“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is back with a new season, and on a new night. I have a review of the season premiere coming up just as soon as I arrest a perp named Joe Uterus…
When “Parks and Rec” returned for its second season, it was with “Pawnee Zoo,” an episode that would probably not wind up on a list of that series' 10 greatest episodes, but that nonetheless signaled that the show had significantly changed for the better. By virtue of having a much longer first season, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has already gone through the growing pains “Parks” did in its first year, and long ago figured out how to take all its great raw material and turn it into a strong series. So an episode like “Undercover” is less surprising than it is comforting: a solid, often funny reminder that Schur, Goor and company didn't forget how to make this show in the off-season.
The premiere gets to have it both ways with Jake's undercover operation, by wrapping it up in the opening scene so we can get him quickly interacting with Holt and the squad again, while also establishing a situation where we get to see him in his cover identity a bit longer. Jake's love of role-playing is one of his most appealing and funny character traits, and we got enough of a taste of what his last six months have been like without having to throw out all the other characters we know and love. And it dealt with Jake's declaration of feelings for Amy while still keeping them apart in a way that didn't feel contrived. He's been gone six months, she's still dating the nice guy she started seeing right before Jake left, etc.
That said, the funniest material of the episode took place back at the squadroom, starting with the brief flashes of what the other detectives were up to during the hiatus, including Terry's temporary lisp and Boyle and Santiago dressing alike (which probably says more about Charles' feminine side than Amy's masculine). Holt's non-stop, unexplained drills fit the notion of this robotic, inscrutable leader, while also having a lot of fun with the notion of man-mountain Terry Crews(*) pretending to be a confused old woman, a prostitute and a little boy. (Santiago's dismay at Terry's smashing of the Lego house was also a reminder that Jake isn't the only one in the squad who gets too deep into meaningless projects.) And I spent far, far too much time in the past couple of weeks going through the “You helped me find my smile” scene frame by frame to see if Braugher's expression changes in the slightest.
(*) Semi-related: if you use the Waze traffic app, I HIGHLY recommend going into the settings and switching over to the Terry Crews voice. It's more minimalist, because they didn't have Crews spend weeks recording every potential street name in America, but the sound of him barking directions at me has made sitting in traffic so much easier. And if you should happen to drive anywhere near a roundabout, your life will be greatly improved by hearing Crews guide you through it. Now I'm hoping an upcoming episode features Sgt. Jeffords on the radio giving driving directions to Peralta during a high-speed pursuit: “In a half a mile… TURN LEFT!”
And where Gina and Boyle's hookup at the end of the finale could have been simply left as a one-time gag, the premiere continued to get comic mileage out of the relationship, with Gina's fear of her impending shame, which would put her on the same social standing as Scully and Hitchcock, coupled with Boyle's well-established difficulty keeping anything secret from Jake. It's a joke relationship, but there are clearly more stories to be told with it, and hopefully more humiliating sweaters for Gina to wear after the naked mole rat (“God's disgusting mistake”) one from this episode.
All in all, “Undercover” wasn't an episode I'd stack up against the funniest episodes of season 1, but premieres like this often have to spend a lot of time on plot and exposition, and it just felt so pleasing to have this show back. Hell, I was just glad to have the opening credits sequence back.
What did everybody else think?
NOTE: As I've said, Sundays are a beast for me, and it may not be possible for me to do full reviews of this show weekly. But I will do my best to at least provide a place to discuss each episode, depending on scheduling.