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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine returns to the high-stakes world of having fun with friends

Illustration for article titled iBrooklyn Nine-Nine/i returns to the high-stakes world of having fun with friends
Graphic: John P. Fleenor (NBC)
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Boyle: “Did I ever tell you the story of my Jimmy Jab humiliation?”
Debbie: “No. You pretty much never talked to me ‘til today.”

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Before this week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode, the first and only onscreen edition of the Jimmy Jab Games appeared in the third episode of Season Two. That was all the way back in October of 2014, during my very first season reviewing this show for The A.V. Club. Madeline Wuntch was the new antagonist, Giggle Pig was all the rage, Gina Linetti was also there, and Jake Peralta was struggling with his feelings for the uninterested Amy Santiago. Now, while Wuntch (which rhymes with “lunch”) still manages to find new ways to be a thorn in Holt’s side, Giggle Pig is off the streets, Gina Linetti is no longer around, and Jake and Amy are now married and trying for a baby. The times, they are a-changin’, but what hasn’t changed since then is demand for the return of the Jimmy Jab Games. Unlike the Halloween Heist, the Jimmy Jab Games haven’t gotten a chance to return and evolve—until now, in what is arguably the most perfect way.

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As Rosa explained to Holt in the original Jimmy Jab Games episode, “It’s stupid, but we like it.” (We’ve come a long way, considering how entwined they are in the sequel.) Unlike the Halloween Heist, the Jimmy Jab Games don’t require too much actual planning or know-how; it’s truly just a way for the squad to blow off some steam in a childish way. So what better way to note just how much Jake has grown as a character over the seasons than to bring back this particular gimmick? Knowing in advance that this episode would be “The Jimmy Jab Games II,” it’s easy to put the pieces together immediately that the return of the game is the result of Jake attempting to push back against the idea of being the mature one who Terry trusts to be in charge. (Though, his act of “rebellion” in announcing the Jimmy Jab Games involves him being flanked by both Terry and Amy.) It’s also something that might suggest that Jake possibly isn’t ready for the responsibilities of being a father, as he’s also goaded into doing the irresponsible thing of taking Hitchcock up on a bet and putting his and Amy’s new car on the line.

But then the episode eventually explains that Jake’s decision-making (in the case of the bet) is rooted in something other than an attempt to reclaim immaturity. In my review of the premiere, I noted my initial worries about Jake and Amy deciding to have a baby this early, considering their careen-driven personas, and “The Jimmy Jab Games II” actually addresses that point: Jake accepts Hitchcock’s bet simply because if he can get Hitchcock to do his paperwork for a year, he can focus more on taking care of the baby when the time comes. It is a reckless decision—and not as much of a sure thing as one would assume—but it’s a better version of a “very Jake” decision to come out of an episode where he could have easily regressed.

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When Amy calls the Old Jake that Jake is trying to be in this episode is “when I found you obnoxious and difficult to be around,” I was once again reminded of how much anti-Andy Samberg rhetoric there was during early Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Jake has grown a lot over the years (which is even more obvious if you watch both Jimmy Jab Games back-to-back), but early on, there were plenty of people who saw his character as a hindrance to fully enjoying this show. The further away Brooklyn Nine-Nine gets from its early seasons—and Andy Samberg’s time on Saturday Night Live—the less this is a talking point and the more people don’t realize it even was one. So while Jake attempts to regress back to Old Jake in this episode, it really is just that: an “attempt.” And a literally painful one at that.

Old Jake, is of course, different from Old Man Jake, which brings up an interesting choice in Vanessa Ramos’ script—a script that gives director Neil Campbell a lot of fun stuff to play with—for this episode. While Jake is in his head about the fact that he’s a “boring adult” and “teacher” instead of “the class clown/bad boy with a heart of gold,” it’s a noteworthy choice to not have his body break down just because he is older than he was the last time we saw the Jimmy Jab Games. Instead, it’s the absurd combination of him putting himself in a dangerous scenario (in the ceiling) and then the ceiling going back for seconds that breaks him, not his actual age or his perception of his age. For it to then lead to him being on the same playing field as Hitchcock—again, not because of Hitchcock’s age but because he’s finally having an adverse reaction to all the drugs he took earlier—is a twist that makes the final (and saddest) obstacle course as funny as it is.

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Actually, the twist of Amy hulking Jake up with Debbie’s EpiPen is the true twist that makes the final obstacle course as funny as it is.

Speaking of Debbie, Vanessa Bayer’s return post-”Manhunt” is somehow even more delightful than anyone would expect, and then it even ends with a twist of its own. Debbie being the single saddest human in the world probably shouldn’t be as funny as it is, but the upbeat way Bayer recites all of the character’s truly out there lines—“I can’t do competitions. I’m anti-dextrous. … It’s when neither hand is good at anything.”—makes every moment she has in this episode truly special. And while it looks like she may be down and out of the episode early—

Debbie: “Is this turkey?”
Boyle: “Yes.”
Debbie: “I’m very allergic to turkey.”

—the episode is actually improved by the ongoing plot of Boyle boosting her confidence, all leading to her somewhat loud closing ceremony song and, of course, the episode’s final twist. Boyle being the one to boost Debbie’s self-esteem and have her look up to him is another one of this episode’s particularly smart choices. I noticed it in last week’s episode and someone even mentioned it in the comments, but even the small act of Boyle taking down Jim Rash’s evil Dr. Jones was an unspoken reminder that Boyle is competent and has his own brand of confidence, even if it’s not the same as his “Chuck Boyle” confidence from “Captain Kim.” While there’s obvious humor in Debbie thinking Boyle is “so suave” and unable to lack confidence, the joke is never at the expense of Boyle, of all people, helping her at all. It’s not ridiculous that Boyle is the one giving her these pep talks, it’s only ridiculous that she’s allergic to turkey (and has a “purse full” of EpiPens) and that she trusts everyone.

