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Brooklyn Nine-Nine boss talks season finale, cliffhanger ending

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Fox

[SPOILER ALERT: This story contains plot details about the season finale of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Greg and Larry.” If you read before watching the episode, you may incur the wrath of Figgis.] 

Here’s one way to describe the ending to Brooklyn Nine-Nine this season: Hot.

We’re not just talking about how the Fox cop comedy wrapped up this final stretch of episodes on a roll, thanks in part to Holt (Andre Braugher) hilariously matching wits with his seeming twin/monotone FBI agent Bob Anderson (Dennis Haysbert). Tuesday’s season 3 finale, “Greg and Larry,” left viewers with a huge, possibility-charged cliffhanger that featured a change of location that is, to quote Jake, muy caliente. 

While Holt, Jake (Andy Samberg), and the rest of the Nine-Nine precinct were successful in taking down the criminal enterprise run by mafia mastemind Jimmy the Butcher Figgis — which included Bob Anderson (sorry, Annderson) — Figgis himself was nowhere to be found. That is, until Jake received a call from him, in which he ominously threatened to kill both Holt and Jake. Cut to: the “Blue Skies” and pink flamingos of Coral Palms, Florida, where, in a nice wink to Goodfellas, Jake picked up the morning paper and called out, “Morning, Greg,” to his lawn-watering neighbor Holt, who responded, “Morning, Larry.” End of episode.

So, clearly two of NYPD’s finest are now tucked a thousand miles away in the witness protection program. But who is with them? What does this mean for the Nine-Nine? Is Pimento (Jason Mantzoukas) ever coming back? What is Rosa’s real name? So many questions to get answered before the early bird special. After showing strangers some pictures of our grandchildren, we called Brooklyn executive producer Dan Goor on an outdated, oversized cordless phone to break down “Greg and Larry” and see what the future holds.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When and how did you guys come up with the idea to have Jake and Holt in the Witness Protection Program? Were you recently re-watching the end of Goodfellas and had a light bulb moment?

DAN GOOR: No. It was coincidence with that. Once it was pitched, we all were like, “Oh, Goodfellas had that.” It’s always very difficult to come up with a season-ending twist or cliffhanger, obviously, and we wanted to do something that we’d never done before. We wanted the pay-off the end of the arc that we set up, and we wanted to really give credence to the idea that Figgis was a weighty and serious and stakes-y villain. We also in a way modeled the end of the year on shows like Scandal, which have huge stakes and then huge swings in the plot, where it’s like, “They seem to have gotten out of it! No — it’s worse than before!” That was the model that we were going for, and then this felt like a super stakes-y, super fun thing to do, and it also just felt like a really funny way to end the season. We came up with the idea for that last shot, and then it felt like a really fun, different way to start the next season. The idea of the two of them — or there could be other people from the Nine-Nine there who we haven’t seen yet — having to live not as cops in Florida seemed funny. It seemed like a fun way to re-explore their power dynamic also, because now Holt won’t necessarily outrank Jake in this situation. It just felt juicy, and the only real debate we had was we liked the shot, but the other version was we just say that they’re going to Florida. It was just a debate about how far we go.

By the way, I feel like Holt still outranks Jake, and will tell Jake he’s Witness Number One.

Exactly. There’s a really funny thing when we were scouting the locations and if you look in the last shot, Holt’s lawn is incredibly well-manicured, and Jake’s lawn is a piece of crap. And I wish I could say that we art-designed it, but it was really just those were the two houses and then we happened to notice that, and we switched the houses since that was the case, but it was like kind of perfect. It was like an omen.

Jake and Amy (Melissa Fumero) talk about moving in together at the end of episode, so we ask: Is Amy with Jake? And is Kevin (Marc Evan Jackson) with Holt? And is Bob there?

No details are final yet. We haven’t really started working on the season yet, but our intention is for the fact that they’re in witness protection to really influence their personal relationships with their loved ones and spouses and friends and the squad, and for that to be a real source of comedy.

