“Karen Peralta” is a curious episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, one that manages to take out the current political context to body cameras on city cops and make a lot of penis jokes instead. The episode’s title comes from Jake introducing Amy to his mother, Karen (played by the charming Katey Sagal), and finding out that his mother has started to see his con man of a father again (played by the equally charming Bradley Whitford). Karen, like Captain Holt’s sister Debbie last week, feels right at home in the show. Sagal brings a warm, low-key energy to Karen, and finally meeting Jake’s mother unlocks a lot of great story potential as Brooklyn Nine-Nine dives into Jake’s childhood. The episode’s other stories involve Rosa and Boyle testing out body cameras with disastrous, naked results, and the rest of the squad enjoying a night out at an “Escape the Room” event.
This is the second week in a row that Amy and Jake are off in their own storyline, separate from the gang, and it’s a welcome reminder that these two are great partners. In their romantic life, like this week, or last week’s Doug Judy caper, Amy and Jake’s trust and belief in one another makes their partnership work. Even though Amy isn’t sure how to navigate all of the Peralta family reveals, she helps Jake as he tries to break up his parents, even faking intestinal distress and singing her heart out to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” to keep Jake’s parents busy.
Amy is a well-documented people pleaser, but her helping Jake goes beyond just wanting everyone to be happy. She listens to Jake’s distress and follows him down the rabbit hole of his convoluted break-up scheme, because she genuinely cares for him. Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s track record with relationships hasn’t been the greatest, but the maturity in which it portrays Jake and Amy is worth noting. Amy and Jake, as characters, can wildly swing between cartoonish, immature and reasonable, but their pairing has always been rooted in mutual admiration and respect. That’s a wonderful relationship model on television.
Just as Amy and Jake’s relationship has grown and changed, so too has Rosa and Boyle’s, as this week they are paired together for big, goofy shenanigans. (There’s nothing Brooklyn Nine-Nine loves more than a good bout of shenanigans.) The show has moved so clearly beyond Boyle’s uncomfortable, stalker-like feelings for Rosa, one of the best narrative choices in the past three seasons. The two can share screen time now without troubling romantic overtones, even as “Karen Peralta” leads to Rosa inadvertently seeing “The Full Boyle” while chasing down a criminal. The two are a good pair, Boyle’s emotional nature playing off of Rosa’s stoicism, and Rosa helps to ground some of Boyle’s more wackier character traits.
Here’s the thing about Rosa and Boyle’s storyline this week, though. It starts out with Terry letting Rosa and Boyle know that they are one of the first teams in the NYPD to be testing out body cameras and the importance of this test for the rest of the police squads around the city. The story quickly turns into a comedy of errors where the cameras film Rosa catching the criminal, but also Boyle with his pants down. The camera footage then needs to be used to prove that the criminal in question actually was committing a crime, leading to everyone repeatedly seeing (as noted before) “The Full Boyle.” It’s a story that involves body cameras and tells a lot of penis jokes, and it’s funny enough, if a bit on the childish side. The thing that’s baffling is that body cameras are introduced with no sense of place or space.
Body cameras, meant to keep police accountable to the people they serve, in response to continued brutality and violence against communities of color. Body cameras, controversial and expensive new equipment backed by the President of the United States. Body cameras, that work to bring to light true police actions in civilian interactions. Body cameras, that are used solely as a vehicle to laugh at Boyle’s nakedness on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Television is not real life. Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s diverse, idyllic New York City precinct, that solves problems through dance battles and prank each other on the regular, is a nice world to visit every Tuesday for 22 minutes. It’s a comforting world, one where cops are truly well-intentioned, and villains are egotistical, lazy, or involved in fun-loving capers. The edges are softer in Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s New York City, where bad press for cops just requires a new poster slogan. The show has addressed some issues facing the police as an organization, like the homophobia and exclusion Captain Holt faced as a gay man in the NYPD in the 1970’s, but made sure to frame that oppression as a thing of the past.
Television is not real life, and yet it is becoming increasingly odd to watch a show about a police precinct in a major metropolitan city, filled with women and men of color, and say nothing about the complicated, difficult space to which those cops belong. Body cameras, which have not been a part of the show before, introduced casually and without an awareness of context, add to this oddity. If the show can bring up homophobia and sexism, and address them in ways that feel true to the spirit of the show, why ignore the biggest issue police are attempting to address? It’s not like other comedies haven’t done it already. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, at its heart, is a wacky workplace comedy set in a police precinct, but it is in a prime place to comment on the state of the police in 2016 in a smart, humorous, nuanced way. Why it doesn’t is a puzzling question that lingers over the rest of “Karen Peralta” and the season as a whole thus far.
Photo Courtesy of FOX