With so many new series popping up on streaming services and DVD, it gets harder and harder to keep up with recent shows, much less the all-time classics. With TV Club 10, we point you toward the 10 episodes that best represent a TV series, classic or modern. They might not be the 10 best episodes, but they’re the 10 episodes that’ll help you understand what the show’s all about.
Among the many inscrutable, instinctual, and ultimately astute decisions made by Lorne Michaels in the 42-year history of Saturday Night Live, there’s this: Michaels was presented with three California doofuses who’d made a busted pilot for Fox and several ahead-of-the-curve, sincere-in-their-stupidity web videos, and thought “Get Andy on camera.” The Lonely Island—the trio of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer—was, and continues to be, a team, but Michaels singled out Samberg as the one destined for stardom. In a typically terse quote from the SNL oral history Live From New York, Michaels offers a hint as to why: “I guarantee you that Andy wanted to be Sandler.”
In addition to sharing initials and a 30 Rock launching pad, Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler both possess a comedic charm that can either rocket a scene to new heights of hilarity or hog up all the oxygen in the room. Yet, for reasons probably known only to Lorne Michaels, that mixed blessing made Sandler one of the biggest movie stars in the world, while Samberg’s cinematic outings have (unjustly) failed to make much of a dent at the box office. It likely has something to do with one performer coming up on the stand-up stage, while the other got his start as, and has always done his best work—from The ’Bu to “Lazy Sunday” to Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping—as a member of an ensemble.
The value of teamwork is something Samberg has demonstrated and dramatized for four seasons (and counting) of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, his most successful collaborative effort beyond The Lonely Island. In the role of hotshot detective Jake Peralta, Samberg plays a typically Samberg-esque role, a cocky man-child whose professional success further inflates his ego. With a drive and ambition that extends only so far as being the absolute best in his 9-to-5, Peralta forged another connection between Samberg and an SNL alum, one he’d worked beside: Amy Poehler, who played Leslie Knope on Parks And Recreation, the show that first teamed Brooklyn co-creators Dan Goor and Michael Schur.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine mirrored Parks And Rec’s comedy of compassion and workplace competency, as well as its finely tuned ensemble. (It’s no coincidence that both shows were cast by Allison Jones, the secret weapon of the Judd Apatow and Paul Feig filmographies, in addition to The Office, Veep, and the later seasons of Arrested Development.) Pawnee expat Chelsea Peretti and Idiocracy screamer Terry Crews were on-hand to match Samberg’s ability to go big, while Joe Lo Truglio finally found a show that fit his squirrelly energy as well as The State and its associated spin-offs. Daytime vet Melissa Fumero and a fresh-off-Short Term 12 Stephanie Beatriz kept things down to earth, the former playing a goody-two-shoes whose rivalry with Jake was destined to go will-they/won’t-they, the latter affecting deadpan, leather-clad grit that continues to stand in startling contrast to her actual speaking voice.
The glue holding it all together was an Emmy winner who’d played every part in the TV holy trinity—doctor, lawyer, and cop—but had never done a straight-up comedy. Andre Braugher plays Captain Raymond Holt as if he was still on Homicide: Life On The Street, and that stone face has proven to be an ideal complement to Samberg’s Muppet-y mugging. The Holt-Peralta partnership is a sturdy stand-in for Brooklyn Nine Nine’s relationship to its subject matter, which it treats with the gravity and respect Holt reserves for $5 words and fine wines, while also indulging Peralta’s Die Hard-damaged opinion that police work should be a series of explosions punctuated by pranks. If any live-action sitcom has earned the right to turn slo-mo entrances into a running gag, it’s this one.
And although it’s a fictional, funny show first and foremost, Brooklyn Nine-Nine exhibits a real-world awareness, acknowledging it’s a show with two black men and two Latinx women in lead roles that’s broadcasting to a country where people of color don’t see the police as a laughing matter. It’s taken that fraught dynamic into account in the occasional episodic plot, but police discrimination is baked into Holt’s biography: A commanding officer who’s black and gay, he’s put up with a lot of shit to get where he is. His hope of a brighter future for his department and the community they serve is wrapped up in the way he runs the 99th precinct.
The same could be said of the way Brooklyn portrays the officers of the Nine-Nine as quirky, flawed people who nevertheless aspire to levels of heroism and valor that we normally only see on the big screen. While Andy Samberg has yet to have his own, Sandler-level big screen breakout, here are 10 episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine that demonstrate the comedic commendations he and his castmates have managed to earn as a team.
