Jake and Charles spend eight days bickering in a condemned hotel. Rosa courts a beau.
Credit: Fox

In tonight’s A-plot, Jake and Charles spend a Hanukkah-appropriate eight days together on a stakeout while slowly driving each other insane with all the stuff they usually ignore about each other. The message, as you might expect, isn’t that Jake and Charles shouldn’t be friends, it’s that they can’t be the all-consuming BFFs they pretend to be. Every friendship needs to understand its boundaries.

But maybe it’s best not to spend too much time ruminating on the episode’s themes, because “Stakeout” also depicts the dangers of labeling things. Jake and Charles don’t know the limits of their friendship, but they also make the mistake of trying to describe those limits, putting everything they don’t like about each other down in writing. It’s a terrible idea because the best things get worse when they’re picked apart. If you truly love someone, you appreciate him or her as a complete being, flaws included. Nitpicking, making no-no lists, these sorts of things only get you so far. They distract from what’s important, from that ineffable quality that brings people together.

And finally, it’s also kind of pointless to subject “Stakeout” to too much analysis, because the episode is far too much fun to do that. Sure, it has its flaws, but “Stakeout” moves at the manic rhythm of the best Nine-Nine episodes (see “The Mole,” “The Pontiac Bandit Returns”), throwing out jokes and callbacks so quickly that by the end all you can really say is “yup, they did it again.” I don’t want to draw an easy parallel between friendships and sitcoms, but there’s a sense, here, too, that however you try to label Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you’ll probably miss that magical thing at its center. Maybe its a great cast, or strong writing, or a lucky second-season realignment, but by now, the show’s shifted into something great and found its own indescribable heart.

So while we’ve got this recap ahead of us, let’s insert a caveat. To quote Terry’s lecture to Gina and Amy on the books he makes for his kids: “I guess what I’m saying is, these stories are nonsense. I love you guys, but if you’re bringing something more to my book. That’s on you.”

Back to the show.

Nine-Nine tends to take Jake and Charles’s friendship for granted, but only because the two of them also take their friendship for granted. They begin their stakeout in high hopes, volunteering for an eight day stint in a condemned hotel outside the supposed mob hideout of a guy in the Ukranian mafia without realizing how terrible those eight days could be. And they ignore the warnings of everyone else—including Terry, who suggests that the two establish “alone zones”—and insist that their friendship can endure pretty much anything. They have a mini basketball hoop, Charles’ supply of weird food, a “Stake Me Out Tonight” alarm à la Eddie Money, and they’re ready to last the week.

Then, as the days tick by, “Stakeout” picks apart that assumption. Jake and Charles start to engage in passive-aggressive comments about how Charles eats his Nørtflüskers cereal with his mouth open and how Jake eats butter with syrup straight. The solution, they finally decide, is to make a “no-no list” of everything that’s off-limits between the two of them. They begin with a few complaints, but can’t resist adding to it. By the end of the episode, the list has swelled to epic proportions (I’ve listed every item I heard or saw mentioned at the bottom of the recap, but my favorites were Jake’s complaint about multi-level marketing schemes and Charles’ surprise that there is more than one Die Hard movie).

Andy Samberg and Joe Lo Truglio have wonderful comedic chemistry, but Nine-Nine typically pairs them as a foil against a separate straight man (whether Terry, Amy, Rosa, or Holt). When the two are stuck together, they have no one to counteract their energy and the mania only multiplies. In a final absurdist touch, they reveal their hiding spot to the mob across the street when Charles announces, “this is who I am. And if you don’t like this stuff, then we shouldn’t be friends!” and then accidentally throws the mini basketball through their window and across the street.

Fox comedies have a strange four-act structure, which breaks up the third act’s action with a commercial and usually results in a rushed conclusion. Long story short, Jake and Charles only have a few minutes to get back together, but they manage to do so when Holt orders that the two of them go after the Ukranian mobster (Jake: “I hope you can live with the fact that you’re forcing people to spend time together who would rather not.” Holt: “I’m fine with that.”). Jake and Charles find the guy hidden in an apartment, and stop their bickering for a quick chase sequence. Finally, they realize that they work together really well. They might not love everything about each other’s personalities, but that’s not the point. As Jake says, “brothers fight, but at the end of the day, they’re always there for each other.” *teary-eyed pause to honor all life’s beautiful friendships*

Brooklyn Nine-Nine underlines Jake and Charles’s journey through friendship, bickering, and reaffirmation with a plot about Amy and Gina—and the picture books Terry makes for his kids. “Junebug and Cricket: Adventure Girls,” it turns out, is a not so subtle roman à clef about the goings on in the precinct, starring the “stone-cold bitch” Junebug (Gina) and Cricket (Amy), who is such a pushover that she “lets all the forest folk take her magical moose wishes.”

After reading Terry’s book on the sly, Gina and Amy are horrified by the idea that the rest of the world see them in such limited terms and try to reverse their public perceptions. Melissa Fumero does excellent work, per usual, as she captures Amy’s desperate attempts to seem mean. In one moment, she grabs the coffee pot from Terry and announces, “Scooch your ass back in line. My coffee needs are as important as yours.” Then she drops the coffee in the trash can. But Fumero’s also met by the genius of Chelsea Peretti, who does a wonderful sendup of Gina’s megalomania that ends up being just as megalomaniacal. Terry asks Gina about the coffee pot incident. “I try not to judge people,” she responds in forced deadpan, “so I wouldn’t know. Maybe I should check on little Amy and give her the greatest gift of all: a hug.”

