Great gags and missed opportunities: That’s gonna leave a mark. “The Overmining,” like most lesser entries in the esteemed canon of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, is neither actively bad nor passively bad, and does in fact exceed the minimum number of JPS (jokes per second) required to designate an episode “good.” Hell, it starts off with Boyle making a prototypically Boyle-esque play on Dianne Wiest’s name, hinging on a perfectly held awkward silence between he and Jake that conveys Jake’s obvious disapproval as only awkward silence can. What more do you want from a sitcom than that? Do you want it to send a masseur to your home to send you into a state of near-nirvana at the business end of a foot rub?
C’mon. Of course you do. But that’s unfair, and also totally unrealistic. The most you can demand of Brooklyn Nine-Nine every week is a fistful of chuckles. “The Overmining” delivers. Case closed, sort of, because “The Overmining” also drops a major overarching plot ball, so laugh you will, but you’ll also be disappointed. As “Skyfire Cycle” reminded us last week, the gang is still stuck on the night shift and itching to relinquish their nocturnal lifestyle, which makes Captain Stentley’s reappearance feel just a bit convenient (but not at all unwelcome, because Ken Marino is amazing): Here we are, fully aware that the status quo is still tilted off its axis, and here comes Stentley, as oblivious and incompetent as ever, wringing his hands over a missing backpack loaded with a big ol’ lump of cocaine. (Football-sized, apparently.)
This presents an easy and natural opportunity for Jake to leverage Stentley’s latest clusterbiff against him and reclaim his rightful place on the day shift, and in so doing presents Holt an easy and natural opportunity to teach Jake a lesson on what it means to be a cop. But “Skyfire Cycle” taught us that Holt, too, is feeling the sting of working away in the wee hours, and so one would think that perhaps the entire 9-9 would be in on the A-plot to oust Stentley from his spot behind the captain’s desk. But “The Overmining” puts that burden on Jake and Holt, while Terry battles with Gina in an attempt to do his job and push through energy saving initiatives, and Boyle and Rosa go treat themselves to the aforementioned foot rub (and stumble upon a money laundering ring in the process).
What really makes that summation a bummer is how good the B and C plots actually are, or how good they would be in a totally different episode that wasn’t warped by a narrative-shaping plot point. Terry losing his mind over Gina’s indomitable obstinacy (which is really just support in disguise) is kind of low-end stuff, especially since we’ve seen the whole “Terry is struggling to keep his own morale up” thing before, but it mostly works, even if Gina always being one step ahead of everyone else has begun to grow stale in Season Four. Boyle and Rosa sneaking off to get their tootsies massaged is much, much better, especially since Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t often let them hang out and get into hijinks together anymore. But these two threads belong elsewhere in the framing of Brooklyn Nine-Nine as episodic storytelling. They don’t fit in “The Overmining.”
This is a shame, not only for the B and C plots but for the A plot, which could pretty easily have been expanded to allow the whole team to participate. As far as Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s quality of joke-writing goes, Jake and Holt’s disagreement over how to handle Stentley, mixed with their eventual decision to partner up with him to help him secure the transfer from the 9-9 that he so craves, is top-notch stuff: Part of that, again, is Marino, who treats each line with reverence (at least as far as Marino’s casually anxious slacker shtick can convey “reverence”), but part of that is the genius of the setups and the punch lines. Take, for example, the split-screen scene in which Holt and Jake go undercover as part of their plan to promote Stentley, who hangs out in the police van jabbering endlessly into the mic, heedless of the task at hand (and also of how annoying it is to listen to him yak). That sequence could end up in Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s “top ten funniest moments” reel. Think of it as lightning in a hilarious bottle, or hilarity in a bottle, or whatever—it doesn’t matter. You’ll collapse a lung from laughing.
So “The Overmining” justifies itself without much trouble, but more thought directed toward narrative mechanics would have guaranteed it classic status. If you’re writing for a show and you’re churning out twentyish episodes each season, you’re going to stumble, but it’s a puzzle that what feels like the firmest (and clearest) structure for “The Overmining” is bypassed in favor of a standard sitcom blueprint. Stentley has influenced Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s comings and goings in big, significant ways since “Coral Palms Pt. 2,” and his departure should therefore be a big, significant thing: He’s the oafish man-child who has inexplicably been gifted with immense responsibilities that he’s demonstrably unqualified to carry out. (Does that description ring any bells in post-election America?) You need a whole department to see him removed, not just two characters.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film online since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He writes additional words for Movie Mezzanine, The Playlist, and Birth. Movies. Death., and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.