There are so many stray observations worth making about Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s latest installment that figuring out where to start is like ice-skating uphill. Stephanie Beatriz deserves to be cast in an action movie so she can kick asses full time; only Joe Lo Truglio can over-enunciate “ph?” with devastating comic effect; we don’t actually know Hitchcock and Scully as people, and that’s mostly our own fault; Holt is forever the greatest; Amy’s propensity for nerdiness is only outmatched by her willingness to take the uncomfortable social bullets for people she cares about. Put more simply, “Karen Peralta” is a packed episode brimming with good jokes and better character development.
But the best element in “Karen Peralta” is its examination of Jake’s parentage. This is mostly important from a writing perspective, but that isn’t to say it isn’t equally important from a casting perspective, either. How awesome is it that we not only get a healthy dollop of Katey Sagal, but a respectable serving of Bradley Whitford too? As was once written, Whitford is a fantastic talent, and having him on the show again is a real treat. It’s worth noting that the manner in which Roger returns to us varies greatly from the expectations set by “Hostage Situation,” but hey, we’ll take Whitford even when he’s asked to play subdued.
If you walk away from “Karen Peralta” wondering about the reduction in Whitford shenanigans, well, then you need to watch the episode again. As you can guess by the title, this yarn isn’t about him. It’s about Mama Peralta, embodied perfectly in all her modern hip-progressive momosity by Sagal. Roger is second fiddle here, and he is much cowed after his last encounter with Jake and his romantic rekindling with Karen, who he apparently has been seeing for several months of Brooklyn Nine-Nine time. That all of this knowledge is dropped on Jake comes as a shock to him. That all of this knowledge is dropped on Jake on his birthday puts him in full “protect mom” mode, and so his name day family reunion goes from cheerful to awkward in less time than it takes for Amy to sing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
All of that happens in the A-plot. Off in the B-plot, Rosa, Terry and Boyle are on a stakeout to catch a drug trafficker, and Terry is adamant that Rosa and Boyle wear body cameras during the operation; in the C-plot, Holt has organized an Escape The Room venture for the 99, but he finds himself locked up with Gina, Scully and Hitchcock when Gina forgets to send out the invitations to the entire team. The latter is a classic odd coupling set-up, with Gina and Holt in the “oh dear God” camp, agog in horror at the idea of being trapped in a replica fallout shelter with the precinct’s most incompetent officers, and Scully and Hitchcock in the “Scully and Hitchcock” camp, in which the world passes them by and they are both too dim to realize it.
Let’s talk missed opportunities before we get deep into what works here: the body camera stuff is too glossed-over for its own good. Brooklyn Nine-Nine isn’t meant as a critique of reality. It’s a sitcom first and a cop show second. But even going back to “Boyle’s Hunch,” it has taken opportunities to promote awareness of what it means to be a police officer in America today, and a willingness to address these issues, if only in straightforward and facile terms. Maybe, as body cameras are only a very recent trend in the policing world (“recent” in the grand scheme of things, that is), there isn’t much yet for Brooklyn Nine-Nine to say about them, and maybe “Karen Peralta” intends only to introduce them so that they can be used to more significant effect later down the line. All the same, the oversimplification of the subject is a bit disappointing, even if the plot itself is both exciting (see, again: Rosa is a badass) and hysterical (penis jokes will never not be funny, especially when they involve hi-def TV screens, zoom functions and male insecurity.)
So, in short, the lack of meaningful chatter about body cameras is ultimately a minor infraction. Everything else in “Karen Peralta” works. It’s nice to see Hitchcock and Scully (well, just Scully, really) have more dimensions to them than their laziness, and it’s good to see the series continue the running joke that it isn’t just their behavior, but the impatience of their peers, that reinforces their lazy image. Scully is turning into a more robust person by the second; he’s an opera singer, he speaks French, he’s going through a divorce, and he knows Morse code. The poor guy deserves a hug, if not the attentions of his coworkers. But nobody on Brooklyn Nine-Nine receives more advancement than Jake. This is, of course, a “duh” statement. The episode has his surname on it. Obviously he’s the one who’s going to enjoy the most growth.
But Jake has grown by such leaps and bounds throughout the show’s lifespan that when he grows yet again, it almost feels like a surprise. Nobody on Brooklyn Nine-Nine is done evolving as a character, but Jake is such a dedicated screw-up and goofball that beyond telling Amy he loves her, it’s difficult to see what else is left for him. Well, “Karen Peralta” solves that problem by forcing him to deal with his mommy and daddy issues in a literal confrontation with his mommy and daddy. Is that a cliche? Maybe. But Andy Samberg has such good command over Jake, and his guest stars are so gifted, that their drama not only works but manages to be poignant and even smart. Maybe Brooklyn Nine-Nine isn’t a serious program, but amid its hilarity, it makes the serious stuff work.
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.