion for an entire episode, despite everyone else telling him what’s really happening.
The latter type of story happened a lot early in Season One, usually with Holt as the one trying and failing to get Jake to wise up. It’s not a coincidence that the series took a major step up in quality once Jake stopped such a petulant man-child (he’s still immature, but in more productive ways), along with Holt and Jake beginning to develop a mutual respect.
“Captain Kim” offers a few twists on the formula, the first being that Holt is behaving just as petulantly as Jake typically does. (Though, as he notes towards the end, he has a much better excuse for doing it.) And Captain Kim herself (played by Nicole Bilderback) turns out to be exactly the nice and smart commanding officer she presents herself to be, which means Jake and Holt were being particularly stupid in chasing her away. It might be that giving the squad a good and sane temporary boss would have made it harder to generate comedy. But once Jake noted how often they’ve been able to squash past replacements, I hoped something different would happen this time. Ah, well. Maybe that’ll be the case with whoever replaces Kim (assuming they don’t just treat Terry as the interim squad leader).
Still, the two episodes offered some promising new story ideas and gags. A depressed, impotent Holt is a note Andre Braugher has played well in the past (like him crashing Jake and Amy’s honeymoon after losing out on the commissionership last season), and he did it again here as Holt adjusted to his new station and to having to work with Debbie. Charles adopting a badass new identity as “Chuck” Boyle courtesy of Rosa’s hand-me-down leather jacket(*) was such a fun idea — this show’s equivalent of George Costanza doing the opposite — that I almost wish they had stuck with it for more than one episode. Jake agreeing to try for a baby continues the story idea introduced in last season’s “Casecation,” but it also doesn’t commit the show to introducing a child anytime soon.
(*) Joe Lo Truglio and Stephanie Beatriz aren’t the same size in real life, but Charles and Rosa have a history of being the same size on the show, like the time she tried on his wedding suit when he was helping to prep her for court.
Both episodes also mainly emphasize how Jake is responding to the demotion. As he’s the lead, this makes sense. But Amy’s quest for Holt’s approval has been even more palpable throughout the series, so hopefully we’ll get some stories in which she has to deal with giving him orders.
Which, ultimately, is the advantage of leaving the new arrangement in place for a while. Any show that lasts into its seventh season will develop certain formulas. While Brooklyn has done better than most at transcending its own clichés, change is not only OK at such an advanced age, it’s almost necessary. Neither “Manhunter” nor “Captain Kim” is a Brooklyn all-timer, but both suggest good things ahead for the year.