Graphic: Vivian Zink (NBC)
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Brooklyn Nine-Nine is in an interesting place right now. It’s the sixth season of the series, so the natural assumption is that its audience knows a thing or 99 about the previous five seasons (and 100+ episodes) going into it. But it’s also the series’ first season on a new network, so it has to also be accessible to a new audience, just in case. So far, it feels like the Brooklyn Nine-Nine writers have been working hard to make things function both as a return to the Nine-Nine and an introduction, and that continues in a big way in “A Tale Of Two Bandits.”

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A major part of dual function has been the season’s approach to continuity, specifically when it comes to constant callbacks and self-referential beats. These moments function as a quick way to try to catch anyone up with the show while also appeasing longtime fans who will remember these bits. Obviously, that was an integral component in crafting Gina’s farewell, as the stroll down memory lane lent itself to hitting the emotional beats of the character’s departure alongside the humor. For example, Gina’s departure allowed the series to get in a comment about just how bizarre—and unbelievable, if this is the only season you’ve seen—the Gina/Boyle hook-up arc was. The only thing people would be more shocked by is the six-episode Nick Cannon arc, for which I still want answers.

But in becoming more concerned with noting its history, Brooklyn Nine-Nine runs the risk of devolving into just playing its greatest hits, which is what happens in “A Tale Of Two Bandits.” While it’s funny for even Jake to get things jumbled after all the misadventures he’s had just with Doug Judy alone (Giggle Pig, the diamonds, the cruise), once the episode just keeps referencing things that have happened in the series (1,000 push-ups from “Pontiac Bandit,” “__ Drink Amy,” Terry’s “NINE-NINE” exclamations, Terry’s perverted suspender love), this particular narrative approach really sticks out. And as the series just had an episode where a main character leaves to go figure out what’s next for herself, it’s interesting that this episode chooses to look back instead of move forward.

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It’s not that Brooklyn Nine-Nine can’t be self-referential or keep up the continuity; but in noting the two masters the show has to serve (in terms of viewers), for those who aren’t new to the show, there is a clunkiness that comes with this. And speaking of clunky, the B-plot puts more emotional weight on Shaw’s Bar than I even thought possible. In fact, I’m pretty sure the first five episodes of this season have mentioned Shaw’s more than any other five-episode stretch in the series’ history. Of course Holt is going to swoop in at the end to save the day and save Shaw’s for the NYPD. But would it even be that big of a deal if the FDNY (led by a bearded Rob Riggle and a framed photo of Rescue Me’s Denis Leary) had won the drinking competition? Luke Del Tredici’s script is definitely on to something when it turns Boyle’s emotional speech over this bar into a long vomit bit. (It’s a missed opportunity when director Cortney Carrillo doesn’t replicate the same “serious speech” focus for Holt before he later vomits.) But this plot relies on the audience’s investment in Shaw’s and a belief that even these characters are all that invested in Shaw’s.

The Nine-Nine simply wanting to defeat the firefighters, I believe. The levels of drunkenness, I also believe. But even acknowledging that Shaw’s has been the setting for weddings, “NINE-NINE” exclamations, and more, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s done a better job making the interrogation room feel more like an additional character in the series than Shaw’s Bar. In terms of all-time great TV hangout joints, I’m not sure I would even think to rank Shaw’s.

Meanwhile, Doug Judy’s very character actually requires his episodes to hit the “greatest hits” button, because the kicker tends to be that he’s pulled the wool over Jake’s eyes once again. Unlike the Halloween Heist episodes, for as many twists and turns as there may be in a Doug Judy episode, they’re never really all that elaborate. But the Brooklyn Nine-Nine writers also realized that this would eventually be a case of diminishing returns, especially when it came to justifying Jake/Doug’s pure friendship in the face of Doug’s love of crime. So, two appearances ago, he got full immunity for his crimes. Then, in his previous appearance, he returned some stolen diamonds and maintained his now clean-ish record. Now, he’s officially gone legit (trying to come up on Boys II Menorah’s territory), even though Terry—and that little voice in the audience’s head that knows how Doug Judy operates—refuses to believe he’s changed. It’s a new and interesting dynamic for Brooklyn Nine-Nine to work with, in terms of Terry having to interact with Doug, as these are two men with very different types of charisma and moral codes.

