Coming on the heels of “The Jimmy Jab Games”, “Halloween II” feels like a retread. Two episodes in a row, we’ve seen the Nine-Nine crew shut down the entire precinct in favor of hijinks and shenanigans. Outside of assembling the safety pumpkins, no police work gets done, unless you count the flashback sequence in which Rosa detains Dan “Fingers” McCreery. This is, of course, the series’ standard operating protocol. Brooklyn Nine-Nine just wouldn’t be as successful as it is without its through lines of absurdity. We don’t actually tune in to see the cast bust bad guys. We tune in for ridiculousness.
But given the recent airing of“The Jimmy Jab Games,” the thoroughly-over the-top “Halloween II” asks almost too much of us—and that’s without bringing up its status as the sequel to Season One’s “Halloween.” As a rejoinder to what’s arguably one of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s funniest installments to date, “Halloween II” is burdened by the yoke of expectation from its pre credits bit and onward. Basic sequel rules demand that it at least live up to last year’s classic, but the writers know they’ve got to try and out-prank, out-trick, and out-treat “Halloween,” so try they do. Admirably, “Halloween II” goes big, but maybe too big, and it winds up missing more than not.
Let us pause and reflect upon the first All Hallow’s Eve adventure in Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s brief broadcasting history: Peralta placed a devious wager with Holt visa vis the captain’s shiny, hard earned Medal of Valor, and by night’s end wound up purloining the award with the aid of the squad. Three hundred and sixty five days later, the dueling superior and subordinate arrive at the same setup as before, with Peralta betting against Holt for the honor of his watch (a more valuable family heirloom than a timepiece) as the rest of the Nine-Nine officers each pitch in to help Jake come out on top. Everything goes so smoothly as to echo “Halloween,” but this time, Peralta has a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad evening, and the odds rapidly turn against him.
We learn why, in “Halloween II”s final moments, Holt has been engineering Peralta’s long term downfall since “Halloween,” going full Ocean’s 11 on the detective to prove a point (and win some gloating rights). Andre Braugher relishes every single syllable of his dialogue in the episode’s climactic scene, turning phrases as innocuous as “word cloud” into awe-inspiring punchlines. And it’s in moments like this that “Halloween II” justifies its existence. But too often, the episode fails to reach these heights, existing as a mere echo to the original, rather than as a companion entry to its various escapades. This, perhaps, is to be expected; follow ups do tend to mimic the best elements of their predecessors, after all. So a measure of repetition makes good, logical sense.
If only “Halloween II” had done more tweaking on its remixed conceit. That’s the real problem with the episode. In a series that most always feels lively and fresh, “Halloween II” is simply stale, which means that it’s better than equivalent fare on the market, but fails to live up to its own greatness. Worse, it has absolutely no idea what to do with its B plot, which threatens to be interesting before petering out and going nowhere. Gina is a too-often underused character in Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s roster—Season One’s “The Apartment” is a real gem just for her expanded role and involvement. So the idea of Terry getting everyone behind her to support her endeavors outside the office is compelling on paper. In practice, it feels like an afterthought (and besides that, its concurrence with Jake and Holt’s bet raises a lot of awkward questions about spacetime).
The good news here is that Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t seem to be losing its spirit. It will forever remain a tribute to farce, with an endless supply of zany vim. It does, however, appear to be losing its direction, which may be a bit of an alarmist observation, given that we’re only four episodes deep into Season Two. But “Halloween II” gets too wrapped up in its central caper to deliver on its best attribute—its character work. Without that, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is just another sitcom to breeze through, rather than savor.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film for the web since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant and Movie Mezzanine. You can follow him on Twitter. Currently, he has given up on shaving.