Brooklyn Nine-Nine tends to paint itself into big corners after each season finale, then back out just as quickly when the next season begins. You may recall last year's much-touted "new" captain, who was dead by episode's end, or Jake's short-lived undercover stint, where he mostly fixed the Mafia's computers. But this time around, the show sticks to its guns.
"Coral Palms Pt. 1" is set entirely in another part of the country, featuring only two members of the principal cast. It's hard to believe that any network sitcom would air a season premiere minus the vast majority of its ensemble, but I guess outside pressure on B99 has eased up with the 100-episode syndication mark in sight.
They even budgeted an extra location for the occasion: As you may recall, Peralta (now "Larry") and Holt ("Greg") entered witness protection in a generic Florida suburb at the end of last season. As a native of a generic Florida suburb, I have to say the show nails this milieu: the omnipresent soda cans in koozies; the low-rent "family fun center" where Holt works, which is exactly like the one I went to as a kid; even the ladies' power-walking and gossip sesh, a tradition in which my own mom partakes every morning. I wish the show brought this much sense of place to Brooklyn.
Under the guise of mildly acquainted neighbors, our newly minted Florida men do their best to adjust. Holt is chasing a promotion (one of my biggest laughs was when he connived against a bored teenage co-worker: "Carly will be the first to go"), while Jake, sporting some freshly frosted tips, is selling ATVs: "They're safer than you think. Well, if you're standing next to one. If you're driving it, it's much more dangerous than you could possibly imagine."
Along with sorely missing their significant others, they're also taken down a peg by a U.S. marshal (played by the always clutch Maya Rudolph, who sadly only gets one scene), who forces them to live out their worst nightmares — for Holt, being a former communications major; for Jake, having a favorite movie that isn't Die Hard. No wonder Jake is feeling depressed enough to eat waterlogged burritos.
The episode seems content to set the scene for a while, introducing the plot fairly late in the game. True to his nature, Jake has secretly maintained a Carrie Mathison–like research wall in a storage unit, with the hope that he'll catch Jimmy the Butcher and return to his old life. (Touchingly, the only other item in the space is a photo of Amy.) After Holt catches him in the act and reprimands him for putting their lives at risk, Jake gets his revenge by lying his way into the promotion Holt wanted, then tormenting him with terrible chores, like dressing up as a hot dog. But when both get struck by go-karts in the sights of a viral-video-hungry redneck, the potential consequences get serious.
Although this premise is clever (the smartphone era must be the bane of the witness-protection program), the plot doesn't really jell. The redneck blackmailer isn't anything new, and his blackmail attempt fizzles after a well-timed phone swap. Given that Jake and Holt decide to run with the video anyway as bait, the whole thing feels shoehorned in to kick-start a larger plot, in which our heroes presumably bust out of witness protection and back into their old lives.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed getting to see B99 try on a looser vibe. With its big ensemble, the show can often feel overstuffed, but this week, there's lots of time for silly side plots like Holt having to rap for a birthday party, or Holt and Jake wondering who lives in the mini-golf holes. ("A homeless man and a raccoon. The exact nature of their relationship is still revealing itself." "I assume sexual.")
But while it was fun to see B99 slip into a pokier pace, I'm sure everyone who missed Gina's bon mots, Terry's freakouts, and Charles's bumbling will be pleased to know they'll be back next week.
- Fun to see Andy Samberg's Lonely Island compadre Jorma Taccone as the weirdo boss at the fun center. (Taccone previously directed an episode, as has Akiva Schaffer.) The scene where he sits by as Jake gives the entire staff nicknames is great: "He called you Mr. Fart, Mr. Fart." "Thanks, Kahuna."
- Another Holt secret in play: He has a tattoo, but won't tell Jake what it is. Let's hope this comes back down the line.
- The code to Jake's secret lair is, of course, 6969. "June 9, 1969 — the day my parents got married. Fine, the moon landing. Fine, it's a completely random number!"
- The FBI apparently made Holt play straight in witness protection, which is pretty fucked up. (As he tells his power-walking group, his "late wife" was "such a strong, female woman. With nice heavy breasts.")
- Someone on the writing staff clearly rewatched Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and found it wanting by modern standards. As Jake puts it: "Classic film, one of my childhood favorites, and it only gets overtly transphobic at the very end, so, a win."
- The best redneck joke of the episode, about possibly making $10,000: "Do you know what type of tanning bed I could get for that money? A mid-range one."