Terry Crews in a bounce house (left), Melissa Fumero in a bounce house

Last season, Brooklyn Nine-Nine surprised everyone with the facts that it was a funny series, a funny ensemble series, and also somehow not The Andy Samberg Show. That last part is very important, because Andy Samberg—like a lot of Saturday Night Live alumni, actually—is a pretty divisive personality. Much like WWE Superstar John Cena, people either love Samberg or hate him. For every positive you can find about his Lonely Island work, Hot Rod, Cuckoo, or even his roast of James Franco, you can find just as many negatives. He has a tendency to dial it up to 11, a tactic that can work to get you noticed in SNL but can ultimately end up backfiring at the same time (both there and everywhere else).

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And that’s why Brooklyn Nine-Nine worked so well in the early going. It knew (and knows) how to both focus on the ensemble and keep Andy Samberg from being at his most Andy Samberg, in order to curb said backfiring. In a world where there is rhyme or reason to any awards show wins, that is why Brooklyn Nine-Nine won the Golden Globe.

That and because it’s a funny show.

Those checking into the second season will be happy to know that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is still a funny show. We did, however, miss Terry chip his tooth and have a lisp for a week, that time Santiago and Boyle wore the same outfit to work (and really, he did pull it off better than she did), and “the Gina incident” that led to Captain Holt banning headphones in the precinct. It’s moments like those that make it clear that the Brooklyn Nine-Nine writers have a wealth ideas to go through; and that’s the best sign for any sitcom, especially one in its early seasons.

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Picking up six months after the first season finale, “Charges And Specs,” “Undercover” begins at the tail end of Peralta’s (a.k.a. Jakie the Jew, but really, a.k.a. Jakie Lady Hands) undercover work with the mob, where he is revered for his role as a former dirty cop and accepted by the mob as one of their own. There’s dancing, drinking, joking, and honestly, it’s a little hard to believe that Peralta wasn’t having at least a little fun while under. After all, loving what he does is the way Peralta approaches his job as a cop in the first place, so as the Best Cop Ever (in his own mind), it’s easy to believe he threw himself into at least acting like like he enjoyed his time in the mob. He sure makes it look that way when he gets the mob kiss of approval: “You know how long I’ve been waiting for one of you old men to kiss me?” It’s a sign that they’ve completely accepted him as one of their own, and that leads to the happy ending of the six-month-long sting operation: Peralta putting away 15 high ranking mob guys… with one getting away.

What follows is a lesson for Peralta about not being to control everything around. After his revelation in the finale that he has feelings for Santiago, the natural assumption would be that those feelings would be reciprocated and that she would at least be single going into this season. Instead, Santiago still being with Kyle Bornheimer’s Teddy makes it the awkward love triangle situation. The episode has Peralta eventually accepting this, but the chances of it not effecting his work with Santiago—with both of them knowing he has feelings for her—are pretty slim.

I had to make the reassurances early in the review that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is still a funny show, because even with all of the good to great moments, the looming relationship drama does show signs of bogging the the series down. There is of course the Peralta/Santiago situation, but there’s also the Gina/Boyle sex-uation (which is what I’m going to call it, in hopes that it catches on).

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Back in the finale, the latter was the most questionable moment, because unlike the Peralta/Santiago stuff, this came completely out of left field. It’s certainly the C-plot of “Undercover” and doesn’t hijack the episode, but moving forward, it could either be great or end up being a giant mess of a storyline, damaging both characters more than ever intended.

Let’s just weigh the pros and cons of the Gina/Boyle sex-uation:

  • Pro: It keeps Boyle away from Diaz in “that way.”
  • Con: They’re only together because they’re both just there, which might as well count as two cons (one for each of them).
  • Pro: Gina wears naked mole rat shirts, bringing that ugly rodent back to reclaim the glory it lost after Disney’s Kim Possible ended.
  • Pro/Con: The trope of secret sex can go either way.

Part of the success of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s ensemble is that none of its actors are actually weak links, so Joe Lo Truglio and Chelsea Peretti can 100 percent keep all of this on the up and up, no matter what obstacles are thrown in their way. Obviously the writers know that, which is only worrisome in the sense that they know for sure that they have a cast who can carry weak material, should that be what they give them in the future. But as it stands right now, there are only funny moments peppered inside of this questionable storyline.

