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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: “Sal’s Pizza”

Illustration for article titled Brooklyn Nine-Nine: “Sal’s Pizza”
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Looking at the title of this episode and considering where Brooklyn Nine-Nine is set, I figured “Sal’s Pizza” would be a nod to Do the Right Thing. Sal’s Pizza may have burned down, but it’s not the hottest day of the year, and Mookie and Radio Raheem are nowhere to be found. For those who haven’t seen it (and, spoiler for a 24 year old movie), the climax of Do the Right the Thing is the immolation of Sal’s Pizzeria. Instead, “Sal’s Pizza” focused on the eternal struggle between cops and firefighters, one that possibly mirrors, say, a certain Parks Department and the, ugh, the library. I’m not asking for a frank discussion of race relations in Brooklyn or a parody of Do the Right Thing (that wouldn’t have played well); it’s just strange to include iconography so heavily associated with the setting involved and not give a nod to it at all. It’s not a knock on the episode, but it pervaded my thoughts throughout.

Peralta’s favorite pizza joint (but only the eighth best pizza joint in BK, according to Boyle’s e-mail blasts), burns to the ground, and Peralta is convinced there’s something rotten in the borough of Brooklyn. Enter Fire Commissioner Boone (Patton Oswalt), who bristles against Peralta’s insistence on taking over the arson investigation. The firefighter-cop dynamic is often dramatized, but it was great to see it in the context of a comedy, especially because both parties devolved into antics immediately.

In a way, this should have been Peralta’s episode, a look inside what makes Peralta who he is, and a step in the direction of righting one of Brooklyn Nine-Nine biggest problems: Its least palatable character is also its main character. But the emotional landing didn't stick. It was really Boyle’s episode. Joe Lo Truglia, coupled with strong writing, is doing wonders with Boyle. A simpering puppy dog of a character, Boyle could be potentially be truly irritating. But one of Lo Truglia’s strengths has always been his ability to so fully commit to how ridiculous his characters are. Boyle may worship at Peralta’s altar, but he has his convictions. He may spend far too much of his time on an e-mail blast about local pizzerias, but goddamnit if he’s not a pro at what he does. His blast is the only e-mail blast with mouth feel. His spit bucket was one of the episode's finer moments.

The strength of the supporting cast was also demonstrated in the Gina-Terry pairing. I love when Gina and Terry team up, because it forces Terry Crews into a straight man role that he’s adept at handling. Crews, who has been one of the highlights of the series for me, is surprisingly versatile in both roles. In “Sal’s Pizza,” for instance, he goes from believing he has made a groundbreaking scientific discovery in anatomy to playing off Chelsea Peretti’s lunacy. Gina and Terry go in search of new IT head after a hacker, Savant (not his people name), reveals everyone’s search history. (“Scully searched for how much fudge is in a calorie.” “I never found the answer, but it was a good question.”) A series of Gina-infused interviews follow (“I just have a scootch of gingivitis”) that ultimately prove Gina’s sly genius.

Diaz and Santiago’s plot was less thrilling than the rest: Diaz is offered a job as Captain in a boring suburb, exposing Santiago’s jealous ambition. It was nicely book-ended with an overeager Santiago kowtowing to authority figure Holt and her admission that in a family of seven boys, competition was the way to success. I wasn’t happy about the prospect of comedy derived from women’s cattiness, but Diaz’s short moment of sentimentality, that women in male-dominated fields need to stick together, worked without feeling heavy-handed or cheesy. Unlike Santiago, it didn’t overstep its moment.

Stray observations:

  • Go read Sonia Saraiya’s piece “Fox is changing the landscape for black men on TV” right now.
  • Episode writer Lakshmi Sundaram wrote the Smash episode “Tech.” Aw, Smash/
  • Uh, so who else recognized Savant (Allen Evangelista) from Secret Life of the American Teenager? Just me?
  • There were some wonderful physical bits in this episode, like Santiago not pushing her chair far off enough away from Diaz, Terry’s destruction of the Magic Eight Ball (“Hey ball, if Savant was to do anything to hurt this precinct, would I destroy him? Answer uncertain. Try again.”), and, of course, Andre Braugher’s face during the final hugfest.
  • Rosa’s reaction last time the printer broke.
  • “Don’t give candy to a baby! They can’t brush their teeth.”
  • “Sounds like my mom describing her dishware … and she’s dead so tread lightly on the response.”
  • “There’s a bakery attached to the precinct.”