A 24-style “real time” episode proves that the police comedy has the gumption to dramatically shake up its format.
The idea of a “real time” live episodes of comedies and dramas dates back to the eighties and then the concept was then taken to new, ridiculous heights when FOX debuted 24 back in 2001, so Brooklyn Nine-Nine is hardly the first show to adopt the conceit to change up its narrative structure. With that said, however, “Ticking Clocks” certainly allows the comedy crime series to embrace a completely different visual aesthetic and liven up a conventional case of the week.
Pressed into action by Sergeant Knox (guest star – and 24 alum – Sean Astin)’s warning of an impending cyber attack, the squad has exactly the length of a typical network comedy – approximately 21 minutes, including commercial breaks! – to find the hacker operating inside the building. The conceit makes for a fun and lively episode that offers nearly every character something amusing or exciting to do (minus poor Joe Lo Truglio, who barely even gets a line).
With a number of competing plot lines ranging from a pair of clashing sorority houses to a near break-up for Stephanie Beatriz’s Rosa to a number of FaceTime gags involving Amy (Melissa Fumero)’s fear of missing out (on work – natch), “Ticking Clocks” manages to strike a balance between traditional laughs (Terry Crews’ Terry getting read for his bad fashion by mean-spirited sorority girls) and the police procedural elements (the hacker threat) that defines the series.
Benz’ camerawork, including the use of quick zooms and close-ups, helps create a sense of urgency that gives the episode a frenetic pulse.
It helps that director Payman Benz is adept at maintaining a sense of urgency. The deadline is barely even a MacGuffin; it is a conceit used to propel the action forward minus the threat of actual consequences because the audience has no real investment in the outcome. Normally this would be a significant issue, but here it hardly matters because as viewers we’re swept up in Benz handheld camera work as we rush around the precinct, pulled into the elevator in close quarters with various cast members, and witnessing Amy jumping over the hood of a cab. Benz’ camerawork, including the use of quick zooms and close-ups, helps create a sense of urgency that gives the episode a frenetic pulse.
Without this audacious format change, “Ticking Clocks” would be a rather mundane episode of the series. However, due to series co-creator Dan Goor’s willingness to experiment with the show’s traditional format and Benz’s inspired direction, it’s just the latest example of how Brooklyn Nine-Nine has plenty of tricks up its sleeve as the show barrels towards the end of its sixth season (and into its seventh).
With a range of competing plotlines including a sorority clash, a near break-up for Stephanie Beatriz’s Rosa and a number of FaceTime gags involving Amy (Melissa Fumero)’s fear of missing out (on work – natch), “Ticking Clocks” still manages to strike a good balance between the traditional laughs (Terry Crews’ Terry getting dressed down by the mean-spirited sorority girls) and the police procedural elements that define the series.
It helps that director Payman Benz is adept at maintaining a sense of urgency. The deadline is barely a MacGuffin; it’s a conceit used to propel the action forward minus the threat of actual consequences because the audience has no real investment in the outcome. This hardly matters though when Benz packs the handheld camera into the elevator the various cast members, opting for quick zooms and close-ups to create a sense of urgency and timeliness.
Without this audacious format change, “Ticking Clocks” would be a rather mundane episode of the series. However, due to series co-creator Dan Goor’s willingness to experiment with the show’s traditional format, it’s yet another example of series with plenty of tricks up its sleeve which is all the more impressive as the show barrels towards the end of its sixth season (and its recently-announced seventh).
- Obviously, Scully (Joel McKinnon Miller) and Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker)’s own mini time drama, which revolves around the perfect timing of a 21 minute frozen Mama Maglione lasagna and its accompanying eight-minute toasted garlic bread, is a solid way to include the squad’s laziest characters without making them do any actual work.
- Similarly, the completely silent real-time ending that finds the pair eating the lasagna contentedly (rather than the series’ usual customary stinger) is an inspired continuation of the episode’s time fixation.
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t typically focus on “reveals,” even in its more procedural narratives (the exception being the annual Halloween heist episode). As a result, there’s no real surprise when Sean Astin is revealed to be the mastermind behind the hack. Casting a highly recognizable star in a minor role tends to be a major tip-off (see also: every iteration of Law & Order).
- Signs that Holt (Andre Braugher) is having a meltdown include: his lips are pursed and he blinks in seven-second intervals as opposed to his usual ten.
- Funny Jake (Andy Samberg) = getting annoyed when Holt and Rosa keep resisting his demand to be fed the action movie line “Time is running out” because they’d rather remind him that he has food stuck in his teeth.
- Unfunny Jake = repeatedly saying “Mamma Mia!” every time a new complication or revelation in the case is introduced. It’s not funny the first time; it’s not funny the tenth time.
- I’m happy that Rosa doesn’t need to adjust her 12-0 “winning” break-up score, if only because it barely feels like we’ve met Jocelyn (Cameron Esposito). It would make very little sense to write her out so quickly.
- Finally, does Terry have a weird chin (as the Lambda Nu sorority girl suggests)?
- Amy (to an unseen woman, while FaceTiming with Jake en route from the dentist): “Outta my way you old bitch! This cab is mine!”
- Jake (attempting a second time to reassure Joselyn’s concerns about Rosa): “You are not as important as Rosa’s work. Oh wow, that’s way worse.”
- Rosa (warning Joselyn as the elevator closes): “Don’t sit on the couch – it’s full of farts!”
- Sorority Girl (to Terry, when he permits her to make a phone call): “Gross, I didn’t know any phone numbers.”
- Amy (when Jake confesses that he didn’t take any notes in her absence): “What the hell Jake, do you even love me?!”
- Holt (texting Jake about Knox): “How certain are you? Sincerely, Raymond Holt.”