Don’t let the incomprehensibly adorable little corgi who supplies “Cheddar” with its title fool you: this week, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is about something more substantial than cute puppies doing cute things, even though it is mostly about that. “Cheddar” is for the most part a fluff episode (no pun intended, though Cheddar is pretty fluffy), a charming one-off built around a single joke that it carries out to the best payoff possible. It’s really only when we get to that payoff that we see that there is more to “Cheddar,” and that there has been the entire time.
Of course, if you know Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you know that a dog-chasing caper is never just a dog-chasing caper, and the hunt for a missing corgi is just an avenue to explore the show’s character dramas. The big giveaway here is that “Cheddar” revolves around Kevin’s and Holt’s relationship; their separation has come up more than a few times as a source of stress on the poor, beset upon Captain, whether in “The Cruise” or “The Swedes.” That it comes up here yet again, and in such capacity as it does, quietly paints “Cheddar” as a more sober installment than Jake’s bumbling attempts at retrieving his boss’s absconded canine initially suggest.
Let’s start at the beginning: Holt can’t make the trip to see Kevin in Paris that he’s been planning for ages because he has no one to dog sit for good ol’ Cheddar. In a move that surprises literally nobody—not us, not Amy, and not Boyle, who is temporarily vision-impaired thanks to Lasik surgery he has done after the pre-credits bit—Jake offers to look after Cheddar for Holt. This does not sit well at first with Amy, who, if you’ll recall from “The 9-8,” is okay with killing dogs severely allergic to dogs, but after tempting her with the promise of a binder, even though that binder is chock-full of detailed dog sitting information, he convinces her to join in his well-intentioned plan with Boyle in tow.
By now you have no doubt plugged in the variables, done the math, and solved for “X,” where “X” is the speed at which Jake screws up, Cheddar goes on a walkabout around New York City, and Jake, Amy, and Boyle summon forth the combined might of the 9-9—Terry, Gina, Scully, Hitchcock, plus Rosa and Pimento, who are engaged in a flirting match that can only be described as “sexy, but disturbingly so”—to bring their Captain’s dog back home. And that’s it! There isn’t a B-plot, or even a C-plot. There is just an A-plot (given that it focuses on a dog, could we call it a D-plot?), with every character in the regular cast involved in its moving parts, though Scully and Hitchcock are wisely benched for sampling some of Cheddar’s doggie treats.
That’s not to say that nothing unrelated to Cheddar happens in the margins: “Cheddar” circles back around to Rosa and Adrian multiple times, such that their courtship would serve as a functioning B-plot if they stayed back at the precinct. They are such aggressive, stolid, and in Adrian’s case frenzied, personalities that they cannot help but draw attention away from the search for Cheddar and place it onto themselves as they make innuendos and sex-eyes at each other over hole punches and wet ink. It’s a little weird. Scratch that, it’s a lot weird. Convicted perverts, we’re told, have asked Terry to get them to stop doing whatever it is that they’re doing. But Rosa’s and Adrian’s weird is a good weird that keeps “Cheddar” from becoming one note, and which makes good on the promise of “Adrian Pimento” by letting Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s resident brooding badass go toe-to-toe with the new brooding badass in town. (And c’mon, how fun is it seeing Terry play accidental Dutch uncle with Adrian, who misinterprets the Sarge’s interrupted reassurances to the most hilarious extreme possible?)
But “Cheddar” isn’t about Rosa and Adrian. It’s hardly about Jake and Amy, either, much less Boyle. It’s really about Holt, who we know is too proud, too stoic, and too reserved to ever freely open up to his most trusted team members and confidants about the troubles he and Kevin are having. Again, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has kind of tipped its hat on that score; we “know” that all is not well in the Holt-Cozner household. Hearing it from Holt in his frank climactic exchange with Jake and Amy, though, still hits like a linebacker. Maybe “Cheddar” is intrinsically silly, and maybe it is impossible to divorce the episode’s weightier revelations from its running gags; Jake repeatedly refers to the pooch as a “slippery bastard,” and each time he does, the camera cuts away to Cheddar gamboling around a park or lapping up a fallen ice cream cone. You can’t not laugh at that. But you can’t not feel great empathy for Holt, the heart of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, even after you’ve spent the better part of a half an hour laughing at his growing frustrations with his squad’s buffoonery.
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 and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.