That was quite a long run of serialized episodes for the show, dating back to the arrival of Pimento in episode 17, and it’s been really successful. I’m wondering, though, if you guys were worried that it was a lot for the audiences who were used to more stand-alone episodes in a cop comedy? Was that something you discussed?

It is something we discussed a lot and we talked about it with Fox beforehand, and Fox was very supportive. Our governing principle was: Every episode should be stand-alone enough that you don’t need a “Previously on,” so that might mean that there’s a little bit of exposition in the first few scenes, but you should be able to enjoy [it on its own]. We tried to break stories like breaking into the FBI, which we could have just done as a stand-alone episode, or like escaping from a hospital, a 16 Blocks kind of episode as a stand-alone episode, because we know that there are people who check in and out of the show, and then there are a lot of people who watch it online and binge. And for those people, I think it’s actually very rewarding when you do it in a serialized way.

With the way this season leaves off, the question obviously lingers: How far into next season will the serialized story continue? And does this experiment make you more open to doing more of them in the future? Or do you still consider stand-alone episodes as the bread and butter of the show?

That is something we’re talking about right now. I think that’s a really good question. With 23 episodes, it’s very hard to do all stand-alone, and it’s very hard to do all serialized, so in our ideal world, it would be a combination of a few serialized episodes to figure out what’s happening in Florida and then maybe some stand-alone episodes…. We like — and people like — watching all of the Nine-Nine together in the precinct and working together and all the combinations that affords, but also we don’t want to short shrift the work we did at the end of the year. So we’ll keep them in this situation for as long as we think it’s fun, and then we’ll figure out a way to make it the Nine-Nine we all know and love. The only thing I want to make sure of is: I really like the balance that the show strikes — doing police action episodes, romance episodes, office episodes — and I don’t want to do anything that too dramatically disrupts it. This arc was so stakes-y, it was very difficult to do too many silly [things]. A silly Jake-Gina story would have been hard to put in, and I always want to make sure we have room for those types of stories as well.

It seemed likely that Brooklyn would be renewed, but was this ending also chosen because it could serve as a series finale if it had to? There is something kind of great about them ending up in witness protection.

That’s interesting. No, we’ve been getting pretty good feelings from the network. You watched the end of Parks. You know our sensibility. If we thought it was a series finale, I think they all would be embracing in some way. [Laughs.] Or they would have all ended up in witness protection together. But it’s funny. It is interesting, if that had served as the series finale. Or it’s fun to think of that as like a spin-off show. Not that you could spin off the main character from his own show, but it is funny to think like forever after, it’s just a funny show about two people who live on the same block.

NEXT: More on Charles’ baby, Gina’s love life, and Rosa’s real name!

[pagebreak]

Dennis Haysbert was a hit as Bob, Holt’s clone doppelgä​nger​. How did you arrive at that casting?

The casting and the character in some ways were developed hand in hand. We knew we wanted Holt’s contact in the FBI to betray Holt, and so it felt like the most meaningful betrayal would be by a friend, and furthermore by a person who was very Holt-ian. And also, we were afraid of tipping the betrayal in any way, and it felt like if the comedy game we presented was that the person was Holt’s doppelgä​nger, it would disguise the fact that we were going to pull the rug out from under the audience. And then when it came to figuring out who would also have a gravitas and who would be funny talking about basmati rice or lint with Captain Holt, Haysbert immediately jumped to mind. It really was just sort of like, “Okay. Is there anybody like Dennis Haysbert?” And then we got Dennis Haysbert, and it was great.

Did Dennis snap into the Holt-esque delivery pretty quickly on set?

Yeah. I mean, I was very flattered when Dennis was at a table read and he said that he was a huge fan of the show, so he was very familiar with Holt. He really knew the show, so he immediately got what we were going for and just clicked into it right away. Those table reads were two of the best table reads we’ve ever had, because it was like magic watching the two of them together.

When the cameras weren’t shooting, what kind of things did they discuss?

They had very light, fun, totally non-Holt-Bob conversations.

Obviously, we’re building up to meeting Figgis. Do you already know who you’re casting in the role?

We want it to be somebody fun and great and maybe a little bit surprising, but the way that television seasons work, it’s just too early for us to actually have cast anyone yet.