“Pilot” (season one, episode one)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has one of the better comedy pilots of the past 10 years, defying the odds for a show with so many characters to introduce in 22 minutes. It helps that anyone who’s ever turned on a TV understands the line of work that Peralta, Holt, and company are in. It also helps that Sergeant Jeffords (Terry Crews) gives his old colleague, the newly promoted Captain Holt, a bullpen rundown so precise and succinct, its footage still introduces much of the cast at the top of every episode four years later: A slapstick ballet for Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), a tussle with a computer monitor for Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), and Peralta attempting to get into the mind of an action figure. The show will improve once it cuts some of the threads introduced in the pilot—Boyle’s unreciprocated affection for Diaz especially—but one it can never let go of is the uneasy bond and begrudging respect between Holt and Peralta, depicted here as Peralta going to extraordinary lengths in order to not wear a necktie while on the job.
“The Vulture” (season one, episode five)
Looking back on the first season, it’s remarkable how quickly so many Brooklyn Nine-Nine fixtures take hold: We meet Peralta’s nemesis, Doug “The Pontiac Bandit” Judy (a wily Craig Robinson) in episode 12; episode six features the first of Jake’s annual Halloween wagers with Captain Holt. And one episode before that, we meet Detective Pembroke, a.k.a. “The Vulture”—so nicknamed because he swoops in from the NYPD’s major crimes unit to close cases that are nearly solved, claiming the collar and all the glory. (Cue Holt: “Yes, Boyle, I put that together, from context.”) Played by Dean Winters with all of Dennis Duffy’s odiousness but none of the 30 Rock Beeper King’s ineptitude, The Vulture reinforces what a special thing the Nine-Nine has going on, a prelude to interlopers like the captain’s departmental adversary, Madeline Wuntch (Kyra Sedgwick), the bad cops to Brooklyn’s good cops. “The Vulture” is a cautionary tale for Jake, a wannabe lone wolf who’s intractably part of a pack. His favorite movie franchise aside, there’s no room for John McClanes here—this is Barney Miller territory.
“The Bet” (season one, episode 13)
On January 12, 2014, Brooklyn Nine-Nine had quite a night at the Golden Globe Awards, picking up the trophy for Best Television Series (Musical or Comedy), while Best Actor went to Andy Samberg. The Globes love jumping on a show’s bandwagon early (the last six Best Comedy recipients have all won for their freshman seasons), but even with Brooklyn’s strong start, the honor felt a little premature. That sense was alleviated two nights later, when “The Bet” tied up the pilot’s other dangling thread—the competition between Peralta and Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) to book the most arrests—and kicked off a whole new, more satisfying long game. Jake’s prize of taking the precinct stickler out on an intentionally embarrassing date is disrupted by a last-minute stakeout. The opposites-attract magic that works between Samberg and Braugher throws a new kind of spark when Peralta and Santiago (whom Fumero plays like a grown-up Lisa Simpson, her professionalism hiding a quivering eagerness to please) are forced into close quarters. He rises toward her level, she lowers toward his, and Peralta summarizes the storyline in a phone call to Holt: “I’m curious to see what happens.”
“Tactical Village” (season one, episode 19)
When Brooklyn Nine-Nine defused the land mine of Boyle’s crush on Diaz, it freed itself from a hoary trope and gave that trope a name: “The Full Boyle.” Its sights set on a will-they/won’t-they with zero creep factor, the show set about figuring out how its various co-worker pairings related to one another. A paintball-flecked trip to the department’s tactical village sees the writers figuring out the Boyle-Diaz friendship (minus goo-goo eyes), while Jake’s feelings for Amy are complicated by Amy’s painfully boring ex (Kyle Bornheimer). Back at the Nine-Nine, a more difficult puzzle is solved: What’s the common ground between Holt and his civilian administrator, aspiring dancer and self-described “human form of the ‘100’ emoji,” Gina Linetti. Naturally, that common ground involves their phones—specifically the fictional Candy Crush clone Kwazy Kupcakes. It also involves the endlessly rewarding joke of Braugher emphatically stating pedestrian words in Holt’s patrician tones. (See below.)