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Plus, it makes sense that Debbie would effectively believe that Boyle has Big Dick Energy, because as this episode confirms due to his costume changes, he literally does. (I’m sorry for writing that sentence.)

During this episode, I found myself equally torn between enjoying Boyle’s entire Greatest Showman schtick and finding it as exhausting as the the rest of the squad must have throughout the day… which is also what I assume watching The Greatest Showman must feel like. For as extra as Gina could be, in “The Jimmy Jab Games,” she was actually restrained, with her duties as host boiling down to her listing famous Marks (and then Seth Rogen) in her “on your mark, get set..” bit. So Boyle’s turn as host is even more dramatic than Gina’s could ever have been. He ends up being the Bearded Lady, P.T. Barnum, and the Greatest Showman, which I’m sure all makes perfect sense if you’ve seen The Greatest Showman. But I’m also sure that Joe Lo Truglio has never had a moment where he doesn’t commit to a bit or a character, and it’s for that very reason that I was even able to lose myself in Boyle’s hosting duties and consider how exhausting it must’ve been for the squad. Obviously, the episode went with everyone doing their own thing during Boyle’s various bits, but it was apparent even before the comedic cuts just how much he put into the whole hosting stint.

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“The Jimmy Jab Games II” is chaotic energy from top to bottom in a way that’s similar to the Halloween Heist in a way but, again, without the actual strategy behind it. For that reason, it’s for the best that it hasn’t become a recurring component of the series. This episode is grounded by the Jake/Amy situation and even, to an extent, Boyle’s work to give Debbie a little self-esteem, but it’s especially grounded by the very simple Holt/Rosa plot. Unfortunately, Jocelyn wasn’t around enough to really mean all that much to the series as a whole, outside of what she meant to Rosa and her overall arc. But the moment when Holt apologizes to Rosa and they decide to forfeit together is surprisingly affecting, based solely on Andre Braugher and Stephanie Beatriz’s performances in such a relatively small moment. The spirit of competition is mostly present in this plot, with Competitive Holt’s appropriate brand of insults and Rosa’s genuinely good (well, better) insults. Holt is right: “Okay, we’re both great at insults. Let’s move on.”

The final twist, transitioning Debbie’s newfound confidence into her stealing a bunch of cocaine and guns from the evidence locker, is certainly not one anyone saw coming. It couldn’t have come from a more unassuming character, and even as she raids the evidence locker, she still does so with that established (in just two episodes) Debbie flair. Next week’s episode, “Debbie,” is set to follow up on this twist, and I’m hoping it’s all just some misunderstanding connected to her solving her sister’s murder.

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Stray observations

  • After last week’s episode had Jake and Amy decide to keep the pool of who knows they’re trying to have a baby small—which informed the Jake/Boyle plot—I guess now everyone knows what the deal is? At least, Terry does at the start of this episode. That it was apparently addressed offscreen (and Jake just openly talks about it out in the bullpen) is honestly a missed opportunity to kick this episode off with.
  • Speaking of Terry and issues addressed offscreen, while it makes sense for him to be the interim Captain (as the senior official on the squad), after temporarily introducing a new Captain earlier, doesn’t it seem like the search for a replacement Captain or even the lack thereof should be mentioned? I ignored it last week because it was only the next episode after “Captain Kim,” but now this episode has Terry leaving Jake in charge when he’s not around. Considering Wuntch’s axe to grind and how that wasn’t in play with Captain Kim, I guess I don’t understand why she wouldn’t have a henchman puppet installed in the position by now. These first two points are specifically what I’m docking this episode for, as the simple choice of having Terry now occupy Holt’s old office leads us down a path that could’ve easily been ignored for at least another week.
  • Boyle: “Oh, Debbie. I was once like you. A bashful beat cop with long curly hair and no confidence at all.” I’m so happy this episode includes a flashback just to confirm how true that is.
  • Boyle: “Debbie, trust me.”
    Debbie: “Okay. But only because I trust everyone.”
  • Debbie: “I didn’t even grab a meat. I’m not some expert cold cut thrower like all of you.” Whatever happens next with Debbie, I really hope she maintains this personality.
  • Jake: “Amy, it’s like Torrance from Bring It On says: ‘You’ll never be the best until you win against the best.’”
    Amy: “Didn’t they lose in the end?”
    Jake: “Yeah, but this is different. Hitchcock isn’t nearly as good as the East Compton Clovers.”
  • Hitchcock: “Buckle up! The juice is loose!” Hitchcock’s doping with Scully’s pills in this episode does transform things into cartoon territory, but with something as cartoon-sounding as the “Jimmy Jab Games,” I’ll allow it. Again, that this is only the second time the show has done this—and that it does so for a smart reason—allows the chaotic energy that defines this episode to make it work as well as it does. It’s also always nice to see Hitchcock and/or Scully actually get something resembling a win.
  • Jake: “You Armageddon’d me.”
    Amy: “I don’t know what that means.” It means, “A lover sacrificed and another lover reborn.”
  • Debbie: “I’m sorry I messed everything up. I’m just not cut out for this high-stakes world of having fun with friends.” While another hilariously sad Debbie line, it also ends up being a somewhat meta line about what I always say Brooklyn Nine-Nine is: a bunch of friends just enjoying each other’s company. And we all know how high-stakes that can be.
  • Holt: “I hacked it. I’m a hacker.”
  • It’s amazing that Pimento somehow remains the best relationship Rosa’s ever had.
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.

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