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.
Every good show needs a clunker early in its run. This is especially true for sitcoms. Its rare that any comedy comes out of the gate doing everything exactly right (I would argue that only Arrested Development has ever come close to doing that). Series like The Office, Parks and Recreation, or The New Girl, which began their first seasons laden with possibility but had a dud or two at the start. Putting out an episode with big flaws—or even a few of them—early on can give a series a better sense of what is and isn’t working so that it can throw off dead weight and write to its strengths.
To my thinking, the biggest thing Brooklyn Nine-Nine could learn from “The Slump”’s failings is that it desperately needs to transition into an ensemble comedy, because it’s never a good sign when your show’s star is also its least interesting presence. There’s no denying the fact that Andy Samburg’s fratboy persona is popular with a broad swathe of the population or that Fox needs a comedy hit, given the low ratings for its other Wednesday night programs, but over these first three episodes, anything nuanced or interesting about the character of Jake Peralta has given way to the Samburg schtick; if that continues, it means that whether or not you enjoy Brooklyn Nine-Nine is going to depend on how you feel about Samburg.