If I’d had to start filling in for Andy last week (hi!), the suspicion that FOX was burning off this season’s final stretch of Brooklyn Nine-Nine by just slapping episodes back to back without any thought to their thematic or tonal continuity might have sent me into a mild panic over the exact degree to which rumors of the show’s possible early death had or had not been exaggerated—a burn-off can look an awful lot like a funeral pyre from the right angle.
After Friday’s (so welcome!) renewal announcement, though, I’m just mildly annoyed. There was no lie in what Andy said last week—episodic comedies benefit from the break between installments that traditional scheduling forces, and deflate a bit when that break is taken away. That this week’s “gotta impress some extra-stern role models” doubleheader was less of an Odd Couple than last week’s “we guess there are jokes in both??” pair doesn’t negate that. In fact, I’d argue that because the second episode in this week’s set, “The Slaughterhouse,” closed with a cliffhanger that is clearly kicking off the season’s final arc, the punchiness it lost from having to follow the more emotionally and comedically satisfying “Your Honor” was even more disappointing.
So, knowing that these episodes were only paired due to some arcane black magic by FOX programmers and truly ought to be considered individually, let’s consider them individually.
I know, I know—it’s radical. But as Holt would say, “COWABUNGA, MOTHER.”
As noted above, “Your Honor” punches above its weight not only comedically, but emotionally. It doesn’t reach “Moo Moo” levels — family drama, no matter how touching, is a much easier ring for a sitcom to grab than systemic injustice — but considering the fact that the characters whose emotional development it hinges on are the stoic Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) and his even more stoic mother, the Honorable Laverne Holt (L. Scott Caldwell), whose declarations of devotion come in the form of specific percentage increases, it really delivers. Plus, it showcases the star dynamic in the 9-9, Holt and Peralta (Andy Samberg), and finally lets Peralta’s joyous enthusiasm at seeing inside Holt’s world immediately win over someone from Holt’s personal life, after failing with Kevin (Marc Evan Jackson) and all their other fancy personal acquaintances every time before.
With so much time given over to the Holt family reminiscing about the Captain’s childhood spent making macaroni data visualizations and learning “to do trigonometric functions in [his] head like a BIG BOY,” and to Jake’s flustered dedication to being sex positive after learning about Laverne’s secret relationship, the rest of the 9-9 is left in hijinks mode. For Amy (Melissa Fumero) and Gina (Chelsea Peretti), this takes the form of Amy trying to teach Gina to empower herself by learning how to change her own tire… and Gina, in turn, teaching Amy how not to play herself by condescending to a coworker. For everyone else, this takes the form of a break room makeover, with Terry (Terry Crews), Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz) and Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) getting so caught up in their impractical HGTV-perfect daydreams that Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker) and Scully (Joel McKinnon Miller) end up teaching them how not to play themselves. Nothing monumental, but it is always nice when Hitchcock and Scully are given the opportunity to use their narrow observational skills to point out flaws in the other characters’ worldviews. We all have to get outside our bubbles, no matter how unpleasant the motivation!
Following last week’s pattern with “Chasing Amy,” “The Slaughterhouse” swaps Rosa in as Jake’s investigative partner—this time staking out a minor crime ring, which ends up being connected to a much larger undercover operation run by their mutual hero, the very badass Lieutenant Melanie Hawkins (Gina Gershon), who nearly gets them kicked off the force for interfering in her business. Not even Holt can save them when she comes thundering through the 9-9 (he’s too busy trying to get Amy mad at him to really even try), and they have to decide themselves how to make their mistake up to her.
Of course, Hawkins ends up being dirty—Brooklyn Nine-Nine would be having an identity crisis if it introduced a non-relative female authority figure without making her either petty or corrupt (sorry, your faves are problematic)—but watching Jake and Rosa try to out-accommodate each other as they compete for Hawkins’ respect and the single open slot on her task force before they learn that she’s not the hero they imagined, there’s real joy there. Plus, seeing how firmly they have each other’s back when decision time comes, that gives hope for the last two Season Four episodes next week, which, if the cliffhanger in “The Slaughterhouse” is any indication, will actually make sense as a doubleheader.
Hopefully, they will end with Rosa becoming the badass female superior officer she never got to have herself. Between that and Amy’s imminent promotion? Season Five could be LIT.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic whose writing has appeared on Forever Young Adult, Screener, and Birth.Movies.Death. She’ll go ten rounds fighting for teens and intelligently executed genre fare to be taken seriously by pop culture. She can be found @AlexisKG.