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And the passing of the elusive criminal torch from Doug to little sister Trudy Judy (Nicole Byer)—as reluctant as it is on Doug’s part as a big brother, which is key to this story working—is a necessary one. Because it’s a copycat situation, this episode follows the same beats of a classic Doug Judy episode, again following the trend of massaging new audiences into the series and what certain recurring bits are. But where the plot suffers is that it’s clear from Trudy’s introduction that she is the copycat, and it’s clear from memory that a better version of this episode already exists: “Pontiac Bandit.” Unfortunately, Trudy Judy making Terry’s pecs dance isn’t as catchy as Doug’s song about Rosa… or even Jake’s funeral song about Doug in this very episode, which is the peak of this particular plot. And while the original 1,000 push-ups “trust me” situation was a great way to delve into the Jake/Rosa friendship early on, the 10,000 push-ups thing doesn’t do all that much for Jake/Terry as a whole, even though it provides a couple of funny beats (especially the end tag).

Plus, “Hitchcock & Scully” just had Boyle give Jake a hard time for being “suspicious of everyone,” so it doesn’t quite land when Jake plays the similar role regarding Terry not believing people can change.

More than any other Doug Judy/Pontiac Bandit episode, “A Tale Of Two Bandits” really relies on Craig Robinson’s charisma and the Doug dynamic with Jake (and also Terry and even Trudy) to make it through. Actually, this entire episode relies on the cast’s performances, because there are no surprises (or non-vomit joke emotional beats) in either the A-plot or the B-plot, other than maybe the fact that Trudy bought that Doug was dead, the diversionary car explosion, and (the highlight of the three) Holt downing bottles.

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The drunk shenanigans in the B-plot are the definition of a story existing just for the characters (and actors) to have fun and let loose, but the feud with the FDNY—those pole-loving arsonists—has been better-served in past episodes. And if there’s one thing “A Tale Of Two Bandits” makes clear: It definitely remembers those past episodes.


Stray observations

  • Boyle: “You know who else was funny? Bill Cosby.” The one thing that’s always been lacking when it comes to the Jake/Doug saga is a full-on Boyle meltdown. This helps.
  • Chelsea Peretti’s exit allows Dirk Blocker and Joel McKinnon Miller to make it into the opening credits, but the clips for the rest of the cast remain the same.
  • I like the casting of Nicole Byer as Trudy Judy, but she’s basically stuck with the task of playing the same beats as Doug Judy... but weaker. And she does so while eventually revealing even more crimes they weren’t even after her for.
  • As fun as the name “Trudy Judy” is, the entire rhyming bit between Jake and Doug feels like it goes on forever. As does the mulch butt implants backstory earlier on, actually.
  • Terry: “1,000 push-ups? That’s a lot to you?”
    Jake: “You go to hell, Terry.”
  • Rosa: “I never throw up. I just tell my stomach to deal with it. My body is terrified of me.”
  • Amy: “Think of all the celebrations we’ve had here. All the times Terry has yelled, ‘NINE-NINE!’”
    Holt: “I hate it when he says that. He should say, ‘Cheers. To the 99th precinct.’”
  • Doug Judy: “Trudy Judy’s an angel. She’s put herself through nursing school. And nurses are the best of our society. Name one bad nurse.”
    Terry: “Nurse Ratched. Kathy Bates in Misery. Nurse Jackie had a pill problem.”
    Doug Judy: “Oh, damn. Got a lot of real good examples off the top of your head.”
  • Terry says the wigs make them look like Milli Vanilli, but I’d say Jake looks more like Ras Trent.
  • Jake: “I don’t like him. My rule? Never trust anyone named after a city.”
    Doug Judy: “What about Orlando Bloom?”
    Jake: “I never thought about him being named after the city before. And his last name is Bloom? Wait a minute—did we just realize something crazy?”
    Terry: “No! Everyone knows it’s a crazy name!” Doug and Trudy’s nods to Jake’s question suggest otherwise.
  • Nine Drink Amy? She speaks French. Or at least Three Drink Amy thinks Nine Drink Amy speaks French. Also: The “__ Drink Amy” bit is one that so cartoonish it shouldn’t come up all that often but is also the type of very specific character beat that should technically come up more often.

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