I’m not a big fan of sitcom Christmas episodes. It’s easy to blame that preference on the fact that I’m Jewish and Hanukkah is already over, but it’s more that shows so often suspend their usual tone for a message more befitting the spirit of the season. But Brooklyn Nine-Nine is exceptional at telling holiday-themed stories. Its Halloween episodes are epic. So it’s not really a surprise that “Yippie Kayak” overflows with Christmas cheer, but also with character development and clever jokes.
This week’s episode does sacrifice a few things to Santa. While there are plenty of funny lines, the jokes are paced a bit slower, and they mostly advance the story. With the exception of a cute cold open, in which Amy’s attempt to buy Holt a gift goes awry as usual, there are few gags for gags’ sake.
Holt, Amy, and Rosa get sidelined into a minimal B-plot, in which Amy tags along on Holt and Rosa’s annual Polar Bear swim. It brings a few nice bonding moments between Holt and Rosa, but Melissa Fumero’s talents are wasted on brown-nosing and cartoonish anxiety. It’s a cute premise, but it, unfortunately, lacks a punchline, which is probably why it takes up so little space in the episode.
The main plot, on the other hand, is a winner. The set-up is classic Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Peralta has forgotten to buy Boyle a gift, and as he’s arm-twisting Gina into helping him shop, Boyle butts in, not realizing that it’s his own gift that Peralta is shopping for. They sneak into a department store as it’s closing, only to discover that it’s being robbed, and the employees are being held hostage. There are some clever moments in this first act; when Jake tells Gina about his predicament, her “Oh, well. I always knew he would die of sadness” is delivered with such deadpan perfection that it gave me chills. But the rest is so underplayed that there’s no question a big comedy bomb is about to drop.
It does not take Peralta long to notice that he’s about to receive his fondest Christmas wish: he gets to live out his favorite movie, Die Hard. While it’s already passé on the internet to claim that Die Hard is your favorite Christmas movie, I can’t think of an instance of a TV show running with that joke. It becomes an original spin on the countless sitcom homages to It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story. It also gives Peralta the opportunity to shuffle rapidly among glee, terror, and frustration that the situation isn’t living up to his expectations from the film. His jumbled emotions add up to a reminder that beneath the shtick, Andy Samberg is a remarkably good actor.
Peralta does not realize that the real supervillain is not the leader of the thieves, but the commander of the SWAT team outside. It’s a bit soon for the Vulture’s return, and Dean Winters is a bit underused. He mostly plays off Terry, who arrives fresh from telling off his bully of a brother-in-law and, therefore, ready to give the Vulture his comeuppance as well. Like Peralta, Jeffords receives a Christmas gift that he didn’t realize he needed: the opportunity to stand up to both of the men who have been chipping at his self-esteem.
Fulfilled holiday wishes are an overarching theme for the episode, even though not everyone in the cast gets equal time. Amy overcomes her fears, and looks responsible to boot, when she runs into the icy water to tell Holt and Rosa that the other detectives have been taken hostage. Boyle gets to be Peralta’s sidekick, except that this time, he comes to the rescue and enjoys a moment of heroic glory. Although the episode doesn’t dwell on it, it’s clear that Rosa and Holt are pleased to spend the holiday with someone they actually like. And Gina gets to live her dream of creating a flamethrower out of a lighter and a can of hairspray.
Despite its surface efforts at aspiring to nothing more than a silly Die Hard pastiche, “Yippie Kayak” ends up transmitting a heartwarming message. Everyone gets a merry Christmas on his or her own terms. Instead of bending the show’s usual rules to serve the demands of a traditional holiday episode, Brooklyn Nine-Nine adjusts the spirit of Christmas to suit its own warped but kind-hearted sense of humor. And that’s a lovely gift for the last night of Hanukkah.