Some people look forward to Christmas; I look forward to Craig Robinson’s Pontiac Bandit, who also comes but once a year. Doug Judy is an emissary from an alternate-universe Brooklyn Nine-Nine, in which the robbers are just as quirky and goofy as the cops. I know that’s something the show can’t afford — it’s tough to maintain a stable of pricey guest stars — but it’s still nice to pretend. It doesn’t hurt that Robinson and Andy Samberg continue to play off each other brilliantly. To appropriate Judy’s description of Jake and Amy’s relationship: Robinson is smooth and lovable, Samberg is scrappy and lovable, and together, they’re just lovable.
This third installment moves the setting to a cruise ship (and doesn’t neglect a reference to Speed 2: Cruise Control — “Great film!” says Judy. “Sandy B. in a sarong.”) Unfortunately, that shorts out some of the tension of the first two Pontiac Bandit installments, since it’s pretty much immediately clear that Jake has no hope of capturing Judy in international waters. After all, 40 percent of the ship’s crew are criminals of one kind or another. “I myself am a tax evader!” admits the captain (Paul F. Tompkins, sadly only in one scene).
Instead, the action comes from a halfhearted plot: Someone on the ship is out to kill Judy, who’s just trying to maintain his secret life at sea, singing slow jams in the all-ages piano lounge. Jake and Amy manage to catch the culprit — in a cruise-appropriate move, Amy takes him down with a shuffleboard tang — but the killer is obviously such a fill-in that we never even find out who he is or why he wants to take Judy down, much less get to the point where he seems like a credible threat. The attack in the hotel room, in particular, is so badly staged that I wasn’t sure if Judy was just making up the killer as a ruse. In the end, Judy’s inevitable escape isn’t much fun either — instead of Judy and Peralta trying to outwit each other, B99 has pretty much conceded that Judy will always win, so it doesn’t try very hard to make us feel the loss of Judy slipping through Peralta’s grasp.
But whatever the Judy-Peralta relationship lacks in tension this go-round, it more than makes up for in chemistry. Part of the fun of Doug Judy is that he’s completely unafraid to call Peralta on his nonsense, whether it’s coaxing him to admit that they’re actually best friends, or immediately warming to Amy, then making it crystal clear to Jake that he needs to work a little harder to keep her. (Even Amy opens up to him about their relationship: “Every time we get emotional, he’s like ‘Noice! Smort.’”)
Back in Brooklyn, Holt is dealing with an emotional whirlwind of his own: His drama-queen visiting sister Debbie, played by Niecy Nash. (Gina: “The drama queen of the Holt family? What, she’s laughed out loud one time?” Holt: “She’s laughed out loud … multiple times.”) Like Gina, I pictured Holt sibling fights to largely center on the finer points of Molière or white Burgundy, but as is turns out, Debbie does indeed enjoy unnecessary drama, such as the fight she starts over a missing hairbrush. For a show with two of television’s most cliché-free and nuanced black male characters, it’s pretty disappointing that the first black female guest star I can remember is a gossipy, finger-snapping cliché. B99 usually offers a range of interesting characters who also happen to be diverse, but Debbie seems imported from a lesser, broader show.
Nonetheless, inspired by Gina, Holt decides to fight fire with fire by being gossipy himself. Watching him try to express his emotions is pretty great, especially when he tries to say, “I can’t … even.” The show attempts to flesh Debbie out a bit with the admission that she came to visit because her husband is cheating on her, but it’s such a late reveal that there’s not much time left to do anything with it.
The episode’s other middling subplot pulls straight from the well of sitcom classics, with a cop-show twist: Rosa and Boyle investigate the seemingly straightforward death of an elderly woman, and start competing with each other when they discover her insanely spacious apartment is on the market. Rosa uses her Spanish, Boyle uses his access to eels, and in the end, neither of them get it — so they arrest the landlord, who poisoned the old woman so he could charge market rate on her rent-controlled pad. It’s a perfectly fine subplot, and Joe Lo Truglio and Stephanie Beatriz are a fun pairing the show doesn’t work with very often, but there’s nothing particularly surprising or fresh about it.
The big surprise, instead, comes in the episode’s final scene: Having been defeated by Doug Judy once again, Jake and Amy go salsa dancing on the cruise ship, where Amy tells Jake that she loves him. After eking out his requisite “Noice. Smort,” he admits that he loves her too. Considering it took the better part of two seasons to get this pair a glimmer of chemistry, I appreciate that the writers continue to take a mature approach to their relationship. They’re facing relatively normal couple milestones, rather than overwrought-sitcom ones. That is, indeed, both noice and smort of them.
- I thought for sure this episode would be sponsored by a cruise line, with lots of gratuitous action shots of a boat, but it’s not — and it openly mocks the innumerable other shows that have taken that route. Jake and Amy even get sucked into an opening picture call of “Say I love Carousel Cruises International, Ltd.!”
- Holt’s canned-seltzer problem is nearly as bad as my own. (Shout out to LaCroix Coconut, the unofficial drink of Vulture’s B99 recaps.)
- Craig Robinson wears some truly amazing pastel suits. Being Entertainer of the Year on Carousel Cruises obviously takes commitment.
- Rosa has never been more pissed than when she found out she smiled at the landlord for nothing.
- “Songs about smushin’, songs for smushin’ to, and songs for kids! This is the all-ages piano lounge.”
- The cherry on top of Holt’s fake dramatics — Mercury being in retrograde — had me in stitches. (We all know this person.)
- I love that Doug Judy is still completely obsessed with Rosa, though his musical tribute to her went south pretty quickly. (“No, I meant my left … the guy in the red … not the Asian guy … this is still a love song, people.”)