It’s taken four seasons but we’ve finally discovered Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Kryptonite: Zooey Deschanel.
We’re exaggerating, of course, we’re being melodramatic, for sure, but dammit why, oh why, did one of TV’s most gratingly precious sitcoms need to mix its sauce with the sauce of one of TV’s most consistently great sitcoms? Blame Marvel: They’re the ones who began this whole “shared universes” trend back in 2012, then soaked it in bathwater and fed it after midnight with their own televised enterprise, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., in 2013. Now we’re stuck with the fallout of their acquisitive schemes, in which pop culture is awash in so-called “suicide squads” and “justice leagues” as companies like Hasbro and studios like Universal chomping at the bit to get in on all that sweet interconnected franchising action.
You get the picture. Everything has to be involved with everything else. It’s not that this is a new thing, per se; horror nerds have been begging for Ash Williams to duke it out with both Freddy and Jason since those two slasher icons made their first encounter back in 2003, and in the spirit of fairness, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s crossover with New Girl isn’t nearly as horrifying as that. (Zing.) “The Night Shift” is, boiled down to its essence, just a solid episode in Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s fourth season, twenty or so minutes of shenanigans and antics, interrupted by occasional character development and capstoned with a random appearance from Jessica Day, who instead of being helpful decides to Jess things up by being a pain in Jake’s gimpy ass. (If you didn’t already know where our loyalties lie in this contest, well, now you do.)
Her appearance in “The Night Shift” is brief, but begets an immediate viewing of its companion New Girl episode, “Homecoming,” which lets the 99 interact more (though not more meaningfully) with the California gang on their New York visit. When it’s all over, you’re left to wonder why in blazes anyone thought this was a worthy endeavor to begin with. Neither story demands the biological attachment of one to the other, and in fact the moments where the shows’ two separate casts collide with one another feel distracting (though it should come as no surprise to anyone that Boyle would so eagerly participate in Nick’s and Winston’s sham street performance, blissfully ignorant of their chicanery). Bleeding New Girl into Brooklyn Nine-Nine takes nothing away from “The Night Shift,” but it doesn’t add anything, either.
The good news is that “The Night Shift” works, and is mostly free of Deschanel until its ending. Other than Jake’s hair (and Boyle’s, because of course he got frosted tips to match his friend’s), little has changed since the 99 hoofed it to Florida to free Holt and Jake from its fetid, sudorific grasp (and also helped arrest the man who marked them for death, but the Florida thing is way more important): Everyone still does what they do, just at night, because Captain C.J. says so, and unsurprisingly they’re all pretty crabby about it (especially Terry). So Holt determines to boost his department’s morale, while Jake determines to make the most of his situation and vows to solve one case with Boyle before night turns to day. None of this goes quite as planned, because it’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and that would just be too easy.
“Standard” for Brooklyn Nine-Nine translates to “pretty good,” so saying “The Night Shift” meets the standard should be considered warm praise. Grumpy Terry’s night sass is a ton of fun, Gina’s Australian affectations are hilarious (though it should be said that Chelsea Peretti’s Italian is way, way better than her Aussie), Holt’s attempts at cheering up the crew are stuffy but well-meaning in the most Holtish manner possible, and Matt Walsh’s guest appearance as an erstwhile night shift cop slays. (Can Walsh keep playing this character until the 99 returns to the day shift? Pretty, pretty please? His continual transformation into Jake’s hippie law enforcement guru is hysterical. Besides, you can never have enough Walsh.) Most of all, seeing Jake slip right into routine as his peers grouse and groan is the best sign of normalcy you can ask for. Gone is the man who cried as he ate a wet burrito in a hottub, replaced by the 99’s relentlessly and often frustratingly optimistic ringleader. Business as usual, here we come!
The key, though, is that the definition of “business as usual” has changed, and we all know that Jake isn’t great at adapting to change (even if he tries his heart out to do just that). For starters, Boyle has a son now, whose name everyone can pronounce correctly except for Jake, and need we mention that whole “night shift” thing again? Jake wants life to be as it was before Florida, and it can’t be. We see residual effects of the Figgis plot taking their toll on Rosa, too, who very obviously isn’t suffering from stomach pangs but rather love pangs. Adrian has yet to resurface, and it’s killing her enough to cry in front of Amy, a sight to behold that’s more stunning than her normal displays of stoic badassery. If the Coral Palms arc ended too soon, at least we’re still facing the aftermath: How can you return to how things used to be after your colleagues’, friends’, and loved ones’ lives were in jeopardy? (And how long will this continue to matter to Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s story as the season moves along?)
Not that this is the kind of show to do a deep tissue examination of its substance, but the fact that “The Night Shift” takes the Figgis situation seriously instead of breezing by it says a lot about Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s integrity as a narrative. More important, though, is how well “The Night Shift” plays as a standalone entry in the series’ canon despite its function as connective tissue for a New Girl collaboration. If the temporary merger proves totally unnecessary, it at least doesn’t mar “The Night Shift”s overall quality.
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.