Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Returning Shows: Brooklyn 99 (It's Out of Your Control, Jake)

If I have to put my finger on the theme of last night's episode, and what will probably be the general theme of season two, I'm gonna go with control. Or, more accurately, a lack of control. From Jake realizing that no matter how much he wishes something could happen between he and Amy "romantic-styles" it's just not the right time, to Holt opening up about his fears for what might happen to the squad when the new Police Commissioner takes command, to Gina and Boyle and their accidental horizontal mambos, it's clear the the whole precinct is dealing with some serious control issues.

It's great. I missed this show so much. Can you tell?

Look, Brooklyn 99, like its spiritual predecessor, Parks and Recreation (where a lot of the writers and producers got their big break), is a sitcom that thrives on real-world situations. Well, real-world might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but let's go with it for the sake of argument. While the crimes and criminals and general life of the precinct at Brooklyn's finest station are pretty bizarre, they're also grounded in a full emotional reality that makes them relatable, convincing, and totally hilarious.

I should know that, for the record, because just last week I finished rewatching the first season with my roommates, and trust me. It holds up to a second, third, and even fourth viewing. As a bonus, after you've watched the episodes a couple of times, you can stop laughing long enough to realize all of the character work that's going on. 

It's the same in this season premiere. The first time you watch it you're distracted by all the shiny, shiny jokes (which are excellent), but if you go back and watch it again, it's kind of amazing how much emotional feelings stuff they've managed to pack in.

The episode picks up six months after the last episode (which handily aired about six months ago). At the end of that episode, our hero, Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), got himself fired from the NYPD so that he could go on an undercover sting infiltrating the Ianucci mob family. Coming back in, we now get to see the very end of Peralta's operation. He's very popular with the mobsters now, gladhanding and giving a toast at some mafioso's wedding. The old men of the family even give him some traditional on-the-mouth kisses to signify that he's "one of us now". Which means it's time for Peralta to give his codeword and for NYPD to bust the wedding.

Jake is dragged off kicking and screaming about how much he hates cops, just so that he can get to the police van and give Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) a giant hug. Which Captain Holt hates, so all is right with the world. Jake's back!

It's almost like nothing happened while he was gone too, aside from Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) and Santiago (Melissa Fumero) accidentally wearing the same outfit to work one day, Gina (Chelsea Peretti) single-handedly got headphones banned from the precinct, and Terry (Terry Crews) chipped a tooth and spent a week interrogating perps with an adorable lisp. In other words, business as ridiculous usual. And, for the viewers just joining the show now, a handy recap of who these characters are and how they relate to each other. I mean, that's some good writing. It's quick, hilarious, and easily communicates the major character dynamics of the show. Right on!

Before Jake can just fall back into the usual routine, though, he has to address the confession he made to Amy Santiago before he left six months ago. At the time he had no idea what was going to happen on that op, so he admitted that he had feelings for Amy and wished something could happen between them, but also acknowledged that she had a boyfriend and he respected that. It's one of the best love confessions I've seen on television, for the record.

That moment, after which Jake pretty much fled for the hills, is putting a teensy awkward tinge on their reunion, so Jake decides to take Santiago aside and tell her that...he didn't mean any of that and she should forget all about it. Right. That's totally not just a last-ditch effort for Peralta to save his dignity. Nope.

But Jake isn't the only one trying to deny something happened in order to save face. See, last season ended on a positively hilarious shot of Gina and Boyle in bed with each other, both screaming in horror. They'd both like to pretend it never happened, but they've run into a big problem. Boyle loves Jake. Boyle tells Jake literally everything, and there is a 100% chance that Boyle will tell Jake he slept with Gina some time in the next two days. 

Gina, her self-worth spiraling as she realizes that people are going to find out she slept with someone below the physical level of a bike messenger (oddly specific, but that's Gina for you), declares that her spirit animal is now a naked molerat, and even goes so far as to try befriending Hitchcock and Scully. It's sad watching her in such a downward spiral.

And on the other side of the bullpen, Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz) and Amy are trapped doing situational drills with Terry and Holt. Terry gets to wear a placard that lists him as an "angry prostitute" or "unattended backpack" or "seven year old boy". He then pretends to be said person or thing, using a script written by Holt, and Amy and Rosa have to deal with the situation in a proper, procedural way. It's annoying at first, and then straight up maddening because Holt won't let them stop running drills. They just keep going. 

So clearly everyone in the office is dealing with a situation that they can't control, and they deal with those situations in variably healthy ways. Gina spirals into a very Gina-esque depression. Amy and Rosa decide to use Terry pretending to be a seven year old as an excuse to play in the bouncy castle (though why their precinct has a bouncy castle is left unexplained). 

And Jake decides that the best solution to his mild disappointment at Amy still being with her boyfriend is to sublimate that disappointment into the search for one single mobster who got away.

The three storylines dovetail nicely, and they all come to the same conclusion. Amy, Rosa, and Terry are caught by Holt, but a subsequent conversation reveals that the reason Holt is being so hard on them is because Holt himself is trying to deal with a new commissioner coming in soon and how little he knows about or can control the situation. And Jake pursues the fleeing mobster to the airport - with a little help from the absolutely amazing Jenny Slate as a mob mistress - only to find that the guy's flight left an hour before.

In other words, really nothing works out in a satisfying way in this episode, and strangely, that's satisfying in and of itself. Like I said above, this show really isn't about solving the crimes, it's about watching the characters change and evolve. Sometimes, especially with a character like Jake's, it's actually best if he doesn't get the win. I mean, he still was involved in a RICO case that brought down fifteen high level mobsters. But in this one case he really did have to accept that there are some things you can't change.

Which pays off nicely when Jake meets Amy at the bar later for his surprise party (that Boyle told him about, unprompted) and tells her that, no, he really does have feelings for her but he isn't going to press because he's not that guy. And then they go back to normal. Some things you just can't control. 

Even the freaking tag on this episode plays into that, with Boyle confessing to Gina that he hasn't told Jake about their sex, nor will he, because it would hurt her feelings. Awwww. And immediate cut to Boyle and Gina in bed together again. I hope this is a thing this season. It feels like a thing, and it's such a good thing.

Okay, other little stuff that I like about the show and that I hope will continue to develop this season. Well, in terms of maintaining a diverse, compelling show that finds humor without relying on stereotypes or offensive material, it's still going great! Admittedly, this episode had a lot less emphasis on Rosa, Amy, Terry, Holt, and really everyone other than the white people, which is unusual for this show, but there's some cool setup for season arcs with all of them. 

That is what definitely sets this show apart from most of the other FOX sitcoms: every character on here has an arc and a flaw and a point that the story is carrying them towards. That is weirdly rare in comedy overall, and it's virtually unheard of that a sitcom is so invested in its characters that it demands that they change.

But it's also cool that this show isn't afraid to let them all stew for a while either. 

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