A review of tonight’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine coming up just as soon as I’m namechecked in my kindergarten teacher’s suicide note…
Late last season, Brooklyn tried a more serialized storytelling model for a while with the arc about Pimento, Jimmy Figgis, Bob Anderson, and Jake and Holt’s temporary exile in Florida. Those episodes had their charms — “Let’s break into the FBI!”, Jake and Holt’s jailbreak, “BOOST MY BOTTOM!” — but on the whole leaned too heavily into plot for a show that’s generally been at its best when it glosses over the actual policework and the life and death stakes that come with it. It’s not just that complicated plots get in the way of letting this large and talented ensemble be funny, but that the vague illusion of reality the show has crafted around the squad gets weaker the more we’re invited to think about it. Better to treat the ins and outs of the job like Clark Kent’s eyeglasses and just treat it as a fact of life necessary to the stories, and that’s easier to do with standalone episodes than in something like the Figgis arc.
There are exceptions to every rule, though, and CJ Stentley is just funny enough to qualify.
Even by the show’s loose standards of reality, Stentley has been pretty ridiculous. When we’ve met other bumbling cops in the past — including Scully and Hitchcock — there’s usually been a sense that they were either once good at the job, or at least capable of being good if they have to. Stentley, on the other hand, is a complete cartoon. The show even invited Boyle to point out the improbability of his rise to captain back in “Coral Palms, Part 2,” and the more we’ve learned about him — here with him referring to the police academy as “the best nine years of my life,” when, as Jake notes, it’s a six month program — the more ridiculous he’s become.
But by not using him that often (a benefit of having the squad on the night shift since their return from Florida) and letting Ken Marino and the writers fully embrace the absurdity of this guy being in any kind of position of authority — or even being a functional adult, let alone one with a badge and gun — the show was able to get a lot of laughs out of him, then send him packing before it became too dumb to justify. And by having him mostly interact with Peralta and Holt, “The Overmining” got to have its cake and eat it too with the main character, allowing Jake to be the surprising voice of reason in his dealings with one captain while still coming off as immature and silly (“Snackcident,” “Ya boring!”) with the other. Peralta and Holt are each wonderful with whomever they’re paired, but they’re also the show’s best overall pairing, and it was a treat to watch them have to again meet in the middle despite their vastly different temperaments and philosophies.
There are times when it becomes very easy to take this show — midway through its fourth season, no longer shiny and new — for granted as sitcom comfort food. But when it gets on a roll like the one we’ve seen since the squad came back from Florida, and the show went back to episodic storytelling, few shows on TV give me more pleasure, or make me laugh harder.
Some other thoughts:
* The episode opens with a teaser unlike any other the show has tried, with the joke — Jake’s refusal to react to Boyle’s horrible “Dianne Wiest infection” pun — depending almost entirely on camerawork and editing, and the usually very expressive Andy Samberg being asked to show almost nothing to convey how little he wants to say about his best friend’s awful joke. The first time I watched it — and I watched it so many times, Fox’s press screening site eventually locked me out of the episode because I had gone over my allotted number of views — I was in such hysterics over the prolonged and uncomfortable silence that I thought the smash cut to the opening credits happened while Charles was midway through saying, “Like yeast!” In fact, it comes a nanosecond after he’s said it, which in no way diminishes the joy of the moment, and of the way that even Jake has limits when it comes to his love for Charles.