Sunday, January 10, 2016

Brooklyn Nine Nine - Series 3 and it's getting relationshippy, hmmm....

I'm a huge fan of Brooklyn Nine Nine. I think it's true to say I laughed out loud at least once during every episode of the first two series. Andy Samberg as Jake Peralta is brilliant at delivering witty lines and the cast around him are equally good at playing comedy straight.

But season 3 has just started and I fear it is heading into the same kind of trouble that has plagued other good sitcoms before it. It's getting relationshippy.

I love these guys
Jake and Amy are now an item. Season 2 ended with them kissing and then a cliff-hanger. They are now trying to work out the relationship. The problem is that in sitcom-world, unrequited love, or relationships being thwarted is always more interesting than when the mismatched, oft-thwarted lovers finally get together.

For evidence: even though everyone wanted Ross and Rachel to get together, the relationship was not the opportunity for comedy that the preamble had been, with Ross dreamy-eyed over an oblivious Rachel and hating her boyfriend, whoever that was in any given episode. Similarly, while how Monica and Chandler got together was funny, their being together was less funny. Friends went from being slick and smart to being schmaltzy and almost unwatchable when it got relationshippy.

Just about everyone who loved Frasier will agree that it went rapidly downhill once Niles and Daphne's unrequited romance was requited. Again, the trick to that comedic genius was Niles being in love with Daphne and her not knowing about it, even though everyone else did. Putting them together would have been the perfect way to end the show, because, realistically, it's not worth watching it after they got together.

The same dynamic of lovesick dolt and oblivious girl is what made Leonard and Penny so enjoyable on-screen in the early years of The Big Bang Theory. That show has gradually married or paired off its four main male characters now. Hopefully they will learn from Frasier and make Sheldon and Amy's inevitable wedding the finale.

We've even seen a similar problem in the otherwise epic Parks & Recreation. They effectively had to bin off Ann and Chris as quickly as possible after they got hitched because they were no longer interesting. And it's a wonder that Leslie and Ben's nuptials didn't sour the whole thing too. Except the real dynamic there was always Leslie and Ron rather than her romantic relationship, so maybe that was the thing that saved it.

The thing is that relationships themselves are inherently settled, while the best comedy comes from unpredictability. That's why Joey was the only character from Friends for whom a spin-off series could possibly work. Comedy is also rooted in pathos. We feel for the love-struck Niles or Ross more than the loved-up versions of themselves, because we feel their pain and share their hope.

I've said before how brave the writers and cast of Seinfeld were to quit at the top of their game, when they were still the number one comedy in America (and possibly the planet). Season 9 is still one of the best seasons of Seinfeld. But it's telling that none of the main characters are anywhere near a serious relationship, except for Elaine - although her relationship with Puddy could only be described as disastrous. If Jerry or George had genuinely settled down the comedy would have slowly dissipated away. (Of course, George had a near miss, but that doomed relationship became a hilarious millstone around his neck in later years.)

So, will Brooklyn Nine Nine buck the trend? A lot of the humour in the first two series came from Jack and Amy sparking off each other and bickering. Now they profess feelings for each other. Can this still be funny? (It's the same issue Modern Family will face now that Hayley and Andy are officially together - we will have to wait and see there too.) I hope the writers can avoid the relationship pitfall, because Brooklyn Nine Nine is arguably the best thing on TV right now (at least until Elementary comes back) and I really hope they can pull off a third amazing series.

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