Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Season 1, Episode 19
Look, I like paintball as a comedic conceit. You probably like paintball as a comedic conceit. We could all probably get together, play some paintball, and have a drum circle about its potential as a comedic conceit. But I have to be honest: when I saw that “Tactical Village” was going to be a paintball episode, I braced myself for the worst. In the last few years, a lot of sitcoms have gone to this well (none better, it must be said, than Community, which then went back to it again and managed to not feel like a retread), and I just wasn’t ready to see Brooklyn Nine-Nine try to outdo all of them. Fortunately, that isn’t really what “Tactical Village” was interested in, and it proved to be a fun, funny, structurally and thematically interesting episode of the show.
The way the show has shifted the Boyle-Diaz plotline, at least temporarily, is perhaps the strongest indication of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s growing confidence as a series. The pairing hasn’t really moved away from a will-they-won’t-they, it has just managed to become a more interesting version of that, with the previously fawning Charles’ attentions turned elsewhere so that Diaz can remember all the things she likes about Boyle when he isn’t going “full Boyle” in her direction. Diaz is pissed at Boyle for not inviting her to the wedding, not because she is secretly in love with him (although the last few episodes have been moving her toward greater affection, smartly and slowly enough to avoid a “Diaz is jealous of Vivian” plot), but because they are friends and she expected he would at least tell her why she wasn’t invited, or apologize for the fact that she couldn’t be there.
While the Diaz-Boyle plotline has become something approaching elegant in the last few episodes, tonight was perhaps the most unsatisfying way we’ve dealt with the Santiago-Peralta love story yet, mostly because it does just go to the “one character gets jealous when person they are interested in becomes involved with someone else” well that the Diaz and Boyle storyline so cannily avoids. Jake (of course) gets jealous and petulant when Amy runs into a guy (Kyle Bornheimer) she used to date and tries to muck up their reunion, then tries to ask Amy out, then decides to let her go on a date in a moment that is played sweetly but didn’t really work for me.
First off, Jake as petulant is my least favorite formulation of the character and the one that leans hard into Andy Samberg’s biggest weaknesses as a comedic performer—this Jake is all mugging, funny voices, and facial contortions that resemble comedy more than they actually work as humor. Then there’s the button, which tries to make Jake appeal noble for just refraining from asking out Santiago once he finds out she is dating someone again. This is the sort of thing sitcoms do a lot, and as a moment where we feel a little sorry for Jake, it works. But as a moment where Boyle is almost glowing at Jake’s self-sacrifice…it falls a little flat for me. Jake isn’t a hero just for not being an asshole, and that button concluded a plotline that played out poorly with a moment that felt icky.
As for the scenes in the tactical village itself, they were not as cringe-worthy as I had feared, mostly because they avoided doing too much action movie parody, and in fact decided to tell a story about Jake choosing not to treat the experience as the chance to pretend he is in an action movie. That left all of the silly parody elements in cut-away gags and let the actual triumph of the episode be the moment Jake uses Scully’s upside down method of holding the gun to take out the bad guys. Once again, this is the show using character-based humor, a spirit of cooperation, and a note of emotional growth as its cornerstones. None of these emotions are new to sitcoms, they just tend to be most present in great ones, and as Brooklyn Nine-Nine shifts from finding Samberg doing accents and faces funny to him struggling to mature and do right by his squad as the basis of humor, the closer it gets to greatness.
Finally, there is the Gina-Holt subplot, which I honestly think exists because someone in the writers room decided it would be hilarious to make Andre Braugher say “Kwazy Cupcake” a lot. They were right. Braugher’s performance could so easily become one-note at this point in the season (dry, monotone delivery and a seemingly joylessness) and it is a testament to the actor that it hasn’t worn out even a little bit. He modulates the very narrow range Holt has just perfectly so that we understand the characters mocking their Captain as a robot, but also see that he is a human. More than that, this is one of the best uses of Gina so far this season.
Chelsea Peretti is hilariously funny, but throughout the season it’s clear Brooklyn Nine-Nine hasn’t ben quite sure how to use her. Is she an evil genius? Is she an insanely lazy assistant? Is she literally insane, or is she basically Donna on Parks and Rec? I think, at her best, she is none of these things and a little bit of all of them, a sort of gleeful counter-balance to Holt’s calm, collected order. She’s the Joker to his Batman, except that deep, deep, deep down she is on his side. Too often so far this season, it has seemed like the writers are just letting Peretti improv her way through things, and that works incredibly well in the moment, but does long term damage to her character consistency. “Tactical Village” goes a long way toward stabilizing her, and doesn’t hurt Peretti’s comedic chops, either.
“Tactical Village” ended up being something of a surprise, ducking my expectations in major ways while disappointingly playing into them in some minor ones. Mostly, it shows that while Brooklyn Nine-Nine still has some growing to do, it is headed in the right direction.
-“I have an STD!” “So we just RSVP, or what?”
“Luke didn’t know! NO ONE KNEW!”
-Boyle’s “insinuation voice” actually sounds more like Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia.
-“Why is this happening? I can taste my thoughts!”
-“‘Kwazy’ is a difficult word to say in anger, but I think I’ve made my feelings clear.”
-“Interesting fact: a man can run half a mile with no genitals.” “That’s a weird thing to know a lot about.”
-“Ok, I know you have two bullet wounds in your butt, but you gotta stop calling them your buttholes.”
-“Maximum engagement? What is this, Jurassic Park: The Ride?”
-“Are you wearing lipstick?” “Yeah, does it look weird? I called my thirteen year old nice for makeup tips, but I don’t know if I trust her. She is so sexual.”