A review of “Return of the King,” this week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, coming up just as soon as I speak at a Canadian long-snapping convention…
When sitcoms welcome back former cast regulars for a guest appearance, it generally goes one of two ways. In one version, everybody acts like the returning character has stayed in touch with the gang, and this is just the first we’re hearing of them in a while. That’s how it happened when, for instance, Beautiful Ann reappeared a couple of times on Parks and Rec after Rashida Jones moved onto other things, or whenever Coach rejoined New Girl. In the other version, the return is explicitly about the notion that our old friend doesn’t really fit in here anymore — is designed, in a way, to make the audience stop wishing they would come back full time. Happy Days famously did one of these where Ron Howard came back for an episode about how much Richie didn’t want to be living in Wisconsin anymore, and much of the Cheers series finale was devoted to Sam and Diane struggling to resurrect a relationship that was better off dead.
“Return of the King” is very much in that latter group. Chelsea Peretti has only been gone from Brooklyn for half a season, but the episode suggests that there’s already a pretty big rift between Gina and her old pals at the precinct — and one that’s only slightly healed by the end of the story. In a very short time, Gina’s become a rich and famous social media influencer (the job she was always destined for), and thus has precious little time to hang out, or even communicate, with Jake, Terry and the others. When she reaches out to Jake about her latest event, it’s not a social call, but a favor she needs: NYPD protection owing to recent death threats.
As Gina’s BFF going back to childhood, Jake was obviously going to be part of this story. Terry is a good choice as his foil because he loved Gina but was rarely as easily charmed by her as almost all the other cops could be. (Captain Holt included.) He can see that Gina’s newfound celebrity has changed her and made her less of a friend than Jake believes she still is. And the episode pulls off a neat trick: It agrees with Terry while not selling out Gina because she’s no longer a regular character. She admits to Jake that she likes her new life and simply won’t have as much time for him as she used to. But she’s not mean about it, and she and Jake do bond during and after her stabbing. Some of it is drug-induced role play, but in the end she does come to Shaw’s to have drinks with the guys, and she even reunites Terry with his own estranged celebrity friend. Essentially, the story exists to explain why Gina won’t be back as often (or maybe ever again, depending on schedules and budgets?) as fans might expect. It accomplishes that by staying true to who Gina always was: someone with affection for the rest of these goofballs, but also someone very independent and separate from the group as a whole.
“Return of the King” was also a good example of the show effectively telling three stories in one episode by keeping things very simple with the two subplots. Rosa struggling to prove her independence with two bandaged hands from poison oak was some basic slapstick that Stephanie Beatriz played well, and led to a very funny parody of inspirational Eighties movie montages when she managed to get the supply closet door open with her chin. And Holt’s mistaken belief that Nikolaj is a genius — and that Boyle has been failing to nourish his son’s gifts — was a pretty simple, even telegraphed, misunderstanding. But like the Rosa story, it didn’t overstay its welcome, focusing mainly on the joke of Holt wrongly accusing superdad Charles of letting the boy down. That story’s best joke was a simple yet perfectly in-character one: When he thinks (rightly, as it turns out) that Nikolaj has been doodling on the captain’s whiteboard, he scolds him with “I love you,” and the tone of it immediately prompts the boy to cry and apologize. When you’re a Boyle, “I love you” has many meanings, and one must master them all.
When the theme song began, I was curious if the show would temporarily put Chelsea Peretti back into the opening credits, which other series very occasionally do when former regulars return. In this case, though, it was the new title sequence, with Hitchcock and Scully in Gina’s old position and the digitally-altered closing shot of the rest of the cast walking side by side. That’s probably the right approach. I’ll be happy if Peretti has another guest spot or three over however long Brooklyn has left, but the point of “Return of the King” is that she’s not really part of the gang anymore, and the credits should reflect that.