Brooklyn Nine-Nine does a lot of things well, but heartwarming isn’t usually one of them. From time to time, it succeeds in slipping in a small dose of “aww,” but the small dose is key. Other sitcoms reach peak humor and sweetness when a baby is born, but at its heart, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a funny cop show, not a family comedy. As hard as “Ava” tries to adapt a baby episode to the Nine-Nine, there’s no way to make the trope fit.
The episode makes a few great decisions. When Nick Offerman shows up as Holt’s ex-boyfriend, Frederick – an OB/GYN who can save the day if Holt will only apologize to him for a long-ago act of petty revenge – his glorious beard and comically flat delivery light up the screen. Offerman is disappointingly underused, but in his few minutes on screen, the glances exchanged between him and Andre Braugher tell the whole story of their relationship. I can’t imagine Offerman will return, since his mere appearance was half the joke, but imagine the possibilities of a Frederick vs. Kevin showdown.
Even more underused in “Ava” are the three women in the main cast. Rosa exists only to transport Terry back to the precinct before his wife gives birth. Amy shares a thankless subplot with Boyle: the precinct’s internet is down, so they’re stuck doing paperwork by hand. I kept waiting for the internet failure to cause a major complication, or even receive some sort of callback, but it’s a wasted device, culminating in slapstick so painful that it made me feel sorry for Hitchcock. Melissa Fumero and Joe Lo Truglio have great timing together, but they can’t do much to elevate what they’re given.
Gina gets sidelined, too, but Chelsea Peretti never wastes an opportunity to react with horror and disgust to the miracle of childbirth. TV isn’t usually brave enough to depict a female character as grossed out by the entire process while the men are mostly excited and knowledgeable. It might be the first time I’ve identified with Gina.
Instead of stunt-casting Terry’s wife, Sharon, the show gave the role to ubiquitous character actress Merrin Dungey. She’s supposed to play suffering straight-woman to the absurdity going on around her, but she seems trapped in a role that isn’t funny enough even by that standard. A few times, her banter with Jake picks up steam, only to get interrupted by yet another crisis.
And there are way too many crises in this episode. It would have been enough if Sharon had been trapped at the precinct while Terry struggled to reunite with her. Instead, fax machines catch fire and set off an alarm, sprinklers drench everyone, and every doula in Brooklyn is out of town. After a while, it starts to feel like the writers didn’t have enough material to fill the half hour, so they piled on one disaster after another instead.
The worst manufactured crisis is the friction between Sharon and Captain Holt. Setting aside how weird it is that we’re three seasons into the show, and no one has ever mentioned that Mrs. Jeffords can’t stand her husband’s boss, Holt gets shoved out of character to accommodate the premise. Holt is awkward, yes, but is he the kind of awkward who would tell a pregnant lady that she looks like a truck? Only this week, and only to make Peralta tie himself in knots keeping them separated.
Throughout the episode, Holt is uncharacteristically mean, and in ways so implausible that the entire episode unravels. Since it’s the Thanksgiving episode, there’s a running joke in which people state what they’re thankful for, and Holt repeatedly cuts Boyle off when he tries to chime in. It’s kind of funny the first time, but after that, it looks like bullying – the kind of systematic persecution that NYPD gay rights trailblazer Holt wouldn’t normally stand for. Later, Holt reveals to Jake that he not only did the thing that made Frederick so angry, but what he did was worse than Frederick thought. His lack of remorse, and his lack of compassion for Frederick’s tastes, are oddly cruel for a character who more often makes a point of accepting others’ quirks even when they irritate him until he explodes.
If Brooklyn Nine-Nine has wrestled with one weakness this season, it’s the temptation to throw away character consistency for the sake of a joke. While that might have worked in the show’s early days, we’re too invested in the characters now to accept that type of lazy writing. I know I keep harping on it, but every time an episode underwhelms me this season, it boils down to the same thing. I’ve hung around these characters long enough to feel attached to them, and it’s frustrating when they barely resemble the people I expect to see.
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