Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s penultimate week features two episodes in different modes: the first, a run-of-the-mill “case of the week” episode in the guise of a film parody, and the second, an episode that wraps up most of the season-long arc with an emotional capper to boot. Unfortunately, neither episode contains enough comedic or dramatic substance for them to stand out among this season’s offerings, a shame considering that the one-hour series finale airs in two weeks’ time.
First up, “The Game of Boyles,” a semi-Knives Out parody that simply doesn’t have much going for it from beginning to end. After Charles’ Great Uncle Pappy dies, Terry and Jake accompany him to Pappy’s farm for the funeral where Charles is to deliver a eulogy. However, when they discover that Pappy’s will is missing and there’s possibly a disgruntled family member in the mix, Jake excitedly suspects foul play, mostly because solving a case will relieve him of the boredom of his suspension. When he discovers Pappy had been poisoned, he interrogates the family, a la Benoit Blanc, and much like Knives Out, flashbacks reveal conflicting information about Pappy’s final hours. Though he suspects Pappy’s son, Lyndon (Gregg Binkley), to be the culprit, Jake agrees to get a DNA sample from the entire Boyle clan to find a match against a hair found in an open container of rat poison left in the barn, just to make sure Lyndon isn’t unfairly singled out.
In a murder mystery like this, there will naturally be a twist. Except, in this case, the twist doesn’t involve Pappy’s death, but rather Charles’ ancestry. It turns out that Charles isn’t really a Boyle! Jake and Terry subsequently try to conceal the truth from their friend, but it eventually comes out as Jake informs the Boyle clan of Pappy’s murderer (it was a nutria, one of many large rodents that reside on Boyle’s farm, that got into the poison.) Though Jake tries to make it up to Charles by proving that it was Cousin Sam who engineered the whole scheme, it’s in vain. Charles invested so much of himself in being a Boyle, but he was an imposter all along.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has mined a lot of humor out of the Boyle family’s extreme weirdness over the years, from the excessive hugging and frequent exchanges of “I love you” and the beige fashion and the how-do-you-miss-that innuendo. There’s some of that in “Game of Boyles,” such as when a Boyle calls a head massage an “HJ” (Head Job), and, my personal favorite, the Boyle family cuddles their children so aggressively it reshapes their bones. (That’s why Charles looks like a Boyle.) But the actual mystery itself is as thin as paper and, after a while, the Boyle jokes become stale. What’s left is Charles’ despondency over his heritage being a lie, which is easily solved by him opening up the Boyle family’s version of the Excalibur, i.e. the Grandmother Starter, a jar of really old sourdough starter with an extremely tight lid.
Meanwhile, Rosa and Amy pull a Nancy Meyers-esque scheme to get Holt back with Kevin by encouraging him to date, the idea being that if Holt sees how bleak the dating pool really is, he’ll quickly run back to his husband. They help Holt land a date, panic when it seemingly goes too well, and then eventually realize Holt pulled a fast one on them for meddling with his personal life. The next morning, just as Holt’s satisfaction curdles into despair, Kevin literally runs to the precinct to get back together with him. The two finally reunite, in the pouring rain, no less, as Rosa and Amy (and Scully, for some reason) watch with delight. Much like the A-story, there are a few good lines at the expense of dating apps, i.e., Holt uses an app where the difference between swiping left and right is “Dang” and “Daaaang.” Still, it mostly feels razor thin and another attempt for Holt to engage with contemporary culture, which Brooklyn Nine-Nine has done better multiple times over. Forgettable from snout to anus, “The Game of Boyles” is more dull than actively bad. Nevertheless, it stands as the weakest episode of the season so far.
“The Renewal” resembles a classic Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode in a few different respects. There’s the ticking clock plot: After learning that O’Sullivan has sabotaged their police reform proposal, Holt and Jake must infiltrate his mother’s house and steal his laptop to get One Police Plaza the correct proposal in time, all on the day of Holt and Kevin’s vow renewal ceremony without Kevin noticing. There are the pairings: Jake and Holt on the main mission; Amy and Terry on secondary undercover; and Charles and Rosa stalling back at “headquarters,” only this time it’s the ceremony venue. Finally, the whole episode lies under the dark cloud of Holt’s potential retirement, an effort to maintain his marriage to Kevin.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine works best when a lot is happening story wise, if only because there’s a better chance for more rapid-fire jokes. Sure enough, that’s the case here across the episode, such as when Holt fails to convince Jake that he’s watching a porn clip entitled “A Handyman Repairs a Squeaky Door and then Fucks His Customer” instead of looking at email, only to use that same excuse (and title) when successfully convincing Kevin that Jake is watching porn rather than planning a mission. (Side note: The Brooklyn Nine-Nine writers’ room are really having a field day with the, admittedly bleeped, profanity this final season.) Similarly, Jake’s seduction scenario for Holt to distract O’Sullivan’s mother goes from a highly specific foolish idea, complete with a sultry gas line metaphor, into a real plan in record time. Ditto Terry’s Billy Joel-related excuses to O’Sullivan and Rosa’s completely indifferent attitude to Cheddar, Holt and Kevin’s dog, and his seemingly intelligent ways, a stance that comes to bite her in the ass.
Good gags are definitely worth the time, but “The Renewal” also tries to feature a “serious,” “emotional” side that kind of falls flat. Holt and Kevin’s relationship historically worked in small doses and as a secondary concern to Jake and Amy. Now that Jake and Amy’s story has basically stabilized, the series put too much emphasis on Holt and Kevin, escalating long-simmering differences about Holt’s work into a season-long arc. Kevin donning a police uniform to rescue Jake and Holt from O’Sullivan’s mother’s basement after she catches onto their scheme is a nice touch, but the actual ceremony tries to be both sweet and absurd (Holt dumping out federal tax code from his memory to make room for the renewal, much like a robot) in a way that pales in comparison to Jake and Amy’s wedding. Likewise, it’s nice to see Holt ask Jake advice for once about balancing a career and a personal life, but Jake’s response is pure cheese that not even Samberg can sell.
Yet, a clumsy love story doesn’t much compare to the graver issue of the episode treating Holt and Amy’s reform proposal like a magic fix. Granted, at the end of the episode, Brooklyn Nine-Nine pays lip service to the idea that change isn’t guaranteed, even after headquarters successfully enacts the proposal city wide. Dramatically speaking, however, “The Renewal” handles it like a one-stop cure to the litany of ills that impact modern policing, something that Kevin all but tells Holt as words of encouragement, which is too big of a fantasy pill to swallow when it’s coupled with the brass actually accepting the plan. As I’ve said before, there was no way for Brooklyn Nine-Nine to please everyone with their post-2020 worldview adjustment, but the ways they’ve addressed the zeitgeist have generally fared better than I expected. This was the first time when their efforts felt a bit phony, and try as they might, a zany undercover scheme can’t distract from the core naïveté of it all.
- Oh yeah, Holt stays on as Deputy Commissioner of Police Reform and Amy is promoted to Chief. Hoorah?
- Jake’s terrible investments in NFT’s and various cryptocurrencies is a genuinely inspired runner. Well done.
- Same with the absolutely ridiculous story of Pappy Boyle receiving the largest settlement in city history because his hand was caught in a subway car and he was dragged across Manhattan.
- “Therapy is a chess match and… I will prevail.”
- “Cousin kissing circle. Everyone gets burped afterwards. Normal stuff.”