You’ve said that “more danger lurks ahead for Holt and Jake.” What can you say about how season 4 opens?

Our intention is to pick up where we left off, and that is with Figgis in search of them, and with some combination of the precinct and the Feds in search of Figgis, and with Jake and Holt in witness protection and not as cops, not with the protections of being cops, not with the possibility of investigating. That said, I don’t think every episode in the beginning will be our guys necessarily looking for Figgis. The new normal, though, in the beginning of the season is that Figgis is after them, and the only way out is for somebody to find him… We plan on spending some time there. Season 2, we reversed [the situation] in the first episode, right? I think that would be closer to what we did at the start of this season, where they’re going to have to live in this situation for a little while.

Do you envision that Charles will be a father when we return? Is that a story line you want to hit right away?

That’s a story line we definitely want to hit right away. I think that it will lead to changes in his dynamic with Terry, who is obviously the consummate father, and also with Gina, who is now an aunt, whether she wants to be or not. And we know how Charles treated his dog, so we can only imagine how he’s going to treat his human baby.

Can we assume that we will see the return of Pimento fairly early in season 4?

We can assume we will see the return of Pimento. That’s just a question of when the writers get together and also [the] availability of Mantzoukas. We love Mantzoukas, and I think he had a really good time on the show, and he will definitely be coming back.

Is there the possibility that he will come back, just to yell at Maggie?

By your request, there is that possibility. Yes, there has been a real fan movement for more Maggie, played by writer extraordinaire, Tricia McAlpin. In the [writers’] room, we are big fans of their relationship.

This episode, as you’ve said, is one of the “stakesiest” episodes, which is now one of my favorite adjectives. We’ve seen the detectives tackle serious crimes, like the serial murderer in “The Oolong Slayer,” where the stakes are higher. Is that a double-edged sword, because it gives you a lot of dramatic possibilities, but it’s harder to balance bigger crime against the silly comedy, which is a key element of the show? How do you balance those things?

We’ve now hopefully built up enough credit with the audience, in terms of how we treat the police stuff, that I feel like they will allow us to be a little bit sillier now, maybe more than they would have in the first season. So Jake can say the thing on the roof about, “Bob is going to zipline off the roof. Oh my god, that’s so cool!” and they’re not like, “Jesus, man! Put your gun up! What are you doing?” — because they know that Jake’s a good cop and also they get what’s going on. The other thing is: There’s an onus on us as writers to come up with elements in the situation that are comedic, even in the stakes environment. So, for instance, Bob is trying to kill Holt. But by Bob being even Holt-ier than Holt, or another Holt, it’s comedic. So the two of them can have these conversations; the perfect example of it is him saying, “And now I’m going to have kill you,” and then Holt saying, in the driest way possible, “I’ve never been more shocked.” One of my favorite jokes was the “eating whale” joke. What I think the writers have gotten very good at is figuring out how to introduce elements into these stories that make them comedic in spite of — or in addition to — the stakes.

When you look back over the season and the story lines, which are you particularly proud of? And which do you wish that you could take another crack at? What didn’t quite work out like you planned?

I was really proud of and happy with the Mantzoukas arc. It was really fun. It was a challenge. I felt like those episodes had high stakes with police stuff happening and also were really comedic, and it was great to introduce that character to the world and see how he influenced all of the other characters. I also was really happy with a lot of our guest-star episodes this year. I thought the Damon Wayans episode was one of my favorite episodes. We want to bring him back….There was a thing we set up for Gina that I wish we had paid off, where we had her dating Charles’ girlfriend’s twin brother, and we never did anything with that. And that was just a thing where the story kept getting pushed out of episodes, and I wish we had explored a little bit more of Gina’s personal life. I feel like we’re really excited to do that next season, to explore more of Gina’s personal life and more of her shared history with Jake. Those seem like areas that we’ve hinted at that are so ripe that we keep not quite diving into like we should.

I saved the most important question for last. What is Rosa’s real name? Do we learn that soon?

I don’t know if any of us know. Only Rosa/Emily knows what her real name is.

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