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Last season, Brooklyn Nine-Nine put on its serialized storytelling cap to tell the tale of elusive, connected, and therefore extremely dangerous crime boss Jimmy “The Butcher” Figgis. (It also put on its blocking cap to creatively hide Melissa Fumero’s real life pregnancy.) It resulted in both Captain Holt and Jake ending up in the Witness Protection Program, living in Southern Florida under the aliases “Greg and Larry,” next door neighbors with nothing in common but their sexual attraction to women and a shared fence. Over its past three seasons, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has shown its keen ability to create a world that isn’t just a typical case-of-the-week workplace sitcom, pushing the bounds of its serialization more and more with every new arc. So for the series’ fourth season to begin with the “Coral Palms” trilogy, that’s certainly a huge undertaking for a show that so easily could have just been “Andy Samberg does wacky cop things.”

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As it turns out, six months away from the Nine-Nine is a bad look for Jake and Holt and not just because the former now has frosted tips and the latter has to play straight; the Jimmy Figgis investigation is going nowhere, just like Jake and Holt’s lives in Coral Palms. It’s actually rather bleak, especially for Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And it’s not just the monotony of suburban living—it’s the existence of Coral Palms as the center of all things that make Florida “America’s stinky butt.” It’s the fact that it would take over-qualified Holt “two to three years” to possibly become night manager at a place called Frank’s Fun Zone. It’s a thing like an idiot named Taylor (Jorma Taccone) thinking Holt doesn’t show any leadership skills but hiring Jake on the spot simply because he lied on his resume and told him he’s “that guy who landed the plane on the Hudson.” It’s the ability for a woman who clearly isn’t “a big counter” and thinks she and Holt have a sexual attraction to almost successfully blackmail Jake and Holt. It’s a world in which Jake’s—nay, Larry’s—favorite movie now has to be Failure To Launch instead of Die Hard. That last one is less of a indictment on Florida and more of the burden of Witness Protection, but it still lends itself to the overall soul-crushing lack of identity this new world and life mean for Jake and Holt.

But as much as Brooklyn Nine-Nine deviates from the standard premise with this episode, it understands its characters (all two of them, in this instance) enough to know it can’t keep them away from that for too long. It’s in their blood. Obviously Jake would set up an off-the-books operation to find Figgis himself; he’s Super Cop Jake Peralta, and he could never really fight that. Especially when the woman he loves is still back in his old life. And while Holt may be able to fit into the new work life he’s faced with, a world that essentially mocks everything he holds dear in his real life, when he’s given just a taste of being “back in the field,” even he can’t deny his true self any longer. “It’s Holt. Captain Raymond Holt.”

It’s a dark, somewhat depressing, yet very funny episode (and season premiere) of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

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Of course, “Coral Palms Pt. 1” is missing the one thing that really makes Brooklyn Nine-Nine stand out as a series: the ensemble. While Holt and Jake recreate the workplace for this workplace sitcom (both with their attempts to be detectives again and their cover careers), it really isn’t the same without the crew of the Nine-Nine. That’s obviously intentional, but as far as returns into the world of a series go, even the best elaborate Ace Ventura: Pet Detective joke can only go so far without the rest of the squad around. Brooklyn Nine-Nine just doesn’t completely feel like Brooklyn Nine-Nine without the Nine-Nine. “Coral Palms Pt. 1” is an experimental episode, and it works greatly as that without hurting the humor. But to say it’s a perfect Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode would ignore that it’s missing a great part of what makes Brooklyn Nine-Nine, well, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. As familiar and safe as it feels when the opening credits fire up, the realization that we aren’t going to see the rest of the team at any point in “Coral Palms Pt. 1” weighs it down. It being an intentional weighing down doesn’t make that any less true. Luckily, Brooklyn Nine-Nine shows an understanding with “Coral Palms Pt.1” that the experiment can’t last forever, with the magic bullet (the soon-to-be viral video).

Then again, Holt does a rap and a dance for a child’s birthday (as “DJ B-Day”). Who needs any other character when you have that?

Stray observations

  • This week in webisodes Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs: Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Yeah, I said it. Nine-Nine!
  • Obviously my review didn’t follow the same rules, but the episode really deserves praise for Holt and Jake (despite how bad they were at aspects like “casual” talk) fully committing to calling each other Greg and Larry.
  • I’ve missed those opening credits, but it would be nice if they were finally filled with updated character shots…
  • Oh hey, Rhea Perlman. Looking good. Must be all the power walking.
  • Betsy Sodaro’s appearances anywhere just make me miss Big Time In Hollywood, FL all over again.
  • Poor, depressed Jake may have a hot tub, but he’s bingedrinking Tecates and eating wet (because of the hot tub) burritos. Actually, that kind of sounds good…
  • I feel like the entire “talk in my car”/”talk in your car” bit may be overlooked in discussion. Don’t let that happen, you guys. It’s a great scene. I can already tell I’ll miss Maya Rudolph when she’s gone.
  • Frank is not the only one who gets some prime real estate with his Fun Zone: Dan has a whole World of ATVs.
  • Jake’s “hey, babe” to the picture of Amy in his storage unit is a really nice touch.
  • Holt: “ATVs? The only thing you’re selling is a huge pile of bunk!” As always, it really all comes down to Andre Braugher’s very specific way of reciting his lines.
  • By the way, it’s Jake’s decision to blackmail Holt that eventually gets them into the “camera phone” blackmail situation. Blackmail’s bad, you guys. (Jake Peralta calling out transphobia, though, is very good.)
  • Part of me likes that Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s return coincidentally continues where Vice Principals’ first season left off with its portrayal of the South. The other part of me, being from Florida and having lived other places in the South, has sort of reached a breaking point of the trashy depictions of a Florida I never really knew (but know exists).
  • U.S. Marshal Haas obviously wanted Jake to fail on his Failure To Launch quiz. Sure, we all know that Sarah Jessica Parker is the actress Matthew McConaughey flirtily leans on in Failure To Launch, but it’s easy to think at first that it’s just Matthew McConaughey playfully leaning on Kate Hudson again.

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