Anyway, Terry finally confronts Amy and Gina in the elevator and talks some sense into them. First, he points out, Junebug and Cricket are a lot more complicated than the two of them make them seem (Junebug, for instance, “is a meanie to the platy-pups, but she’s a sweetheart to the socktapus!”). Second, fiction isn’t real! Later, Amy and Gina talk things over. Amy says she’s glad she got to stand up for herself. Gina reveals her own lesson: “I learned I’m perfect the way I am and I should never change.” To name-check her Netflix special, Peretti’s truly one of the greats.

Finally, “Stakeout” delivered an exciting beginning to a romance plot for Rosa, who gets it on with Holt’s nephew, Marcus (guest star Nick Cannon). Cannon gets little to do, besides being attractive and generally receptive to Rosa’s advances (Rosa’s way of flirting is just to say “bye,” which, as Gina notes, “for you, that’s basically walking up to him and jamming your tongue down his throat”), but Stephanie Beatriz and Andre Braugher hit it out of the park as two stoic characters forced to discuss personal matters. The best moment comes when Rosa runs into Holt and his husband, Kevin, at breakfast after spending the night with Marcus. Rosa suggests she should leave. Holt: “Then feel no obligation to stay, Rosa. Detective Diaz. Detective Rosa Diaz is in my breakfast nook.” And, when Rosa leaves: “Wow, Detective Rosa Diaz has left. Hmm.”

And as in most of “Stakeout,” the solution to Rosa and Holt’s awkwardness lies in not talking about it. When Holt returns Rosa’s brassiere to her, which he does after taking off his badge (“I’m speaking to you as a friend, not a captain”), the two settle on a don’t-ask-don’t-tell solution to the problem. Holt informs Rosa that he hopes his position as captain doesn’t get in the way of her and Marcus’ possible relationship, but that he also doesn’t want to talk about any of this anymore.

Rosa: “Great, then let’s never talk about it.”

Holt: “Let’s never talk about anything.”

Rosa: “Done.”

Other open investigations

— Not to leave Andre Braugher to the end of the recap, but Captain Holt’s pure glee in the cold open alone would have sold me on “Stakeout.” After the Giggle Pig bust last week, Holt, Jake, and Rosa received awards for their task force, which gave Holt the opportunity to smile like a little kid (which is better, Holt’s smile or Rosa’s?) and to deliver one last zinger at Deputy Chief Wuntch at the ceremony. Jake suggests he take the high road and not insult Wunch, but Holt can’t resist. He tries to restrain himself after she gives him an award, but can’t resist. As she walks away, he shouts “Wuntch time is over. Boom! Did it. Had it both ways. No regrets.”

— While explaining the definition of “glib,” Jake and Charles work through a few of Garfield zingers. Charles: “Ask yourself this: is it something you could hear Garfield saying? If so, it’s glib.” Jake: “So what? You want me to be Garfield’s owner, Jon Arbuckle? Think about what you’re saying, he’s spineless and bland.” The whole thing makes for a dig at comedy that sacrifices character to appeal to the lowest common denominator (or maybe they’re just a few lines about Garfield).

— Terry’s books also include a tiny squirrel (Charles), a walrus (Captain Holt), and a hippo with heads on both ends (Scully and Hitchcock). “How do they defecate?” Amy asks. “It’s a kids’ book, Santiago!” Terry answers.

— “Stakeout” had three plots that linked thematically, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine never had them intersect. This is a division that pops up in most episodes, and while it works, the show could benefit from some more formal experimentation.

— For people living in a condemned hotel for eight days in December, Jake and Charles don’t wear nearly enough warm clothes.

The complete* No-No List:

Charles’ side of the wall:no eating with your mouth open, no rasta-man voice, no reciting poems, no ballroom dancing, no bird calls, no male kegels (Charles: “Can I do my kegels secretly?” Jake: “I can definitely tell”), no rhyming, no talking about your butthole, no yoga, no Sister Act, no Sister Act 2, no multi-level marketing schemes, no licking fingers before turning pages, no tea ceremonies, no parkour, no unrequested lullabies, no lady-style towels, no sassy “nuh-uh-uhs,” no talking about ortolans, no letting birds in!, no nose hair trimming, no talking, NO BATHS, no puppets.

Jake’s side of the wall: no butter-syrup, no talking about Die Hard (or Die Hard 2, 3, 4, or 5), no mayonnaise from the jar, no using my toothbrush, no pull-ups, no beat-boxing, no letting it mellow, no Kwazy Cupcakes, no life hacks, no calling legitimate business ideas schemes, no impressions, no cabbage patch, no running man—movie or dance, no saying “been done,” no “dandruff blizzard,” no saying “noice,” no neck cracking, no air saxophone, no popping, no saying “styles,” no using jerky as a toothbrush, no peanut butter binoculars, no talking about your dumb car, no red wedding, no comparing yourself to Idris Elba—favorable or not, no added Zs to the end of words, no complaining about “not seeing The Wire,” no jerks, no peeling the wallpaper (written on a piece of peeling wallpaper), NO OVER SALTING, no action movie reenactments, no talking, no backstory for Mrs. Peacock, no syrup shots, no talking about DEREK!!, no basketball pregnancies, no being glib (Jake: “I don’t even know what glib means!”), no using my soap, no sweating, no pop and locking, no doing voices of suspects.

*There weren’t enough shots of the wall to get a clear view of all the writing, so I probably missed more than a few no-nos.

Follow me on Twitter: @McHenryJD

Episode Recaps

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

A group of ragtag cops — led by Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) — run the 99th precinct of the NYPD.

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