This week, Brooklyn Nine-Nine opens with a lesson in comedic timing. As soon as Jake walks into the precinct with a tarantula in a terrarium, it’s obvious that the spider will get loose. But a set of increasingly groaner-y pun names for the tarantula (Spidey Klum!) make such an apt distraction that it looks like the easy joke won’t happen. Of course, seconds later, the tarantula has escaped, and Terry’s high-pitched scream carries us into the opening credits. Every laugh in this scene is expected, but none of the punchlines land quite where you’d expect them to.
Most of “Boyle’s Hunch” is like that. Just as I’d begun to complain that I missed the episodes where the detectives solve an actual case, the show gives us a main plot in which Jake and Boyle team up to prove that Boyle’s new crush is innocent of robbing her own art gallery. Mary Lynn Rajskub, the kind of actress who brings sunshine wherever she goes, plays off Joe Lo Truglio beautifully, and I hope she returns later in the season. I prefer it when Lo Truglio dials back on Boyle’s awkwardness, but his emotional highs and lows make sense.
Also, Boyle gets all the best jokes this week. Lo Truglio often delivers lines like “I’m drowning my sorrows in octopus balls,” with a quick change in facial expression at the end, like Boyle has realized at the end of his own sentence that he sounds absurd. Boyle is weird, but he’s not delusional – and that keeps him a sympathetic character.
“Boyle’s Hunch” laughs at the “I just know she’s innocent!” trope without descending into parody. In fact, the chain of evidence is more plausible than it often is on serious crime dramas. The mystery gives structure to Jake and Boyle’s banter and reminds us that they’re really good detectives. And any week when Jake goes undercover is a good week.
The episode needs this display of confidence, because the B-plot addresses the gap between TV’s heroic depiction of police officers and the way New Yorkers perceive the NYPD. The writers seem to have constructed this comparison on purpose: another subplot, in which Diaz and Terry confront Hitchcock and Scully for stealing ice cream, is mostly inconsequential, but it also shows them using clever police tactics to prove that Hitchcock and Scully are guilty. In fact, Terry steers Diaz away from violence and premature accusations a few times, showing that even in matters of junk food, process and verification are important.
The ice cream subplot has the funniest payoff of the three storylines in the episode, but it would be pure silliness without the context of the others. In Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s most self-aware moment to date, it tasks Holt, Santiago, and Gina with designing a PR campaign to improve the NYPD’s reputation. It’s fun to see Andre Braugher and Melissa Fumero play off each other; their shtick is like a competition to see who can be the bigger stick in the mud, and it shows no signs of getting old. Although Gina’s role is important here – she’s a delightfully smug devil’s advocate – it often feels like she’s cutting in while the other two dance.
Many of the jokes in the PR campaign plot are so close to reality that they’re hardly even jokes. People vandalize the first round of advertisements with Hitler mustaches, but also with complaints about stop-and-frisk and police brutality. Holt realizes that their frustrations are well-founded and changes the direction of the campaign toward soliciting feedback from the public. His new idea sounds like it could head toward disaster, but it’s an improvement.
It might even be a viable suggestion for the real NYPD. Most cop shows sweep the issue of police misconduct under the rug, or they depict it as the isolated problem of a few bad apples. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the first show I’ve seen that has grasped how bad individuals and policies can affect cops who do have good intentions. Sometimes comedy can open doors that drama isn’t allowed to enter, and I hope Brooklyn Nine-Nine gets to explore the issue further this season. It’s a smart enough show to stay funny while taking a few important things seriously.
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.