Considering that Jake’s mom, Karen, is still a New Yorker (and presumably lives somewhere near Gina’s mom, since the two grew up together), it’s interesting that B99 has taken two and a half seasons to introduce her — longer than it did Jake’s deadbeat airline-pilot dad, Roger, who lives in Canada. But while I love the casting of Katey Sagal in the role, she doesn’t get to do too much comedically, as the episode once again becomes a referendum on Roger (played by Bradley Whitford, who might be too good an actor for a role that’s meant to be at least somewhat unsympathetic).
Things start out pretty standard: It’s Jake’s birthday (complete with an ill-advised confetti cannon from Boyle, which causes half the precinct to draw their weapons), and Amy is set to meet Karen for the first time, an objective she pursues with her usual zeal for research. (“Are those her dental records?”) That could have been a plot of its own, but instead, the show takes it in another direction by reintroducing Roger just before the first act break, making the rest of the episode about Jake’s desire to protect his mom from getting hurt again.
Anyone who saw Roger’s last appearance knows he’s a womanizing jerk with some drug issues, but he was apparently inspired by his real-talk conversation with his son (which is still one of Andy Samberg’s best moments of serious acting on the show) to change his tune. To his credit, Whitford is so talented that he almost makes Roger’s transformation seem believable — I don’t know any other actor who could make the statement that he’s slept with “only” 400 women seem almost reasonable, but he manages to pull it off. (“Is that a lot? All my friends are airline pilots. I’m on the low end of average.”)
All in all, though, the plotline feels pat, and the jokes are only mediocre — I liked Amy’s initial bit about how she used to get away with impressing adults by singing “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” but then having her go ahead and do it not once, but twice, was pretty weak. Worst of all, it largely wastes Sagal, who’s a really funny actress in her own right but mostly only gets to play the “supportive mom” card here. Her main scene is a sweet but rushed one at the end, where she diagnoses Jake’s desire to be a cop and protect everyone as having been borne out of his insistence on protecting her. (Nice of Jake to set the record straight, though: “That’s a cool thought, but I became a cop ’cause of Die Hard.”) It’ll be interesting to see if we check in again with the Peraltas now that they’re back together; Jake’s suspicions seem more than valid to me, and I somehow doubt that his dad has mended his ways and will stick around this time.
If the A-plot suffers from being a bit underbaked and underthought, the rest of the episode may be trying a little too hard to be au courant. The cold open features Jake flailing around on an Über-trendy hoverboard, and the main plot features both the precinct’s first introduction to body cameras and a team-building trip to an “Escape the Room” game.
The latter plot, featuring Holt trying to solve his way out of a faux-nuclear apocalypse with only Gina, Scully, and Hitchcock for help, is a little weak — it was obviously cut for time, and most of it’s wasted on the usual gags about Scully and Hitchcock being idiots with bottomless appetites, interspersed with Holt solving some quirky clues. (This week in general was a poor showing for Gina, who gets some outright bad lines.) I’m not sure what sort of larger meaning it’s meant to impart about the characters, other than that even idiots can be useful sometimes.
But to me, the body-cam plot was the real wasted opportunity; the topic could have easily supported an episode of its own, tackling some of the thornier questions around a hot-button issue while still keeping it light, like the show was able to do with stop-and-frisk earlier this season. Instead, it devolves into the laziest possible plotline: everyone staring at Boyle’s dick. Not only is it barely plausible (even a goofball like Boyle wouldn’t take his underwear off to clean a pho-soaked Kevlar vest), it’s just not all that funny. It’s hard for me to imagine a room full of cops getting as farklempt about a penis as they do in this episode. (“Objection!” “On what grounds?” “That’s … my penis?” “Overruled.”) I get that at the end of the day, it’s all for the sake of comedy, but we can probably find more intelligent means of getting there than zooming in on someone’s testicles.
- Bruce McCulloch directed this episode!
- Roger’s guesses as to what movie Jake’s insistent charades thrusting might be were all amazing. “Fast and Furious? Magic Mike? The Crying Game?”
- Gina: “Adults don’t care about their birthdays!” Jake: “You came to work last year on a horse.”
- Among Roger’s sins: killing Jake’s turtle, Graham Crackers, by stepping on him. “You said Graham Crackers got married and moved in with his wife.”
- I’m pretty sure all the posters on the wall of the apocalypse bunker referencing scrap metal were a hat-tip to SCRAP, which runs a lot of the Escape the Room games around the country. (I’ve played two of theirs myself, and they’re actually pretty fun, though the production values are nowhere near as high as the one Holt and Gina played.)
- Jake had a nose ring in high school, “until it got infected and I almost went blind.” He also apparently wore a yellow Kangol hat. Such a cool guy.
- Amy: “I wouldn’t say I’m very good at [lip-reading]. Deaf people, they’re the real talents.”