Sometimes, a sitcom is just a sitcom, whether it’s good or bad; that’s true even of sitcoms as good as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and in the show’s second go ‘round, no episode proves that better than “Beach House.” In twenty minutes and change, nothing of consequence to the season’s long term plots or themes actually transpires. Instead, the entire cast motors off to Boyle’s ex-wife’s beach house for a bit of R&R, departmental bonding, and, thanks to Jake Peralta’s indomitable will to be everyone’s best bro, awkward boss/employee interactions when Holt crashes the Nine-Nine’s annual office getaway. (At least we know what it sounds like when Andre Braugher says “party people.”)
But here’s the nifty thing about Brooklyn Nine-Nine: even when it’s “just” a sitcom, it’s a really great sitcom, and if “Beach House” doesn’t advance, say, the Giggle Pig plot, or circle back around to Santiago’s status as union rep, or even stoke the flames of Jake’s burning passion for Sophia, it does score big in the general department of “character.” Remember that at the end of all things, we watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine for the cast, not necessarily for police procedural jibber jabber (though as episodes like Stakeout and USPIS prove, watching these people enforce law and take down the bad guys is immensely satisfying).
Thus—“Beach House,” in which the principle and supporting players are each paired off to interact with one another on different planes of comedy. Boyle teaches Rosa how to send a proper flirty text to Marcus (hey, they brought that development back up!), Gina cajoles Santiago into going past her five drink limit, Terry enters full frontal vacation mode, and Holt, well, Holts it up by waxing eloquent on the breathtaking musical efficacy of the recorder. (In the background, Hitchcock and Scully act like Hitchcock and Scully.)
Dangerously, the episode peaks in its opening bit, which is easily the season’s best and may be one of the top five in the show’s minute history. What stone-hearted monster could possibly find the image of Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher sitting sans pants behind a desk so as to hide their impropriety? Peralta plays both schlemiel and schlimazel here, spilling his own soup into his own lap, and it’s glorious; it’s almost too glorious, but everything that follows the pantless party manages to step outside the shadow of the introductory shenanigans quite handily. Who else but Boyle would borrow his clearly loaded ex-old lady’s high end coastal property? Who else but Terry would have a fanny pack stuffed to the gunwales with everything from nips to fondue forks? And who else but Santiago could possibly go from dancing drunk, to pervy drunk, to overconfident drunk, to weepy drunk in the span of just a few cocktails? She’s the best sad clown ever.
But the stars of “Beach House” are Peralta and Holt, having another one of their moments of mutual respect. When Brooklyn Nine-Nine reminds us of what the world looked like when Holt started off in the force, it’s usually for the purpose of a joke (save for the likes of, say, “Old School”). Here, it’s all in service of some decent drama. Peralta’s bid to make his peers happy after inviting Holt to the soiree behind everybody’s back blows up in his face, and in a way that very nearly feels irredeemable; this being Brooklyn Nine-Nine, his transgression is in fact redeemed, but as quick as Holt is to understand how his presence shapes the weekend, Braugher articulates hurt subtly and yet plainly.
It’s such a great moment that its quick passing almost feels like a stumbling block. But, just as we accept the things Boyle, Terry, Gina, et al do as being in character, so too is Holt’s reconciliation with Peralta a perfectly Holtish thing to do. And so “Beach House” ends as it begins, with a terrific Braugher punchline delivered as only he could. Brooklyn Nine-Nine wasn’t on break that long, but it’s great to have it back; similarly, “Beach House” isn’t a plot-pushing episode, but it’s great to see so much attention placed on the characters. After all, they’re what we tune in for week in and week out.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film for the web since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant and Movie Mezzanine. You can follow him on Twitter. Currently, he has given up on shaving.