Netflix seems to be aiming Locke & Key at teens and perhaps even children, but it’s a bad fit indeed.
Working a Brooklyn police beat on TV can be a harsh experience. You deal with psychopaths and malcontents. You meet people who break all sorts of societal and legal boundaries. You have to put up with folks who seem to want to make the world a more inhumane place.
And after all that, sometimes you gotta actually leave the precinct headquarters and confront criminals.
Such is the world of Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a show about the strangest precinct in the Big Apple since Barney Miller. It’s a knockoff Community in cuffs—a rapid-fire comedy whose own version of the Miranda Rights would almost certainly feature a dancing woman with fruit on her head.
(My editor says I must specify that that’s a Carmen Miranda reference, for readers under 65 and who haven’t watched a sufficient number of old Bugs Bunny cartoons.)
Det. Jake Peralta (Saturday Night Live alum Andy Samberg) stands at the sitcom’s nutty nucleus. This gifted but unhinged gumshoe is almost certainly a donut short of a dozen, prone to high-volume comedic outbursts at least twice every show segment. He may burst into song. He may dance a jig. But rarely will you see Jake stand still. He reminds me just a little of Gonzo the Great after one too many espressos.
Other characters are trotted out and used according to stereotype. There’s Det. Amy Santiago, Jake’s overachieving and high-strung wife; Det. Rosa Diaz, the precinct’s mysteriously sulky tough hombress; Sgt. Terry Jeffords, the squad’s vein-bulging, iron-pumping chief; and hapless Det. Charles Boyle, the obligatory well-meaning but somewhat clueless tagalong.
Then, of course, there’s the show’s straightest of straight men—who, paradoxically, happens to be gay. Capt. Ray Holt rarely smiles, never laughs and sagely tries to keep his wildly erratic charges in line. Watching the captain at work is a little like watching James Earl Jones try to rein in a ring full of carnival clowns—if Jones was prone to simmering over homosexual bigotry.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has more jokes than perps, and the comedy can careen wildly from clean to problematic like a New York cab. While this workplace laugher tries to portray the precinct as one big happy, if dysfunctional, family, the humor can feel pretty mean, too. It’s predicated on more personality foibles than tawdry sexual exploits, but innuendo has certainly not been locked up. Language can be harsh. And, in a rarity for sitcoms, viewers will occasionally see forceful takedowns and fisticuffs with the bad guys—nothing too brutal or gruesome, of course, but it’s there.
Alas, for all the effort these detectives put in around their precinct, its silly streets are not all that safe.
Jake and Amy celebrate their one-year anniversary in a hospital, guarding a comatose gangster. Jake encourages Amy to pretend they’re in Paris. But things get awkward when Amy starts talking about having children, and Jake reveals he doesn’t want them. The would-be gangster killer lurking about doesn’t help the atmosphere, either.
This episode offers a surprisingly sweet, backhanded salute to the joys and importance of parenthood. Jake admits that he had a bad father, and he still suffers from emotional wounds that his dad inflicted. Jake’s scared to have children and mess them up, too. But after dealing with a bomb-toting killer, he realizes that the fright he felt brought out the best in him. “Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m scared of fatherhood,” he says. “Maybe it’ll turn me into a friggin’ dad genius.”
We hear “frigging” once more. Also on the swear table: “b–ch,” “crap” and “d–n,” along with about five misuses of God’s name. Two stronger profanities are bleeped.
Jake and Amy also make a joke about a hypothetical sex tape. A nosy hospital patient talks extensively and often about her twisted bowel. (We hear a variety of jokes involving constipation and defecation, too.) The patient praises her own child—saying he was great “until he discovered his wiener.”
Someone trips a potential criminal, sending him sprawling on a hospital floor. A hospital employee is called “the enema man.” Jake and Amy fondly reminisce about shooting a whole bunch of kids in a game of laser tag. There’s a veiled threat of divorce. One of Jake’s coworkers quotes from Disney’s Moana, mentioning the “demigod of the wind and sea.”
Famed fantasy author D.C. Parlov reports that someone has stolen his laptop and is threatening to leak his new book. During their investigation, Jake and Terry discover that Parlov’s main rival is also being blackmailed. Meanwhile, Amy, Charles and the Captain attend a class that involves making a plaster cast of Charles’ face. Alas, Amy and the Captain fail to “lube” Charles’ face with Vaseline before slapping the plaster on it. They’re told that taking the cast off now will involve peeling off skin—a procedure that sounds quite painful. (The cast, however, is still intact by episode’s end.)
