Here’s a new twist on an old favorite: Boyle and Jake, buddies now, buddies forever, quantifiably grow up after having a wacky off-duty adventure that ends with the promise of a potentially amazing multi-episode story arc. If Dan Goor and Michael Schur know what’s good for them (and the show, really), they’ll use this opportunity to bring back Bradley “Never Gonna See a Merman” Whitford for another go-round after his excellent guest starring spot on season two’s “Captain Peralta.” Not only is Whitford just the greatest, his interactions with Andy Samberg as Papa Peralta injected terrific, surprisingly affecting drama in Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s standard hoard of hijinks. The show hasn’t finished tapping that vein yet.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. “Hostage Situation,” Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s first Tuesday night episode following its recent time slot change, is only about the Captain at the very end, and then only for a few seconds. The rest of the A-plot here revolves around Boyle in desperate need of help from Jake, who, per the normal ebb and flow of their relationship, is more than happy to step in and zap Boyle in the spine with a taser. (Hey: nobody ever said being best pals was easy.) The through line here explores Boyle as a sadsack more three-dimensionally than past tradition dictates. We’re used to thinking of Boyle as adorably pathetic when he isn’t being weird, creepy, dorky, or all three at once. This is the essence of Charles Boyle. This is why we love him.
“Hostage Situation” doesn’t totally break from that, really, but it does explore the more tragic side of his aim-to-please, can’t-say-no, born-without-a-backbone piteousness. Nine times out of ten we relate Boyle to a cat caught in a shower stall. He’s heartbreaking in a way that courts our inborn cute aggression. But “Hostage Situation” shows him as a victim of his weakness while also underscoring that his basic weakness is that he’s a decent man who happens to be too pliable for his own good. Boyle’s ex-wife, Eleanor (Kathryn Hahn, fabulous in her best-of mode of contemptuous disaffection), is out to ruin his life more than she already has; as the episode opens, Boyle tells Jake that he and Genevieve have determined that they want to have a baby together (and that he also wants Jake to be the kid’s best friend). This, to Jake’s knowledge, is an impossibility following an on-the-job accident involving Boyle, Boyle’s crotch, and a perp swinging a baseball bat into Boyle’s crotch for comic effect. (If you think Man Getting Hit by Football is hilarious, Joe Lo Truglio taking a Louisville Slugger to the pills is even more so.)
?The good news is that Boyle shrewdly set aside a couple batches of his sperm for safekeeping years prior. The bad news is that he sucks so much at divorces that they legally belong to Eleanor, who arrives to blackmail Boyle into getting her out of vehicular hot water. What’s a lovable goofball to do?
Outside of Boyle’s contretemps with Eleanor, Amy has Terry fearing for his life after her accident prone ways leave him with a broken nose, while Holt and Rosa must rely on Gina to interrogate a suspect. In another workplace sitcom, none of this would fly, but, of course, Brooklyn Nine-Nine isn’t “another” workplace sitcom. Currently it’s the workplace sitcom, one where the work actually matters and the characters are their authentic selves. There’s an honesty beneath the surface antics here, as ever, whether Amy continues inflicting unintended harm on poor terrified Terry (Terryfied!) or Gina helps Holt and Rosa crack their perp without actually helping at all. These people are never anyone other than who they are. It’s the most banal observation possible, but it is also completely true and a big part of why Brooklyn Nine-Nine continues to get better and better, even as the plots continue to get loopier and loopier.
This is what happens when you give more than half a damn about your twenty minute network comedy, though. You can start an episode off by having Andre Braugher engage in a dance-off with a b-boy on the street (aside: yes, this moment is every bit as sublime as it sounds), and you can then end that episode with a very sincere discussion of the real meaning of fatherhood and parenthood, plus a mind-blowing analytic comparison between Home Alone and Die Hard that perfectly explains Jake in two lines of dialogue. Maybe Boyle oil (the bestworst euphemism for semen of all time) isn’t the only path available to Boyle if he wants to be a dad. Maybe human reproduction isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe Eleanor is just totally heinous, and maybe it isn’t worth helping her duck lawful comeuppance in exchange for iced-down seed. And maybe Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s streak of incredible third season outings can’t last forever, but there’s no reason to wish away the series’ sustained excellence, either.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has contributed to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Birth. Movies. Death. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.