Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: “Christmas”

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Is it Christmas already? Didn’t we just have Thanksgiving? Because of the late Turkey Time this year, the two holidays are bumping up against each other in TV world where big things happen around all major holidays and apparently nothing happens during the summer. Brooklyn Nine-Nine Christmas does something smart, though. In its previous installment, the precinct celebrated Thanksgiving together. Despite the sectioning off Peralta and Holt to their own plot, the episode was certainly T’giving centric. Rather than pull holiday double duty, the main plot between Peralta and Holt could have happened during any other episode, while the Yuletide theme was pushed to the subplot. As Zack Handlen wrote in his dissection of Die Hard as part of the holiday canon, it works because it isn’t a Christmas movie, rather it is Christmas-adjacent. Even the straight-up Christmas plot—Santiago’s desire to please Holt via holiday gifts—was based around the recurring theme of her Holt obsession and was largely a fringe plot. “Christmas” served its function less as the obligatory holiday episodes but as a cap on the first half of the first season. The Christmas set-piece works for a show whose main theme is family and togetherness, even when that union comes about because of Holt-directed death threats. Aw, so sweet!

Still, if watching two Santas knife fight Peralta and Boyle doesn’t give you the holiday warm and fuzzies, I don’t know what will. That initial fight (“Nobody cares about canine diabetes.” “They can’t give themselves shots. They have fat paws!”) struck me as one of the distinguishing factors of Brooklyn Nine-Nine as it closes out its first half. Early episodes had bouts of physicality—the grocery store fight in the pilot, for instance—but they weren’t an episodic occurrence, or played for the laughs that the aforementioned physical set-pieces have as of late. I like the natural use of physicality. The bigger fights or epic chases (or pretty much everything that Terry Crews does because he’s a giant man) contrast nicely with the smaller reactions from the likes of Andre Braugher, Melissa Fumero, and Stephanie Beatriz. It moves the action out of the precinct and into the field, allowing the show to differentiate itself from other workplace comedies.

That final tactical maneuver to find the the Free Style killer, the man behind the threats against Holt, was a nice mirror of the pilot when the precinct investigated Ratko, induced by porcine jealousy to kill, is on the loose in the storage lockers. But, this time, the roles are reversed, with Peralta in command of Holt’s protection duty of one. Like Peralta says before Holt cuts him off, the student has become the teacher. The lessons that Holt has tried to impart upon Peralta throughout the season have taken root, ruining Holt’s plan of investigating his own threat because he thought Peralta would slack on the job. Holt, as it turns out, was a brash young thing, much liked Peralta (“That’s why I changed everything about my life”) back in the day. I love Old School Holt. It’s not just the pastiche styling, but the way Holt talks, over-emoting in a way so at odds with the current Captain of the Nine-Nine.

But there’s a reason he completely changed everything about his life, and he’s a better character for it. Like last week, Peralta and Holt paired up, but this time Peralta is in control, preventing Holt’s usual tempering of Peralta’s caricatures. It isn’t until Boyle shows up to screw things up more (“It’s me! Charles from work!”) that it starts to work. While other characters have grown and expanded, Peralta remains problematic, and that blame doesn’t fall squarely on Andy Samberg. Take the last line of the episode: Boyle gets shot in the butt. And that’s funny. But not that funny. It’s sophomoric when the rest of the show goes sweet. That can work in a way that contrasts with sentimentality, but it’s got to be funny first.

In other senses, though, this felt like the closing of the first chapter for the Nine-Nine. Terry is fit for duty once more in an iffy sort of way. Boyle is in the process of trying to close the door on his Diaz infatuation. Although Diaz may have just opened it again, making them the show’s premier will-they/won’t-they. (As opposed to Santiago and Peralta, who started out that way thanks to the contest from the pilot—which has mercifully been largely forgotten.) “Christmas” may not have been my favorite entry so far, but it’s a good marker as a midway point. It highlights what’s great about the series—a game ensemble who gelled early in the series’ life—and what doesn’t work so well—a lead who is still not as compelling or as much fun to watch as everyone else around him. But if Holt can change from the Afro’d over-emoter to the stoic center of the Nine-Nine, maybe there’s hope for Peralta yet.

Stray observations:

  • Just in case you were wondering, someone does care about dog diabetes.
  • The Andre Braugher wave was possibly the greatest moment of my life. I can die now.
  • “I popped your pillow.”
  • “I say Marco, you say Polo. Punk.”