Watching the cast of Brooklyn Nine-Nine come together either in the pursuit of shenanigans or the performance of their jobs is standard routine for the series. In Season Three, we’ve seen whole precinct skive off work in the midst of Holt and Jake’s annual prank war (“Halloween III”), and unite over Captain Dozerman’s passing (“The Funeral”); last year, we saw them gel as a team in a simulated law enforcement exercise in “Windbreaker City.” But “Ava” tasks the group with a responsibility that none of them are truly prepared for: Childbirth. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has not let its characters forget about the imminent arrival of Terry’s third child. You’d think they’d all be ready when she goes into labor in the station.
Well, but then again, maybe not, because then you would have no show. Like most sitcoms, Brooklyn Nine-Nine tends to separate each episode into three unrelated (or quietly interrelated) plot strings; that’s the norm, and has been for the show as well as the genre since time immemorial. “Ava” breaks that structure with the gravitational field of Sharon Jeffords’ (the wonderful Merrin Dungey, given the most screen time in her stint on Brooklyn Nine-Nine to date) parturition. Every side thread and minor arc winds up tying into the birth of the newest addition to the Jeffords family. No surprise there, of course, because “Ava” starts off with Terry leaving Jake in charge. Terry has to head out on an assignment—prisoner interrogation—so it’s up to Jake to keep Sharon comfortable until he returns. Sounds simple, but Jake being Jake, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine being a sitcom, everything goes haywire.
It’s important to note that the fault can’t be placed squarely on Jake, who labors mightily to fulfill his godfather and godhusband duties when Sharon’s water breaks in the station. It’s a less than ideal scenario, but it illustrates precisely why the Jeffords would nominate Jake as Ava’s guardian to begin with: He might be a screw-up, but the man gives his all and never stops trying to find solutions to mounting problems as Sharon struggles to wait out the clock for Terry to get back. It’s Jake’s “never give up” mentality that saves the day here. First, he brings in Gina to assist, though Gina’s so disgusted at the idea of childbirth that she starts coaching herself through breathing exercises instead of Sharon. Then, he calls upon Holt, disobeying Terry’s explicit instructions not to, as Holt has a way of making Sharon feel uncomfortable with his well-intended, but awkward reassurances. (He’s like an ent, except Treebeard’s well-wishes are probably less wooden. Hey-ooooo!)
As things go from bad to worse, even Amy and Boyle, stuck with doing paperwork by hand since the Internet is down in the building, play a part in the ordeal. They’re trying to fill out forms as quickly as possible to clear the precinct of delinquents and their families, because that’s a bad scene for a pregnant woman caught in the throes of delivering a baby. Basically, there’s a lot going on in “Ava,” and it adds up to more than a bit much; there’s a motorcycle chase (Rosa’s signature “badass moment of the week”), Scully and Hitchcock set the office on fire, Sharon’s doula and back-up doula are both unavailable to help out, and there’s even relationship drama when Jake persuades Holt to call on his ex (Nick Offerman and his glorious beard), an OB/GYN, for aid (which has the added benefit of opening up Holt as a person even more).
“Ava” also happens to be predictable in the extreme. We know exactly how the episode is going to turn out as soon as Terry leaves, and we know that Jake won’t handle the pressure of godfatherhood perfectly. But he handles it, and that’s the point, even if Terry might want to kill him when he finally makes his way to Sharon’s side in her hospital bed (another of Terry’s firm “no-nos” for Sharon’s birthing plan). “Ava” lets its characters be the best part of who they are, while flying through every holiday episode trope imaginable, but if the plot elements here feel familiar, they end up working because they’re used in earnest. They’re tropes for a reason, after all, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine historically makes good use of its clichés anyways; they’re window dressing next to its character-based proclivities.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has contributed to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Birth.Movies.Death. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.