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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: "Thanksgiving"

Illustration for article titled Brooklyn Nine-Nine: "Thanksgiving"
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Do real people hate holidays as much sitcom characters hate holidays? Thanksgiving episodes are a way to unite the cast in celebration, without the messiness and propriety of religion weighing the proceedings down—and then besiege them with disaster. So it’s an interesting choice to separate out Peralta and Holt to their own storyline when the rest of the precinct gets to stay together as one unit. The structure functions to keep Peralta at the center of his own plot, allowing him to learn a lesson and reunite with the others at the end. It’s a tricky prospect for a show like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, where the ensemble is so much more fun to watch than its main character. But the pairing of Peralta and Holt saves the episode from two dueling storylines, where the ensemble could overshadow the main talent.

Thanksgiving is really the perfect holiday for the themes of family and togetherness that Holt has been pushing all season, especially because he has taken Peralta from lone-wolf status and forced him to work within the confines of the team (even if that means wearing a tie). The Peralta backstory is ever-expanding. Since he was six, Peralta has spent his Thanksgiving alone as his mom worked and his dad remained absent, eating nuts and mayonnaise and watching football. In essence, he’s Chandler Bing-ing his way through Thanksgiving, trying to evade celebration as much as possible without noticing that the constructed family he lives in the every day is creating its own traditions. But that doesn’t stop him first from finding the thief behind a $10,000 evidence-room robbery and beating up some bookies to save the day, running into a family more dysfunctional than his precinct one along the way. Peralta didn’t really have a chance to grate, because he’s so well-balanced by Holt’s stoicism—which characteristically breaks for just enough time that he’s not a killjoy (his fictional wife was killed by a man in a yellow sweater, after all). Holt has been relegated to fringier parts of plots as of late, with Braugher making the most of it with well-timed facial expressions and reactions. I’m glad he got pushed to the forefront again, even if it was in the service of tempering Andy Samberg.

But when it came down to it, I didn’t want to be on the investigation with Peralta. I wanted to be at Santiago’s apartment (“It looks like you live on the set of Murder, She Wrote.”) taking part in the terrible dinner Santiago has made for everyone, although she’s more concerned with Holt showing up then having enough enough salt for the mashed potatoes. It’s a tribute to Amy Fumero that I’m not totally over her sycophancy toward Holt. It’s interesting how the two most subservient characters—Boyle and Santiago—have been dealt with this season. Santiago’s one weakness is her ambitious desire to prove herself to her superior, but she doesn’t show that same submission to anyone else. Take her experience with Diaz in “Sal’s Pizza,” where she stands up to the more formidable character until they come to a sort of feminist truce. Boyle, similarly, may be in total adulation of Diaz, but he’s been given this foodie passion that has served him beyond being this total puppy-dog of a human. I suspect the writers are trying to do the same expansion with Peralta by giving him his single-kid backstory (and possibly setting up a reunion with absentee pops), but it’s not landing as well as the fleshing out of say, Santiago and Boyle, who are given multiple parts to play in the family of the precinct.

Gina took on an interesting angle in this episode. I like Chelsea Peretti’s arch weirdness, but I understand that head-in-the-clouds wackiness can be over the top where the out-there is welcomed but generally grounded. “Thanksgiving” toned her down a bit, replacing big actions, like interpretative dancing her way into teen's hearts or flossing in front of job applicants, with smaller ones—namely, giving Santiago’s speech to Holt because she thought it would be embarrassing for her. She still had her moments (“That was before I could get up on this high horse. Love the view from up here. Clip clop, clip clop”) but it was a decidedly subtler Gina. And as much as I enjoy flashier Gina, that subtlety worked for me on a level that made me understand the criticism of her character.

While Gina went small in “Thanksgiving,” Terry Crews went big. Look, I’m trying not to make each of these reviews an ode to Sergeant Jeffords, but he’s consistently one of my favorite parts of each episode. Like Boyle and Santiago, Terry is surprisingly multifaceted. He was the straight-man in “Sal’s Pizza,” but faced with an affront to his physique (a ruined ham!), Terry hulks out. Once again, Crews combines his physical prowess (stuffing the turkey down Santiago’s toilet, holding Hitchcock upside down in an effort to find his hidden treats), with complete commitment to his insanity: “Release your sweets.”

Stray observations:

  • Before I was dying to meet Holt’s husband, but now I want to meet his mother, a.k.a. Your Honor. Let’s get Cicely Tyson or Ruby Dee up to the Nine-Nine.