Boy, this is a fascinating episode to deal so directly with needing to be liked.
When Brooklyn Nine-Nine is on its game, it’s one of television’s warmest half-hours. (See the donut-hole cold open that gets an offhand callback halfway through the episode just because.) But after sticking a toe into more serious waters early in the season, “The Venue” seems like a deliberate attempt to bring some lighter screwball energy back into the season. Unfortunately, there’s also a sense that the show panicked a little somehow about why everyone likes it, and tried too hard in places it didn’t need to try rather than letting the episode rest on its strengths.
This is particularly obvious with Jake and Amy. Andy Samberg and Melissa Fumero have wonderful low-key chemistry and can carry quite a bit of absurdity together. Jake and Amy’s tag-team construction of Valerie’s catfishing profile was perfectly done, and the occasional darker-than-expected beats work well as relationship anti-schmoop. (They’ve had a few, but honestly you’ll have to work to top, “A couple fell out!” “...of a fifth-floor window.”)
But honestly, the most refreshing anti-schmoop is always going to be the Vulture. Dean Winters, is sublime as the world’s worst person, and facing off against him has always been great for Jake and Amy as a unit; he’s the worst of Amy’s ambitious instincts and the worst of Jake’s bro tendencies, and every time they’re fighting him requires a reset button for their moral compasses. There’s just enough suggestion of Jake and Amy’s ruthlessness—weddings do that to couples even if they’re not already Jake and Amy—that there was a real moment of doubt at the big moment before they crumbled and did the right thing. And making his fiancee the world’s kindest rice-sender was such a great way to take the wind out of their vindictive sails that I went back to watch her introductory scene twice...minus that dual catchphrase.
Every sitcom makes the most of a good callback. (“Nine Nine!” is five seasons strong, by now.) But some of the show’s catchphrases don’t work as well as the show seems to think, and any running gag that relies on catchphrases for all its laughs feels, eventually, like it’s taking up time in a show that needs every second. “Toit Nups” starts out flat and only gets more strained as we go. (By the time we hit “loose nups,” I was worried this was going to be a genuine through-line and I’d have to descend to the Cs to grade this episode.) Thankfully, we were just spinning our wheels until the Vulture showed up to make everything around him terrible again.
It’s fascinating, then, that Terry’s entire subplot this episode is about the failure of his catchphrase in an environment full of adults who aren’t already his friends. At this point the third-person self-references are such an intrinsic part of his character that being forced to reckon with it carries more weight than the episode has time for; luckily, he’s paired with Holt, and Crews and Andre Braugher manage some genuine tension between Terry’s manic optimism and Holt’s blunt reality check. Not that it’s likely to stick (sitcoms have their rules), but it was interesting to think about while it lasted.
What doesn’t work as well here is the inciting incident, which feels like a miss from a show that’s normally more on the ball about this stuff. Even though Holt makes it clear Terry’s carrying-Teri’s-photo-to-ice-cream-places-to-determine-her-favorite behavior isn’t healthy for him, nobody points out how, especially after the initial misunderstanding, Terry’s behavior could come off as flat-out stalkery to her. In an episode that otherwise points out the everyday horror of the dick pic or the gross old guy lying to pick up young women via hookup apps, it’s an awkward missed opportunity. (The Vulture’s an obvious skeeze; Terry being made to reconsider something well-meaning but creepy that he’d done without thinking would have been a very different, and more interesting, thing.)
We end this episode as we began it—with nothing much at stake. Given how the season began, I suspect there are more intense things on the horizon, and “The Venue” is meant to give us an A-plot outside the precinct as a check-in for Jake and Amy’s relationship, which is fair enough. They are, as always, comfort food, and their wedding is going to tug every available heartstring. Pray they’ve forgotten “toit nups” by then.
- Give Andre Braugher an Emmy: “….........you should get going.”
- “I apologize to a host of communities.” Jake’s growth is one of the most satisfying slow-burn arcs of this series; it would be even more interesting if we weren’t still at this point.
- Possible Cracking Character Alert: Stephanie Beatriz with her hand over her mouth during Boyle’s “They’re not exactly geniuses.”
- Give Andre Braugher an Emmy: His expression when getting a hug from Terry.
- Scully’s progression of food support, followed by agony at the sudden vegan betrayal, was great.
- “How do you know my mom and dad?” saved Jake’s meltdown in a scene that was otherwise trying too hard all over.
- “The doctor said it was lucky my body was so damp.”
- Rosa and Boyle’s friendship has become just the right amount of long-suffering (Boyle, buddy, why would you show Rosa kid pictures?), and though there’s almost nothing to the Sergeant Peanut Butter plot except a collection of brutal headlines, sometimes that’s all you need. “Stud Horse Saves Small Man” is truly a gift.
- No mansion with that woodwork would allow pudding wrestling on the premises. They probably barely allow red wine. There is an explicit clause somewhere in that contract that forbids pudding and all derivative oil-or-Jello-based wrestlings. That venue’s gonna open right back up.
- Thanks to LaToya for letting me swoop in, like an eagle, and grab this recap right out from under her.
- Give Andre Braugher an Emmy: “…............how dare you.”