It’s so easy to dismiss and diminish the efforts of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a more familiarly structured sitcom, as the waves of “dramadies” continue to crash down around us. How does “Nine Nine” compare when there are series such as You’re the Worst, Bojack Horseman, Broad City, Catastrophe and Transparent redefining what it means to be a comedy? It doesn’t, it simply repeatedly sticks the landing in how consistent it is, how heartfelt and hilarious it is and how naturally inclusive it is time and time again to keep on bringing back viewers that could be distracted by what’s new and shiny. Season five begins with a reminder of just why we continue to eagerly tune in while also shaking up the status quo enough to keep us simultaneously on the edges of our seats. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been one of the strongest, most joke heavy comedies on air for years, catching it’s confident stride early with a team of players to bolster the quality, and as we re-enter a world that looks the same but has Rose and Jake behind bars, we’re reminded of those quirks that make it so satisfying to return to.
In “The Big House Part One” Brooklyn Nine Nine continues their trend of putting Jake Peralta into perilous situations through the means of mini arcs at the start of any given season. This year though, Rosa is in hot waters too as they both are living the reprecutions of being framed for crimes they didn’t commit and both sent to jail for it. Rosa, we gather, is better at acquitting herself to her surroundings than Jake, having started a few riots to build up credibility but, as she admits herself, she’s still lonely and is looking for familiarity to comfort her while she misses home. Captain Holt and Terry are of little use, both having no clue on how to comfort her and both trying to in the worst way possible. As a B storyline, watching the two characters try to appease Rosa’s every tedious whim (from sending sexual letters to Pimento to trying to cancel her cable) is immediately funny and few moments in the following season will be able to top Holt’s deadpan “Yas Queen”, followed by a punctuated finger snap. If anything there was room for Rosa’s situation to be explored further, but perhaps that’s a thread we’ll follow more in part two.
Jake, on the other hand and unsurprisingly, is being dealt a far more treacherous deal as he’s soon thrust into non-protective custody prison after securing a cell phone via ramen noodles. He’s grown a questionable beard, has made friendly with the chatty cannibal and is trying to secure his place in a gang in order to find protection. Of course, this being Jake, he finds himself moving into increasingly dangerous waters when he aligns himself with Romero. While he manages to talk Romero out of killing a guard by having Jake get him fired instead (after being filmed being at the hand of some viscous beatings) he gets himself into greater trouble by agreeing to be an informant of Romero’s wrong doings inside the system.
There’s the positive and negative side of this story in particular. Unlike Rosa, whose storyline has far lesser stakes in terms of her actual livelihood, Jake is bounding around some truly sinister characters. Caleb, funny at first, getting increasingly dark as his victims were brought up, undercutting some of the humor and even managing to bring us out of the scene, unable to match the tone the show has typically set for us. On the other hand, aside from the fact that we know (because of course) that Jake is going to be totally and completely fine, the episode does good work in making us second guess just how fine he’s really going to be and that’s an achievement for a show that also has Boyle day dreaming about eating butter and going to Disneyland with a newly released Jake. It’s also an example of how, if asked of him, Andy Samberg is perfectly fine at moving in the subtler aspects of his character, especially in a chilling ending shot of him talking to Amy with his contraband phone after being threatened by Romero.
At it’s core, the show has always been at its best when it focuses on the heart at the center of the series, that being the inner workings and relationships of the characters. While they’re all split apart for the time being, the small interactions that we managed to see were more than enough to suffice as reminders of just how wonderful this ensemble is, one of the strongest (if not the strongest) ensemble casts on television right now. A strong, semi-place setting episode to kick off the anticipated season, “The Big House” is a welcome reminder of why this show is so wholly missed whenever is breaks between seasons.