That’s more like it.
I spent much of last week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine review bemoaning the show’s focus on Peralta at the expense of other characters’ development. This week’s “M.E. Time,” however, is (almost) exactly the kind of follow-up I was hoping for, an episode that highlighted the series’ outstanding ensemble cast and allowed Andy Samburg to hang back for a change. Ironically, Peralta himself has trouble hanging back this week, working a DOA as Boyle’s second in command but itching to take the reins the whole time. Boyle, not Peralta, is really the main player in this story, as he and Diaz solve the murder while Peralta’s off having weird dead-guy sex with a medical examiner. Furthermore, the B-story was a nice showcase for Andre Braugher, Melissa Fumero, and Terry Crews—not to mention Joel McKinnon Miller’s inept Detective Scully—wherein Santiago recruits Jeffords to sketch a purse-snatching suspect while also trying to discern the many mysteries and grimaces of Captain Holt. The whole cast (minus the inexplicably absent Chelsea Peretti) is well served, for once, as the episode offers a welcome glimpse of what this show looks like as an ensemble comedy rather than just a Samburg vehicle.
We’re still getting obnoxious Samburg this week, to be sure, and this continues to be a disappointing character shift from the toned down version we saw back in the pilot, but at least Holt’s not the only one calling him out for it any more; instead, it’s Diaz who rides Peralta’s ass, shaming him into respecting Boyle’s authority and doing the job he’s been given. It’s smart for the show to create tension between Peralta and someone other than Holt or Santiago. The Peralta/Santiago rivalry is pretty one-note at this point and hasn’t factored into the stories in any meaningful way since the pilot. Meanwhile, Brooklyn Nine-Nine had, until this week, threatened to turn the “Holt puts Peralta through his paces” rigmarole into a predictable and tiresome pattern for the show. It’s a good sign, then, that Samburg and Braugher share so little screentime this week. If the series is trying new things, it means the writers are actively attempting to figure out what works.
They’re definitely getting there, by the way, because this is the first week I’ve found myself laughing out loud more than once or twice in an episode. There are still some missteps, still some jokes that skew too broad—a number of tasteless fat jokes at the expense of an obese dead guy, for instance. Also, I still don’t think the series is using its frequent cutaway flashbacks all that effectively. The flashback to Peralta setting off exploding soda bottles to celebrate his five arrests in seven days, for example, merited little more than a shrug from me because it’s just another variation on the in-office Peralta hijinks we’ve already seen; the cutaways to various detectives’ conversations with the inscrutable Holt were better executed but nevertheless too time-consuming, given that the ultimate payoff was a joke about the cluelessness of Scully, a minor character we’ve never spent any time with until this week. Still, the character-based humor, like Santiago’s embarrassed bow to Holt or Jeffords’ intense fixation on his artwork, is really starting to come together. As the characters have more time to come into focus, the humor is becoming more specific and thus funnier.
There’s plenty of room for growth here, plenty of stuff the show needs to figure out. But that’s fine; we’re only four weeks in, after all, so there’s ample time for the writers to figure out the balance of characters or which version of Peralta they want to feature or how to make the series as consistently funny as it could be. “M.E. Time” was certainly a step in the right direction, though.
- I didn’t actually notice Peretti’s absence from the episode until after it was over which, given how much I enjoy her, really does say something about how much I liked watching everybody else shine for a while.
- That’s Mary Elizabeth Ellis, by the way, playing the M.E., Dr. Rossi. Fans of Fox sitcoms might remember her as Nick Miller’s ex, Caroline, on the New Girl.
- That Boyle is one wild and crazy guy: “I once had sex on a futon…and it was in couch mode, too.”
- Captain Ray Holt spends his weekends: “I went to Barbados with my husband. We wove hats of palm fronds. We swam with the stingrays. I’ve never been happier.” I want to go on vacation with those guys.