“Jake And Sophia” (season two, episode six)
This second-season installment—which kicks off Jake’s romance with a criminal-defense attorney/relationship-obstacle played by Eva Longoria—gets some comedic mileage out of its farcical setup and an election storyline in which Amy vies with the precinct’s wildly unqualified incumbent union-rep, Scully. (Suffice it to say, Joel McKinnon Miller’s character stays in the office for free-food-related reasons.) But “Jake And Sophia” is most memorable for its cold open, 77 seconds of office hijinks with a bravura button from Andre Braugher. Not since Brooklyn’s spiritual predecessor The Office has a network single-cam made such artful use of its pre-credits sequences, and “Jake And Sophia” has one of the best, a morsel of character-based sketch comedy that tasks Braugher with dropping Holt’s stoicism in the most delightful fashion.
“The Pontiac Bandit Returns” (season two, episode 10)
Craig Robinson’s finest hour as Doug Judy involves him teaming up with Jake and Rosa to find the supplier behind designer drug known as Giggle Pig. What was fun as a Holmes-Moriarty setup is a blast as a 48 Hrs. thing, pushing their characters’ academic obsession with one another toward something approaching friendship. (Doug Judy would return in “The Cruise” and the season-four two-parter “The Fugitive”—though Robinson’s current commitment to Ghosted puts future appearances in question.) Wrapping a Christmas episode (“Holidays of many cultures approach,” Holt declares after the main titles) around The Pontiac Bandit demonstrates Brooklyn’s shrewd approach to the big TV holidays, which are always more festive window dressing—Halloween as a backdrop to the Peralta-versus-Holt heists, Thanksgiving as an excuse to introduce previously unseen relatives—than the subject of any given Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
“Beach House” (season two, episode 12)
It’s always a treat to see sitcom characters slightly out of their element: Think of the Cheers gang over at Carla’s for Thanksgiving, or the Parks And Rec crew in “Hunting Trip.” “Beach House” promises to show us other sides of the Brooklyn Nine-Nine squad—the impossibly chill “Vacation Terry,” the mythical “Six-Drink Amy”—but Jake’s burgeoning sense of guilt mucks it all up when he learns that Holt has never had the chance to “josh around” with his peers. With the captain along on what was supposed to be a detectives-only weekend, everyone’s on edge, a situation exacerbated by the fact that Boyle only has access to his family beach house from December through February. (Another detail in the bottomless, comitragic treasure trove that is the character’s divorce.) Merriment ultimately hinges on the participation of the whole ensemble—and that includes precinct gross-outs Scully and Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker), whose initial slovenliness has mutated into something much weirder and funnier by this point in the series.
“Halloween III” (season three, episode five)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a workplace comedy where the workplace just happens to be a police station, but it still manages to pull off a superb caper now and then. As of last season, the writers are still finding ways to raise the stakes of the Nine-Nine’s annual Halloween tradition, though they pretty much perfected it in season three. With deep roots in characterization—Peralta trying to outwit Holt, Holt trying to put Peralta in his place, and Amy feeling overlooked and undervalued—“Halloween III” is also just an expertly plotted caper. All of the principals get involved in this battle of unevenly matched wits, and the final twist is so solid, you’ll feel like you’re heaving with exasperation (and stair-climbing exhaustion) right along with them.
“Adrian Pimento” (season three, episode 17)
Like any network sitcom producing more than 20 episodes a year, Brooklyn Nine-Nine eventually begins to broaden out. While weaving increasingly complex arcs involving undercover stings and stays in federal witness protection, the show has also leaned heavily into the inherent goofiness that comes from putting one of the “I Just Had Sex” guys at the center of a TV show. You can approximately pinpoint this shift to the arrival of Jason Mantzoukas as Detective Adrian Pimento (fantastic name), a detective returning to the force after a dozen years of being embedded with the mob. Adrian is another case of “This could be Jake if he’s not careful,” something Mantzoukas pulls off with wild-eyed aplomb, giving the writers a willing vessel for some of their nuttiest ideas. A pressure cooker full of stew explodes in this episode, but that feels par for the course with Pimento around.
“Moo Moo” (season four, episode 16)
On the other hand, Brooklyn’s craziest season also found room for this episode, which delicately works its laughs around a story of racial profiling. When Terry is off-duty in his own neighborhood, he’s stopped by a patrolman, whose apologies afterward are less than satisfactory. The incident provokes a heated debate between Jeffords and Holt, who doesn’t want to see his sergeant jeopardize his career by lodging a complaint against a fellow officer. It’s a nuanced take on a hot-button issue, with series-highlight performances from Terry Crews and Andre Braugher. It’s neither “Funny New Comedy” grave nor “very special episode” glib, with a keen sense of where to insert a joke—usually whenever Terry’s twins, Cagney and Lacey, ask babysitters Jake and Amy a question that’s above their paygrade.