Brooklyn Nine-Nine: “Sabotage”

(Episode 2.19)

TV Reviews brooklyn nine-nine
Brooklyn Nine-Nine: “Sabotage”

Every once in a while, it’s nice to be reminded that the non-principal cast members on Brooklyn Nine-Nine are people too. Last week, the series drilled down on Jake Peralta and did a lot of work to flesh him out as a complex human being with more layers beyond “clown” and “slacker”; this week, “Sabotage” does a little bit of the same for Scully, Hitchcock, and even Gina, though with far less successful results. Chalk it up to writing that’s spread too thin to be totally satisfying. “Sabotage,” maybe more so than any other entry in the show’s second season, is packed, which at least means it’s never anything less than entertaining, even if it has a hard time keeping focus.

That’s the first of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s big strengths: its ability to hold our attention and delight us even when it’s not at its best. Its other big strength, of course, is its cast. So if “Sabotage” maybe has a little too much going on, it’s still a solid outing, whether it’s investing in the Jake-centric A-plot (featuring the return of Chris Parnell as ex-lawyer and current angel dust addict Geoffrey Hoytsman, last seen in “Defense Rests”), exploring Gina’s innermost sensitivities, such as they are, or proving yet again that Scully and Hitchcock actually can do the detective thing when the spirit moves, them by partnering them with a frustrated Boyle.  We’ve seen the wonder duo’s investigative skills at work before in Season One’s “Unsolvable,” of course, an episode that also paired Joel McKinnon Miller and Dirk Blocker with Joe Lo Truglio. Here, though, we get to peer into Scully’s and Hitchcock’s minds, and what we see is actually kind of sad.

Well, okay, it’s actually kind of pathetic; these guys are nothing but lazy, though they’re lazy because they want to avoid the weight of expectations. Not that the case they solve behind Boyle’s back is huge or anything, but remember, Scully and Hitchcock are veteran “red hot dicks.” (If there’s a worse euphemism for “detective” in all the tongues of men, it’ll be a twisted miracle.) Brooklyn Nine-Nine usually only takes us on trips down memory lane when exploring Holt’s struggles coming up in the force or, on occasion, Terry’s past morbid obesity and mu shu pork addiction. “Sabotage” contains no flashbacks, but it does point out that once upon a time, Scully and Hitchcock were the young up and comers around the office. Now, they just want to avoid notice, and coast. Their lethargy is tragic and aggravating in concert, but most of all it just lets Miller and Blocker, two of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s most underused performers, score a little bit more of the spotlight for themselves. It’s screen time that’s well deserved.

Speaking of which, how about watching Gina guilt trip Holt and Terry? Frankly, neither of their plans for dealing with their failure to show up to her dance concert for support are particularly smart; telling a lie means they’ll eventually get caught per sitcom law, while telling the truth just means that she’ll shun them sooner rather than later. Gina is as Gina does. If you cross her, or even if you don’t, you can expect her to be kind of weird about it, which is pretty much what happens when Holt blows up Terry’s spot. But even Gina’s nutty behavior can’t disguise the fact that both the lie and the fact that they didn’t attend her show as promised hurt her feelings. It’s possible that she acts out just to make the guys feel bad, but the exaggerations and the oddball pronouncements she makes just cover up the wound.

It’s interesting, even compelling stuff, but it also highlights “Sabotage”s weakness: everything that revolves around Jake. As we learn in the pre-credits bit, someone is out to ruin Jake’s life and career through subversive disruption; eventually we learn that that someone is Hoytsman, jobless and divorced following the events of “Defense Rests” and out for revenge on Jake. But everything that happens in their back and forth feels too pat and too thin to provide the foundation for “Sabotage,” which serves the entire episode poorly. Do we really need another story thread dedicated to this character’s growth immediately following “Captain Peralta”? Maybe, maybe not, but the one we get in “Sabotage” feels like wheels spinning rather than well-grounded development. Worst of all, there’s a Rosa/Amy team-up that’s utterly wasted by the forced necessity of keeping them off-screen for the bulk of Jake’s misadventure. There are enough good wisecracks and character beats here to justify “Sabotage,” but they don’t make up for the lax writing and missed opportunities.

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.

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