Maybe the best way to salute Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s return to Tuesday nights is with a simple two word phrase: “Of course.” Of course Jake, AKA Larry, has frosted tips. Of course he works for an ATV dealer. Of course he doesn’t actually work for an ATV dealer, because he’s a big fat liar. Of course Holt, AKA Greg, is part of a walking group made up of dear little ol’ ladies. Of course he pretends to be straight in the most laughably transparent ways possible. Of course he works for a family entertainment joint, and of course it is called Frank’s Fun Zone. Of course. Of course. But don’t let “of course” lead you astray. Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s fourth season opener is predictably of the show’s nature, but it’s also totally great.
And sometimes predictability adds to hilarity. The pieces of the show’s follow-up to its big season three finale make sense. They fit. Dan Goor and Michael Schur aren’t ramming square pegs into round holes, or redefining characters that don’t really need redefining. Instead, they’re sticking our two intrepid leads into their personal Hell, where they’re separated from their loves ones and their friends, and where they cannot, under any circumstances, do police work. They can’t even enjoy the amenities and sights of the city they’ve been moved to by the U.S. Marshal who’s watching over them, and who happens to look and sound an awful lot like Maya Rudolph (most likely because she’s played by Maya Rudolph), because there simply aren’t any.
Such is a life lived in America’s stinky butt. Florida sucks, and Coral Palms sucks the most. If the bottom of the barrel featured a trapdoor that led all confined within to another, totally different bottom, that bottom would be Coral Palms, a place where a tattoo of Jesus nut-punching Osama bin Laden doesn’t count as an identifying mark. “Coral Palms, Pt. 1” imagines its namesake as a cesspool into which Schur and Goor siphon everything that’s backwards, selfish, horrible, and redneck about our country, with Jake-Larry and Holt-Greg stuck on the sidelines, gawping in a blend of awe, disgust, and despondence at their surroundings and their ill fortunes. We feel sorry for them less because a violent mobster wants them dead, more because they’ve been filed away in one of the U.S.A.’s anal glands. You wonder if they might rather that Figgis whack them.
No such mercy. “Coral Palms, Pt. 1,” unique in Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s tenure, focuses on Larry Jake and Greg Holt alone. Only the barest reference is made to the rest of the show’s cast, snug and comfy in New York City, far away from the weirdos and creeps and hillbillies populating Coral Palms. (Not that New York doesn’t have its own share of weirdos and creeps, but at least they aren’t hillbillies on top of everything else. Take that small comfort for what it’s worth.) Jake, not content to idly wait for the Feds to put Jimmy Figgis in jail, has set up a command center in a storage locker, where he spends his time tracking the guy down; he’s got Amy’s picture taped to a wall, and it’s the only image we see of her for the entire episode. Apart from that and references to both her name and Kevin Cozner, that’s it.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were watching a show other than Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and in truth we aren’t. We’re watching Greg and Larry. That in and of itself is enough of a shift to make the fourth season feel if not “new,” then at least “fresh.” It’s the style of humor that remains intact, reminding us that the change in scenery is temporary: We’ll be back in Brooklyn before we know it, and the cast will be together again, trading jabs and quips and solving crimes in the short windows of opportunity they have between cracking wise. Boyle will resume his duties as designated schlemiel. Terry will continue to refer to himself in the third person. Rosa will be the scariest person on the show. (If Jason Mantzoukas plays his cards right, maybe he’ll put in an appearance, and we’ll actually see Adrian and Rosa get hitched.)
But until then, we’re stuck with Jake and with Holt, though at least by the end of “Coral Palms, Pt. 1,” they’ve put their pettiness aside after playing cops again to retrieve a camera phone video; the camera phone’s owner (played with by Betsy Sodaro with greasy relish) means to put the video online, hoping for a viral payoff which might alert Figgis to Jake and Holt’s location. Their show of teamwork hopefully won’t mean we’ve seen the last of Rhea Perlman, one of Holt’s walking companions, or of Jorma Taccone, Holt’s dimwitted superior at the Fun Zone; as usual, Andre Braugher does his best work under threat of embarrassment, making repeated, casual nods to “heavy breasts” to prove his hetero status, and performing the best-worst dances for Fun Zone birthday parties, seething with rage with his every move.
Samberg, unsurprisingly, is at his most effete and whiny, chowing down on sad, wet, hot tub burritos (not a euphemism, but an actual thing) while openly weeping one moment, auditioning for the third Horrible Bosses movie the next. Together, he and Braugher are perfect, so perfect that we almost want them to stay in Florida together forever. They won’t, of course, and the second that Brooklyn takes them in, we’ll breathe a sigh of relief at their homecoming and marvel at why we ever hoped to keep them stranded in the Sunshine State.
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.