I guess it was inevitable that Brooklyn Nine-Nine would produce an episode that largely missed the mark, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing when it happens. “Payback” is a funny episode and, interestingly enough, a welcome showcase for Andy Samberg’s quieter comedic skills but little more than that. Terry and his wife have just learned that they’re expecting a child, which Jake finds out after Terry asks him to pay back the $2,000-plus he’s owed him for years, and the episode revolves around whether Jake can keep the secret or, in a sitcom world, if Jake is going to blow it.
Maybe it’s because I’m neurotic about sending the wrong message to the wrong person but I do not get the whole trope on television of highly capable, intelligent people not understanding the basics of the internet. Like sending an email and not accidentally replying to a group email and spilling the beans on an important secret. It’s ludicrous and not in a comedy-centered show supported way. I am never a fan of characters being re-written in order to serve an episodic narrative, and that’s what happened to Jake this week. He’s an excellent detective and he misses the fact that he hit “reply all”.
I don’t buy it.
It’s a patchwork episode and it’s disappointing, but it’s not a total misfire. It’s just caught in an awkward in-between of a quality episode and an unremarkable one. From the moment that Terry asked Jake to keep the pregnancy quiet we knew Jake was somehow going to screw up. We knew there would be some sort of over-the-top plot to keep Terry from knowing that the damage had been done and we knew, even when it looked like Jake was in the clear aside from being unable to move due to Terry’s exercise regimen, that Terry would find out anyway. Terry would get angry, Jake would feel bad, and the show wouldn’t end without things being resolved.
Again, it’s nothing terrible but it’s obvious. It’s astoundingly predictable. Amy and Holt’s storyline doesn’t fare any better because it’s cut so short so abruptly. I get the idea of why Holt having digestive problems would seem like an easy joke, and how Amy being the one technically responsible would be funny because of Amy’s idolization of the Captain, but it also seemed like a sitcom 101 joke: bathroom humor.
There were laughs to be had. Samberg’s facial reaction to having to wash Boyle’s dogs and his dedication to Terry’s workout are both hilarious; Amy coining the term “street meat” and not realizing just how revolting that sounds is another gem. Boyle fading into the background, Terry comparing lifting to Jake holding a handful of grapes, and Rosa’s refusal to buy a cooking pot because to her that implies marriage are all wonderful little key notes. The only reason this episode didn’t result in a total waste of time was because of how each character (aside from Jake’s email blunder) acted exactly as we’d predicted them to.
It’s a rocky episode and it begins and ends that way. Luckily, of the 13 episodes that have aired so far this season there have been only two or three that have fallen flat. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is so adept at handling serialized comedy and building great characters that it’s just a shame to see them resorting to easy humor and punchlines. No relationships enhanced or grew in any way, there was nothing new that was revealed about any of the characters, and the only personal storyline that had anything new happen in it was Terry’s because of his wife being pregnant and their sudden need to tighten their expenses. It’s not an episode I’ll remember a few weeks from now.