With just a sub-minute moment of catch-up between cast members and a snappy meta quip from Andy Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s second season premiere gets off to a brisk start. Admittedly, that zippy through line feels kind of dishonest; more has to have happened in the six months since Jake parted ways with the gang in “Charges and Specs,” but maybe Jake Peralta really is the Nine-Nine’s driving force for activity and shenanigans. Maybe the most that can happen in his absence are random incidents with Boyle at the focal points. (Santiago is right: he does look pretty spiffy in that suit.)
Speaking of Boyle, at least one thing hasn’t changed over the break: Joe Lo Truglio absolutely kills it, every single chance he gets. Literally every great one liner in “Undercover”, every stand out comic reaction, is accorded to him, whether he’s seething with jealousy over Jake’s mafia friendships, or breaking out his emergency hat for an impromptu trip to Barbados—which really just turns into an impromptu trip to the airport. (He even out-screams Chelsea Peretti, who sadly gets short shrifted with her side arc here.) Boyle has always supplied Brooklyn Nine-Nine with its sweet, nuggety center, and it looks like he’ll be serving the same function for the show’s new go-round. We’re left to reap the rewards of Lo Truglio’s excellence.
In fairness, Holt hasn’t changed much, either, even though his climactic conversation with the sarge leaves him smiling (so to speak). Holt is back to making his usual stuffy, inexplicable demands on his officers, and they naturally lead to a blend of outcry and antics, topped off with a minor Jurassic Park reference. The bouncy castle erected behind the department proves quite handily that there’s no end of ridiculous things that Terry Crews and his tight 240 lb. frame can be made to do. Hopefully the show never stops innovating in that area, though like Peretti, Crews’ role here feels reduced. He’s mostly there to throw a temper tantrum, and eventually persuade Holt to reveal the reasoning behind the seemingly endless drills he puts Diaz and Santiago through.
That points to the overarching direction Brooklyn Nine-Nine might take throughout the season; this could be Holt’s proving ground as a leader. Grant that we saw him make pretty convincing arguments as to his efficacy as a captain throughout last season. The man was practically born to run his own precinct. But he’s also a gay, black man, working in a world that’s still largely run by straight white men—an element of plot that has come up in the past. And if history repeats itself then it’s possible that Holt’s stresses are very real, and that they’ll define his personal narrative (and, by consequence, the overarching narrative of the show) for the next twenty or so episodes.
Of course, it’s Jake’s narrative that will invariably have the most tangible impact on where the story goes for this run in the series. It seems highly unlikely that we’ve heard the last of Freddie (which might mean that the wonderful Jenny Slate gets another guest stint in future installments), or the mafia at large; if you’ve ever watched a gangster film, you probably know that even karaoke bonding sessions aren’t enough to mollify a vengeful mobster. It’s even less likely that Jake’s expression of affection for Santiago—even if he needlessly waffles on his feelings to begin with—will end with “Undercover”, and their back and forth sentiment will flavor much of the story from here on out.
So, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s opener sets the stage, as all openers must do. If “Undercover” is meant to play a specific role and foreshadow events that may occur further down the line, though, it does so handsomely; it’s funny, maybe not as funny as it should be, but still chock full of terrific gags and punchlines, most of them property of Lo Truglio and Braugher. (If you thought Holt was dour before, you’ve apparently seen nothing yet, though good luck spotting the difference between his happy face and his stressed face.) “I missed us”, breathes Peralta in the episode’s pre-credits sequence. We missed us, too, Jake. We missed us too.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film for the web since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant and Movie Mezzanine. You can follow him on Twitter. Currently, he has given up on shaving.