Brooklyn Nine-Nine: ‘The Mattress’ and ‘Ava’

Jake Peralta as a protagonist occupies one of those special television spaces: he’s capable and confident in his detective work, and yet he’s also simultaneously immature enough to have a lumpy dumpster mattress and not understand basic cleanliness rules. Brooklyn Nine-Nine decides each episode, maybe even each scene in each episode, what kind of Jake it needs: the silly-yet-endearing lead detective, or the how-is-this-guy-still-alive-on-a-diet-of-only-orange-soda adult human man. Sometimes Jake’s nature, so many aspects of his personality seemingly in opposition, works well in the already-heightened world that the show has created, and other times it feels like a Lonely Island fever dream.

But for all of Jake Peralta’s immaturity, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been growing him as a character, moving him into deeper, more trusting relationships with the people on his team, and in that way helping him to act like an adult. There’s no reason adult characters can’t have quirky personality traits: one certain small-town government official from Pawnee ate sugar like air, and was still confident and competent at her job; the show just has to have a balance.

“The Mattress” is one of those episodes that strikes the exact right balance between Jake’s life incompetencies and his continued growth into more meaningful relationships. “The Mattress” acknowledges that Jake’s relationship with Amy has changed him, while not sacrificing the fact that Jake as a character is a hot mess in anything related to home ownership or maintenance. As an apt metaphor for this, Jake finally commits to buying a new mattress, half to show Amy that he is serious about their relationship, half because he realizes his old mattress most definitely came from an alley dumpster. “The Mattress” takes a classic argument between a television couple and makes it new, not only by having both parties act realistically, but also by having Amy and Jake retain what makes them individuals through their actions.

So much of what Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been doing this season with Amy and Jake has cleverly played around with relationship templates, running the characters through typical scenarios but changing the endings. “The Mattress” serves to move their romance along, as well as showing how their romance has affected their relationship as partners, and this is a smart way the show distances itself from tired tropes.

“Ava,” Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s fast-paced blast of an eighth episode, continues Jake’s maturity, even as it winks and nods at his childish tendencies. Terry puts Jake in charge of caring for his very pregnant wife Sharon, who shows up to the precinct at the height of chaos. Jake tries to manage Sharon’s stress levels by keeping Captain Holt away from her and putting out literal and figurative fires in the office, as everything that can go wrong seemingly does, including Sharon’s water breaking. The Jake of Season 1, tie-wearing-around-the-waist rulebreaker Jake, couldn’t have convincingly made all the executive decisions this season’s Jake does in “Ava.” The fact that Jake does takes charge and it doesn’t ring false is another sign of the way the character has grown.

Jake’s leadership role allows Captain Holt, the usually mature one, to indulge in pettiness, as he takes deep offense to the fact that Sharon doesn’t like him. Andre Braugher’s stand-out line readings and delivery take on a whole new level of humor when Captain Holt is indignantly offended. There’s a lot to love in the episode: Nick Offerman’s guest starring role as Captain Holt’s ex-boyfriend (flashbacks ASAP, show) is a big highlight, but equally fun is seeing Terry on a police motorcycle, or Boyle and Amy teaming up to file paperwork. “Ava” serves the ensemble as a whole, and manages to deliver an inventive episode around giving birth that feels like an episode only Brooklyn Nine-Nine could create.

“The Mattress” and “Ava” are both episodes that showcase how much growth Jake has done as a character, and how his role has evolved from the pilot, as the show has introduced new relationships and new romances for him. Sitcoms aren’t always about growth, but some of the best ones are, as they acknowledge that their characters are normal people, learning and changing as time passes. There’s a steadiness to Brooklyn Nine-Nine that stems from this belief about character growth, the same steadiness that made stretches of Parks and Recreation some of the best television, period. Hopefully Brooklyn Nine-Nine will find its Harvest Festival soon, as it continues with a strong third season.

Photo Courtesy of FOX

About Elena

Elena Rivera is a pop culture journalist based out of North Carolina. She primarily writes about the intersection of race, culture and television, especially the representation of women of color on television. She loves Natalie Dormer, Jane The Virgin, and talking about Canadian teen soaps from the early 2000's. Follow her on Twitter @ElenaIsAwesome.