33 episodes into its run, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has already timed out a crisp rhythm and formula for each episode. The cold open brings us back into this crazy precinct with a well-timed, easy-to-explain, character-based comedy situation. Then, a task will present itself and the office staff figure out who will be teamed up for said job, giving the audience expectations for how this in-tandem partnership will turn out. The main plot delivers a few sharp turns, setting the detectives back due to some shoddy mistakes that could have ben prevented with common sense. However, a surprising dash of insight will come back to save the day by the episode’s end.
Although not all of the episodes run through this set-up, the show does not often stray from the timeline above. This efficiency keeps the pacing brisk and the jokes barreling fast, since the structure and direction is so familiar. However, some of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s best episodes eschew some of those functions. (“The Party,” the terrific half-hour at Cpt. Holt’s home last year, elaborated on the office drama and entertained in equal measure.) One wishes, though, that the writers were a bit more formally inventive with their creations. “Stakeout” is an excellent example of how a nevertheless great episode could have been superb.
The main story here is how Jake and Charles team up to endure an eight-day stakeout, keeping watch over a drop site for an up-and-coming Ukrainian mob boss. Although the two characters have clicked from the start of the series, rarely sparring with each other’s idiosyncrasies, Jake and Charles’ tight-knit living situation turns out to be more grating than gratifying. Soon, the pals are tiring of the energetic theme song Charles came up with and are discovering that the number of irritations caused by the other keeps piling up. They even decide to write on the wall of their stakeout room in permanent black marker a “No-no list” of prohibitions for their partner.
This entire A-plot crackles, thanks to the already fantastic chemistry between Samberg and Lo Truglio. The writers playfully poke fun at the quirks of each character by having their precinct partner expose this issue. Jake can’t deal with Charles chewing his breakfast with his mouth open, while Charles does not want more discussion about Jake’s love for Die Hard and its sequels. Episode director Tristram Shapeero keeps the camera in close quarters, too, often moving into handheld shots to emphasize the partners’ proximity to each other and their shakiness with the others’ daily routines and leisurely preferences.
However, had the episode just revolved around the slow collapse of this bromance, “Stakeout” could have been a funnier half-hour. Although the B-plots are fine, this bottle episode-like set-up could have used more time to finesse how the tested friendship between these buddies disintegrates and then mends by the end. Every time Brooklyn Nine-Nine interrupted from their stakeout this week, one could not wait until the show returned to that story. You don’t need to watch many cable dramas of late to know that some of the finest episodes – Breaking Bad’s “Fly,” Mad Men’s “The Suitcase” – had a limited setting and scope. With more time to focus on this major turn for their friendship, this could have been a classic half-hour of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.