A review of this week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Admiral Peralta,” coming up just as soon as I watch the show about the karate lizards…
Jake Peralta’s daddy issues are perhaps his most defining character trait (it’s that or his love of Die Hard). But Brooklyn has usually been more comically successful when exploring that issue indirectly, whether it’s through Captain Holt becoming Jake’s surrogate father or Jake’s concerns about having kids. Episodes featuring Bradley Whitford as Roger Peralta himself have tended to be a mixed bag. Roger is selfish and oblivious to his son’s needs, but in a way that’s a bit too understated to get big laughs, while Jake’s response to him is usually not enough to land as drama. Given the importance of Roger to who our hero is, his appearances should be highlights to look forward to, akin to Doug Judy stories. Instead, they’re… fine?
For about half its running time, “Admiral Peralta” — which brings in the great Martin Mull as Jake’s grandfather, for a discussion of how all Peralta men have bad relationships with their dads — seems like it’s going to be another middling Roger-centric episode. The show has some fun in the margins as the squad admits they already knew about Amy’s pregnancy (with a montage of the methods the show has used to obscure Melissa Fumero’s expanding belly), but the only joke about Roger and the Admiral that really clicks is when they bond over memories of other people being injured(*). And the subplots — Terry wants to audition to be the flutist in the NYPD band, Amy and Rosa have to reinvestigate a case that Scully and Hitchcock appear to have screwed up — both seem pretty thin.
(*) This was a famous Sopranos joke, too, albeit a sad one, where the only good memory Tony has of his mom is the time they laughed at someone who fell down.
And then, right around the time Jake calls in Boyle to clean up the mess he and the other Peralta men have made of the gender reveal party cake, “Admiral Peralta” offers one great, often explosively funny, moment after another — as if the episode’s first half was just idly setting up dominoes that could tumble in precision in the second half. I have rarely laughed harder at this show than at the hard cut from a perfectly composed Boyle to his face utterly soaked in tears a minute after learning that Jake is having a son. Almost as hilarious were Amy’s horrified reaction to the new cake turning out green on the inside, followed by Scully’s mouth turning blue from stealing and eating the third cake.
The flutist subplot seems to be filler, and then all of a sudden it’s the Whiplash parody I didn’t know I needed, with music snob Captain Holt berating Terry’s technique, sneering “Are you playing ‘The Muffin Man’ or ‘The Garbage Man’?” And the C-story has an unexpectedly sweet payoff when we find out the two idiots deliberately lost the contact info because the witness was an undocumented immigrant justifiably afraid of ICE(*). The show is very careful not to let Scully and Hitchcock appear competent too often, which makes moments like that more effective than if they toggled back and forth between stupidity and savvy.
(*) Hitchcock is sometimes portrayed as a MAGA type, but there have been just enough hints of basic empathy from him that the reversal here feels believable.
So, no, neither “Admiral Peralta” guest star feels especially well used. (Though there’s a good throwaway joke early where Jake makes a “title of your sex tape” reference and it turns out Roger has starred in an actual sex tape.) But the home stretch leans on what makes the regular characters tick, and has some marvelous comic set pieces, and ultimately that’s more than enough to make this one of the season’s more satisfying episodes.
Previously: All That Glitters