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Case in point, Gina’s imaginary downward spiral in the police social hierarchy:

“As everyone knows, my spirit animal is nature’s greatest predator, the wolf. But I committed a horrible sexual blunder and I’m no longer wolfworthy. My spirit animal is now this. The naked mole rat. God’s disgusting mistake.

As a character, Gina living and working on her own special frequency can be very hit or miss, but Chelsea Peretti is someone who can take the most absolutely absurd material and make it work. Then again, so is Joe Lo Truglio, and their pairing is an interesting dynamic in the simple fact that he won’t tell Peralta that he had sex with Gina (even though he tells Peralta everything) because he’s afraid of what she would do. That at least earns the show the wait-and-see approach when it comes to these two continuing to fall into bed together.

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Bringing the mood up from the relationship drama, however, is the Terry/Santiago/Diaz combination. The show realized fairly early on that Santiago and Diaz are a winning duo (not that there are really any losing duos on this show) and paired them up as often as logistically possible. It’s a fairly simple setup—the type of setup Brooklyn Nine-Nine has in spades and certainly excels at. “What would these characters do if they were put in such and such scenario?” The scenario this time is practice drills, run by a role-playing Terry, with Santiago and Diaz having to handle them as they would in a real-life situation. Santiago is game, because it’s what the captain wants them to do (and the sooner they do it, the sooner they can get back to real work, supposedly), while Diaz just thinks it’s a dumb waste of time. Terry, of course, performs each character with all of the commitment one would expect from Terry.

Last season, Molly Eichel posited that Brooklyn Nine-Nine works better as a police comedy than it does as a workplace comedy, and while the Terry/Santiago/Diaz story falls into that workplace mold, it ends up going right to the actual police struggle of it all: Holt needs them to be the best precinct possible because of an increased amount of scrutiny due to the new commissioner. I would say that neither of the two versions of this show are inherently better than the other but instead that both are needed to make Brooklyn Nine-Nine work as a whole. When the show finds that balance, it’s hard to top it.

Coming back from summer hiatus, Brooklyn Nine-Nine feels like it’s been on for a lot longer than it has. That’s meant as a compliment, because the show took little time becoming a fully-formed series. But this premiere specifically feels very comfortable, like an fairly new pair of sneakers you actually love but forgot to wear on a regular basis. This is a good episode, but it’s also one that’s more like a reminder of what you loved about it and a precursor to greatness to come.

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Stray observations:

  • Hello and welcome to season two coverage of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. My name is LaToya Ferguson, and you may know me from my reviews of The Strain, Teen Wolf, and Comedy Bang! Bang!, just to name a few. You may also know me just from around. I’m also the person who never quite knows when to use first or last names when writing about cop (or firefighter) shows. Some people would describe me as a real life version of Diaz.
  • Even though I compared Andy Samberg to John Cena (the first time anyone’s ever done that, I’m sure), everyone should know what Andy Samberg actually does have a professional wrestling doppelganger: Derrick Bateman/EC3.
  • Holt: “My husband says he hasn’t seen me smile in weeks.” Terry: “How much did you smile before that?” Holt: “Constantly.”
  • “You’ve helped me find my smile.” Words cannot describe how much I have missed Captain Holt.
  • Also, Holt’s speech at Peralta’s party. Andre Braugher got robbed at the Golden Globes. And the Emmys.
  • “There’s more where that came from. I got a real wet mouth.” Oh, Boyle.
  • Jake’s right, “Maggot Drawer” would make a pretty good death metal song title.
  • “Jake Peralta, NYPD. I need you to shoot down that plane.” It really is good to see Peralta hasn’t stopped living life like he’s in an action movie or CBS procedural.
  • ”Freddie loved me. He implied that to me many times.” As funny as her brief screentime was, it was kind of a waste to use Jenny Slate in this role. Then again, that might just be my bias as a person who thinks Jenny Slate should have a prominent role in every comedy on TV.
  • Diaz’s bounce house decision is inspired.
  • If the writers of Brooklyn Nine-Nine don’t make webisodes that are just Terry/Santiago/Diaz doing more of these drills, then it will be a missed opportunity. Not enough praise can be given to Terry Crews and just how game he is to do anything, no matter what the project. That type of fearlessness is what makes him such a power player on this show, and it’s what will keep his character a favorite for years to come.

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