An episode or two ago, I noticed that the vending machine in the Nine-Nine’s break room had an “Out of Order” sign. For the rest of that episode, I waited for the joke to drop because this show is too smart to waste a stealthy visual clue like that. Now, weeks later, my eagle eye got rewarded in a hilarious cold open involving a bottle of Hungarian sparkling wine and the perfect amount of Scully.
The first three minutes of this week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine were so funny that I assumed the rest of the episode would be a letdown. Sure enough, nothing made me laugh out loud as hard as the precinct’s new vending machine. Maybe that’s because this episode didn’t reach too hard for most of its humor, instead building on what we know of the characters in ways that make them more complex as well as funnier.
The two subplots are especially dedicated to silly but meaningful character development. In the first, Gina frets dramatically about an astronomy exam, a nice reminder that she’s still in night school and also that Chelsea Peretti is brilliant at pouty, bored, and disdainful. When she acknowledges that what she needs are a couple of pathetic nerds, Amy and Terry spring into action. Their attempts to engage her in science involve Star Wars jokes, interpretive dance, and a Neil DeGrasse Tyson cameo that might be the most inspired casting choice of the season.
It’s hard for me to assess the other subplot fairly because it reveals that Boyle and I share an alma mater, and upon reflection, his degree from Sarah Lawrence College kind of explains everything. There’s not much depth to this one – Holt prevails upon Boyle, who is secretly Squash’s Unhinged Lunatic, to help him win a tournament – but Joe Lo Truglio’s skills at physical comedy are put to good use.
Both subplots emphasize common ground and strengthened friendships, and I was pleased to see all three of this episode’s storylines center around a common theme, since many episodes this season have seemed randomly constructed. Jake and Rosa take center stage this week when they nab a caviar counterfeiter at the fish market and discover that he’s been smuggling priceless Swedish diamonds. It’s an absurd setup, and the establishing scene breezes through it just patiently enough for the goofiness to build.
And then the Swedes arrive. Because the smuggling is an international crime, Jake and Rosa must work with a pair of smug, humorless, and creepily co-dependent Swedish detectives. In another glorious casting move, they’re played by Anders Holm and Riki Lindholm, both of whom look like they’re about to burst in a fit of giggles at any moment. Brooklyn Nine-Nine loves to put villains in their places without destroying them, so the Swedes do get their comeuppance, but Jake and Rosa are granted the maturity to focus on solving the case. When they do, it’s a result of the scrappiness and lateral thinking that the Swedes despise.
Jake and Rosa’s teamwork is also a crucial factor, though, and the Swedes’ public handholding and awkward oversharing make them realize that they want to be able to confide in each other, even if that’s difficult. All season, Rosa has been struggling to balance her need for emotional support with her tough persona, while Jake has scrambled to become enough of an adult to deserve a relationship with Amy. By the end, it’s clear that Rosa and Jake can help each other grow, and that they care enough about each other to want to help.
Everything else, from the running gags about fish smell to the tense moment when they’re trapped in a storage unit with a bag of stolen diamonds, enhances the character beats. Even when Boyle is breaking a racquet over his knee and Terry and Amy are dancing about the solar system, the physical humor feels like an extension of what we already know about them. This episode isn’t a knockout – it’s more quietly effective than anything – but it does an excellent job of respecting the characters and advancing stories that last longer than a single half hour.
Image courtesy of FOX
Sarah Rasher is, among other things, a freelance writer based in Chicago. You can read her writing at the Friendly Atheist and Graphic Policy as well as on her own blog, Sarah Explains the Finer Sports.