And just like that, with a flurry of story, a guest stint from Ed Helms, and a helping of penis humor, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is back on track. “USPIS” perfectly highlights what the show does so, so well as compared to Season Two’s less successful episodes (“Lockdown,” “Halloween II”)—finding something valuable for each and every member of the ensemble to do. Even Gina, at first precariously balanced on the edge of neglect and misuse, winds up contributing to the B-plot in hilarious ways, while Scully and Hitchcock steal the opening with cups of thumbtacks. Usually it’s Holt who walks away with the pre-credits bit. Good for you, Joel McKinnon Miller and Dirk Blocker!
Speaking of guys with awesome last names, let’s talk about Helms’ character, post office employee (and Federal agent!) Jack Danger. It’s pronounced “Donger,” and thus begins a slow rolling cavalcade of wiener witticisms that last for the entire duration of “USPIS”; if you grew up on the comic stylings of Robin Williams, Bill Hicks, and George Carlin, you probably have a pretty good idea of just how funny the male member can be in the hands of the truly gifted. This is a highbrow way of saying that “USPIS” is packed to the gunwales with hilarious dick jokes, and by consequence it might be one of the most singularly funny installments in the show’s sophomore go ‘round.
But the most important aspect of “USPIS” is its character work. Even at its worst, Brooklyn Nine-Nine earns its keep on the strength of its excellent cast. At its best, though, the show lets all of its players interact with one another on interesting, substantial, or amusing planes (and sometimes all three at once). This is the stuff that divides good episodes from great episodes, and whether dealing with Santiago’s attempts at quitting smoking or Peralta and Boyle’s odd couple team-up with the stuffy Danger, “USPIS” is a great episode.
We’re back to one of this season’s overarching narratives—Holt’s drug busting task force, which puts Diaz back in the driver’s seat, while Jake and Charles reluctantly heed her dictates. They’re only begrudging, of course, because her orders mean more Danger time, and it’s immediately clear when we meet him that Danger’s a huge tool (make that a small tool). We want to get the hell out of the post office, forget our two favorite boys in blue; Danger’s a classic fuddy-duddy, and Helms plays him up as a total fussbudget, while also nailing the alpha side of his persona. He’s a solid extra, and like Kyra Sedgwick and Eva Longoria, we should all be hopeful that he turns up (perhaps in December’s “Stakeout”?) somewhere else down the road.
Meanwhile, Santiago wants to give up smoking cold turkey, which turns her into an unpredictable rage beast. So Holt, Jeffords, and Gina all try their hand at helping her break the habit. This may be a slight arc for Santiago, given her recent succession in “Jake and Sophia,” but it’s progress, and who doesn’t want to see Terry Crews and Melissa Fumero aggressively dunk their heads in a sink full of ice water? (Tangent: that whole beat feels like a Quentin Tarantino reference, which means that it feels like a Takashi Miike reference. It’s probably neither of these, but I want to live in a world where network television homages City of Lost Souls.) But it’s the way the gang comes together to show solidarity by admitting their past addictions that makes this side yarn work. (Plus: Fat Terry Crews.)
If “USPIS” stumbles, it’s in the rushed climax, where we actually get to see about thirty seconds of cop action, as Diaz leads the charge to crack down on some Giggle Pig peddlers. But we don’t watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine for the same reasons we watch, say, The Shield. We watch it for punchlines and for love of the Nine-Nine’s officers. “USPIS” emphasizes both wonderfully, while advancing Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s diegesis. This isn’t just a bounce back from “Lockdown,” it’s a high point for the season.
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.