Parlov talks in veiled terms about various shady sexual escapades (an investigation reveals that his browser history is also “a mess”), and he asks for a little time to clean up his hotel room after a green-painted female fan visited him. He says her paint got on everything. “Everything,” he says by way of emphasis. Jake surmises he must mean his penis, too.
In an effort to pull the Captain from class, two officers make up a story that the Captain received a call from his husband, who “wants to know how long you’re going to kiss for tonight.” Jake wonders whether a lot of arm flapping leads to better sex. Terry goes shirtless to a Comic-Con-like event. His and Jake’s main suspect in the blackmail operation is another rival writer, whose wife apparently slept with both of the other authors. (Alas, the suspect never, um, suspected his wife being guilty of infidelity until Jake and Terry tell him about it. Their son comes in—one whom Jake and Terry say looks suspiciously like Parlov—and asks if they’re now getting a divorce.) There’s a reference to “elf molestation.”
Rosa begins reading a fantasy book featuring a protagonist who dresses just like her. “This heroine is my heroin,” she says. We hear references to maggots and corpses. A couple of officers complain they needed to use the restroom “really bad,” thus allowing someone to escape.
Charles promised his adopted son, Nikolaj, a Captain Latvia action figure for Christmas, but the toy still hasn’t come in. He and Jake investigate a Latvian gun-smuggling operation—one that’ll have to be taken down if Charles hopes to retrieve his precious toy for his boy. Meanwhile, the rest of the precinct competes in a caroling competition using a golden-throated drunk as a ringer.
The drunk vomits in his cell (though not on camera), and we hear that he was tossed in the clink for urinating on two snowmen and one actual person. There’s a lot of discussion regarding the bra that Charles’ wife, Genevieve, is wearing. Jake and Charles both have to shimmy out of their pants to bust the Latvian gun ring. We see them in their underwear. Charles, in his effort to track down the Captain Latvia doll, channels what he calls his motherly instincts, leading to lines like, “I’m going to put some daddy into mommy,” and other sexually charged innuendos. We hear gags that reference various body parts (especially Charles’ rear), as well as jokes about defecation, passing gas and homosexuality. Charles dances sensually with a nightclub manager in order to pilfer a key. (She slaps his rear after the dance, and Charles tells Jake they likely have 15 minutes before his “musk” wears off.)
A nightclub bouncer throws Jake into a wall; Charles beats the bouncer into submission while shouting Latvian phrases he learned from his adopted son. (“It’s potty time!”). He and Jake both crush coffee mugs in their hands. Characters say “a–,” “b–tard,” “d–n,” “h—” and “crap” several times apiece, as well as f-word stand-ins such as “frickin'” and “flipping.” God’s name is misused about five times. When the Captain calls someone a knave, another character asks, “Do you kiss Kevin [the captain’s husband] with that mouth?” The Captain says, “Yes, I do.”
On the upside, Jake tells Charles that he’s more of a hero to his son than Captain Latvia could ever be, and we hear several religious Christmas carols.
Amy throws a turkey party. Of course her plan is spoiled when Holt and Jake must leave to solve a crime—then further spoiled when the guests realize she can’t cook. (Amy’s toilet overflows after they try to use it to dispose of the meal, which is likened to “fish vomit.”)
Jake’s not keen on the idea of a “family” gathering like Amy’s, due to his troubled upbringing. But Holt tells him, “The beauty of being an adult is you can make a new family with new traditions.” And Jake ends up toasting his colleagues as “family.” (Diaz doesn’t quite make the same trip.)
Boyle and Holt trade punches with some bad guys. A family gets into a Thanksgiving fight, wrestling on a couch and throwing rolls. For the looks and the laughs, an officer takes his shirt off. Holt mentions his husband. Folks drink wine and beer, and someone mentions a drink called a “rough night,” which consists of tequila and a nicotine patch. After an arrest, Jake walks around with a brick of cocaine. Characters say “d‑‑n” four times, “h‑‑‑” once and misuse God’s name three or four times.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
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