For all of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s successes as a modern sitcom, my biggest criticism of the show’s sophomore season over the past few episodes has been its habit of leaning too hard into its role as a sitcom (almost entirely bypassing the “modern” part of that description). “Too much of a sitcom” is the term that keeps coming up, even though that description doesn’t necessarily take away the show’s ability to be funny—it just makes more necessary to have to divide the show into two parts (the funny part and the storytelling part) come criticism time.
So having “Payback” be an episode that features the very late 1990s/early 2000s trope of the accidental message to the world at large—Joey Potter or even Felicity Porter, Jake Peralta is not—and, to a lesser extent, a rhyming bit that ends in toilet humor, it almost feels like this episode of the culmination of the show’s odd, increasingly predictable pattern. Where “Stakeout” at least made the “no-no list” a gateway to an honest look into the relationship between Jake and Boyle, “Payback” takes the Jake and Terry dynamic that was so fascinating back in “Chocolate Milk” and somewhat sullies it with a couple of tired tropes.
Strangely enough (or perhaps intentionally), the official Fox episode description for the episode barely even scratches the surface on the plots of the episode:
“The squad decides it’s high time Jake paid them back all the money he has owed them from over the years. Meanwhile, Amy and Holt team up to re-open the Brooklyn Broiler case in the all-new ‘Payback’ episode of BROOKLYN NINE-NINE airing Sunday, Jan. 11 (8:30-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.”
If nothing else, “Payback” the episode is a reminder of how serialized Brooklyn Nine-Nine can be, with the Terry/Jake friendship on display (even a mention to the vasectomy dilemma), Rosa’s relationship, and Amy and Holt being hard at work on rectifying his mistake in the Brooklyn Broiler case. Well, with the latter, Holt solves the case almost immediately, and that dirtbag has, in fact, flamed out, but there is a good amount of bonding between the two in this episode. After the length of the Giggle Pig storyline in the first part of this season, it’s a bit disappointing that this is over and done with so quickly. But on the other hand, it all leads to diarrhea, and that’s really enough reason to pack it up. Amy and Holt’s mentee/mentor relationship remains a shining light of the series, and there’s really nothing that can change that.
The payback plot itself is actually more of a smokescreen, as the majority of it takes the form of quick cut flashbacks. But even in those brief moments, the show manages to be appropriate in the colleague-mandated methods of payback—especially when it comes to Gina having Jake call people to tell them she’s dead in order to gauge their responses.
Sadly, those moments really are too brief. It all begins when Terry demands Jake finally pay him back all the money he’s lent him over the years (which comes up to a total of $2,437). What feels like it might take most of the episode (Jake tirelessly spending all of his time figuring out why Terry cares now) is wrapped up in a matter of seconds, with Jake putting on his super detective hat and realizing that Terry and Sharon (Merrin Dungey) are expecting another child. What’s touted as an episode about Jake paying back debts to Terry and the gang becomes an episode about Jake proving to Terry that he’s mature enough to keep a secret as huge as this and to be the godfather to the child, whatever its terrible Jake-provided name may be.
It’s a great idea for an episode in theory, but again, the execution is where it falls apart. The question the episode brings isn’t a matter of if Jake drops the bomb but a matter of when and how. Boyle being the one person on the force who can’t stand the fact that Jake is keeping secrets with anyone other than himself is the perfect touch for the show, and the plot itself could have easily provided a great excuse for Boyle’s own super detective hat-wearing. Instead, Jake ruins it all based on one of the more frustrating and unrealistic tropes in television. As soon as the email becomes a part of the episode, there’s the lingering thought of “please, not like this.” Only, before the thought can be fully-formed, it ends up exactly like that.
What follows is a Jake Plan to make sure Terry never finds out about the email, which honestly features some of Andy Samberg’s best acting on the show (“Yes, that is what I want. More harder exercise” is just aces.), only tainted by the weight of the unoriginal nature of the plot. Just like the obvious moment of the email going out to everyone, the moment of Holt completely blowing the plan (that he was not in on) can be seen a mile away. Coming from a show that has managed to come up with elaborate plans for its characters on a pretty regular basis, it all feels off. It feels wrong.
However, the saving grace of all of this is—yet again—the simple fact that it’s difficult for the cast and the writing of Brooklyn Nine-Nine not to be even a little funny. The show would honestly have to go out of its way to keep from achieving that goal. Things like Gina’s “TIME FOR GINA’S OPINION” hoodie and Amy’s earnest mentions of “street meat” work regardless of the show not reinventing the wheel. Holt’s excitement for his unintentional rhyme and Jake’s upsettingly poor health (as well as his constant commitment to being the guy you can always trust, even if it’s going to kill him) work regardless of the show not reinventing the wheel. Finger Holes works no matter what the situation, and deep down, I think everybody knows that.
I know I’ve been hard on Brooklyn Nine-Nine lately, but that’s only because if any sitcom right now can take it, it’s this one. Brooklyn Nine-Nine still comes across as a very confident show halfway through its second season. Hopefully that confidence doesn’t mean it will continue to rest on its laurels when it comes to the stories.
- This week in webisodes Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs: Rhyme Time With Captain Raymond Holt
- Has anyone here (or even someone you know) ever accidentally emailed an entire directory of people instead of the intended one? Accidentally replying all to an email with a list of recipients doesn’t count. I’m talking one button and “whoops!” If you’re on the younger side of things, how? Just… How?
- Boyle’s obsession (“fascination” would be too generous) with shampooing another person’s hair has officially reach We Need To Talk About Charles level. At least Jake has acknowledged the weirdness publicly.
- Rosa is at the “planning dinner for his birthday” phase of her relationship with Marcus. That’s… Nice? It’s very difficult to care about this relationship, even if it allows Rosa to make disgusted comments about pots.
- According to the meeting, Jake owes Terry (still) $1,237, Boyle $4,009, Gina $710, and Rosa $856.32.
- Jake: “Do I even weigh anything to you?”
Terry (continuing to be the ideal man): “No. It’s like holding a couple of grapes.”
- Holt: “I’m a poet and I didn’t even know I was rhyming those words.”
- Terry’s password is “yogurt.”
- Boyle: “Terry loves yogurt.”
- Amy: “Sir, did you just laugh?”
- How about those Golden Globes, huh?