A review of this week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “A Tale of Two Bandits,” coming up just as soon as I talk to Bruce Banner about people’s shirts and pants not changing…
Of Nine-Nine‘s two annual traditions, the Halloween episodes tend to have a higher variance, because they’re so dependent on how well the heist is written and how surprising its result is. While Pontiac Bandit episodes tend to switch around which cop will disapprove of Jake‘s friendship with Doug Judy, they’re so fundamentally about the chemistry between Andy Samberg and Craig Robinson that they’re essentially plot-proof. Put those two guys in a room together, maybe let them sing a bit (or, here, put on Rasta wigs), and it’ll be funny, regardless of all the other details.
“A Tale of Two Bandits,” though, seems keenly aware of the idea that the show has gone to this well five times before, and that it might be wise to mix things up a bit. In the opening scene, Jake realizes he’s started to confuse the details of each individual Judy adventure. After an implausible (and wisely brief) twist where Judy seems to be dead (but has faked it to avoid being killed by a vengeful arms dealer), we get the more important change to the story: the introduction of Doug’s sister, Trudy Judy, played by Nicole Byer. Byer was such a delight a few weeks ago on The Good Place as, essentially, an angel who was incapable of being less than completely friendly and upbeat. The role of Trudy, in addition to allowing for lots of rhymes, got to upend that expectation by revealing that she’s actually an even more ruthless criminal mastermind than her brother, and has been playing Doug, Jake and the rightfully suspicious Terry the entire time. It’s a fun twist, and the closing scenes where we get to see Trudy at her worst have me hoping this isn’t Byer’s last appearance on the show.
The B-story about firemen trying to turn Shaw’s into their new hangout, meanwhile, revived the NYPD/FDNY rivalry that the series hasn’t featured in quite a while. I had hoped to see the return of Patton Oswalt as Fire Marshal Boone (last seen way back in Season One), but Oswalt’s a busy guy, and Rob Riggle made a perfectly plausible and obnoxious leader of this new crew. Actors playing drunk and/or high, especially at the length required here for the cops-versus-firefighters drinking contest, can feel really self-indulgent if it’s not very funny. Fortunately, these actors (Melissa Fumero in particular) have proven their fake-drunk bonafides in the past. It was a pleasure to see the many different stages of Amy‘s inebriation (including the suggestion that Four-Drink Amy’s come-ons need to be retired in the age of #MeToo), to witness the usually sharp and reserved Rosa be so loud and clueless about what’s happening, and all the rest. (Bonus points for letting all the vomiting happen slightly off-camera.) Like the recurring appearances of the Pontiac Bandit, stories where Captain Holt realizes he’s putting his own needs above the squad’s are pretty familiar by this point (this season’s second episode did something similar), but when it boils down to Andre Braugher defiantly saying “Charbonnay” over and over again, who can complain?
Some other thoughts:
* Dirk Blocker and Joel McKinnon Miller have been cast regulars for a long time, and with Chelsea Peretti’s departure, they finally get to appear in the opening title sequence, akin to Jim O’Heir and Retta getting promoted to the Parks and Rec credits after Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe left. Gina’s dance set a high bar for Hitchcock and Scully to clear, but the image of them starting awake on the couch is funny and very in-character. Before the series began, Mike Schur and Dan Goor told me that they specifically put moments into the pilot script that they knew they could use for each actor’s appearance in the title sequence. This bit, though, was shot specifically for the revised credits. The closing shot of the other six regulars walking side-by-side involved some digital manipulation to remove Peretti from a pre-existing version done when the pilot was made.
* It doesn’t feel coincidental that the first episode to air after Gina’s departure featured two plots rather than the show’s default three. This show has always done better juggling two stories per episode, but usually went with three in an attempt to give everyone in the ensemble something to do. With Gina gone, and with Hitch and Scully only needing to be there for one or two jokes a week (like Hitchcock’s drinking habits making him the only coherent person when Holt returns to the bar), it should be much easier to keep things balanced going forward.
* Since Nine-Nine and Good Place share a lot of creative DNA, it’s not surprising that so many actors have guest-starred on both. The performer who’s been used the best on both series is Marc Evan Jackson, but that almost seems unfair, since he’s played Kevin so often here and is practically a regular there as Shawn. As of tonight, Byer might be the best of the people who’ve only done one episode of each. Here’s the full list of overlap, via IMDb’s common cast search, so I’m open to alternate suggestions — but it has to be somebody who’s been great on both. (Maya Rudolph, for instance, is wonderful as The Good Place‘s Judge, but was mostly wasted as Jake and Holt’s witness protection handler a few seasons back.)
What did everybody else think?