With “The Tattler,” Brooklyn Nine-Nine takes things all the way back to the ’90s

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“I enjoyed myself. I can’t wait to go home and tell Kevin, ‘You can have fun, without being productive.’”

That Holt quote is also pretty much the point of “The Tattler,” at least in the sense of excusing why it exists as such an inconsequential episode. Well, it’s inconsequential for 99 percent of the episode, until it leads to the beginning of the end for Gina Linetti (and Chelsea Peretti) at the Nine-Nine.

“The Tattler” takes things back to the ’90s for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and not just in the literal sense of Jake/Gina’s 20-year high school reunion: The specific execution of the stories set at the Nine-Nine also hit the nostalgia button hard in terms of concept and structure. Terry/Holt’s—or any—radio contest plot honestly makes very little sense in a sitcom airing in 2019, but I’ll be damned if that particular choice didn’t immediately make me realize (or at least believe really hard) that this episode does it because it’s a perfect ’90s sitcom plot. (It’s also the messy inciting incident of the 1998 film I Still Know What You Did Last Summer). The Rosa/Boyle plot also hits that button, with Rosa having to decide between two love interests like she’s on an episode of Boy Meets World or Friends. Only without the respective jelly bean test or “Rachem”/”Rachel” debacle.

Really, the only thing missing from this episode in those terms is Hitchcock/Scully getting caught up in a chain letter situation, and one can only assume that’s because they’re part of the radio plot.

David Phillips’ script for “The Tattler” takes workplace sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine a little further down the path of a hangout sitcom—specifically one from 20 years ago—and in theory, it should work perfectly. So much of the joy and fun of Brooklyn Nine-Nine comes from this squad hanging out, even if it’s in the middle of a criminal investigation. But after last week’s pandemonium in the bullpen and Commissioner Kelly’s desire to crush Holt and the Nine-Nine—the latter of which doesn’t need to be followed up with every episode, to be fair—with this episode, you’d actually never know the Nine-Nine is technically still supposed to be a zoo right now. In fact, the plots in the Nine-Nine this week suggest that the main characters don’t even really work there at all. The most “police work” that happens in this episode actually occurs at Jake/Gina’s high school reunion—like a low stakes version of Psych’s “Murder?... Anyone?... Anyone?... Bueller?”—while Terry/Holt obsess over a radio guessing contest and Rosa has to decide which person (that the audience has never met and will never meet) she’s more into. Put like that, the novelty of the ‘90s nostalgia isn’t all that special, kind of like actual ‘90s nostalgia. The former storyline is at least onto something when it comes to the idea of these characters needing to burn off steam. Plus, it taps into Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s way of turning these characters into absolute monsters once the tiniest bit of competition is involved.

But at the same time: Out of however many radio callers before Terry, no one guessed a bag of chips? Really?

“The Tattler” starts off with a narrative-based cold open, and those tend to be the ones that make things much harder for the episode moving forward. This cold open—as fun as it is to watch Jake/Gina’s “DDC...the Dope Denim Crew” corniness and even be reminded of their best friendship that’s often forgotten—essentially gives up the true identity of “The Tattler” with the early note about Jake simply taking Gina’s entire look in their junior year. As does Gina trying to tell Jake that Brandon Bliss (Matt Rife) was actually lame. So when the episode finally gets to that reveal and runs with it, it’s not as though Andy Samberg and Chelsea Peretti’s performances aren’t good. It’s just that the story isn’t all that interesting—Jake’s entire story in the cold open explains why Bliss was bad news before that even becomes a confirmed adult revelation—and it peaks at flashback Jake. Flashback Jake (who looks like Shy Ronnie… but with dark hair... and in the ‘90s) is pretty much the inverse of Flashback Hitchcock and Scully, but it’s amazing in its own way.

Plus, it’s clear that the more important aspect of this episode is getting to the point of beginning Gina’s farewell. And it uses this story to eventually tick the box of a meaningful Jake/Gina interaction, for a relationship that has always been strangely underserved in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Gina’s solo journey of just lying to people doesn’t reach Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion levels of the lies coming back to bite her—as their former classmates don’t seem to be the brightest—but they’re an amusing detour from Jake’s journey to repair his reputation and Amy’s journey to relive school (but sexually). And it actually does get more interesting once Quentin (Yassir Lester) comes into the picture. Quentin’s tech bro shtick is just comedically douchey enough to actually come across like the real deal, and it leads to the best Gina lie in the form of her app Todddddler (“Tinder for toddlers”). Gina’s app idea honestly isn’t the craziest or most ridiculous one she’s had in the past five seasons. It’s crazy and ridiculous, sure, but it’s still a good idea for Gina. Especially as her role in the Nine-Nine is one that does in fact leave room for the concept of her “moving on” that Jake mentions; Gina’s dreams truly aren’t in administration or in the police world at all, as much as she loves all her people there.

It will be interesting to see how Gina’s (and Chelsea’s) actual farewell episode sends the character off. Funnily enough, the show had the perfect opening last season, in “Game Night,” when she came back from maternity leave. So now it’s exciting to see how exactly Gina will say goodbye to the Nine-Nine, how many montages and/or interpretive dances there will be, and how she will torment Amy in the process.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine loves to find even the smallest amount of emotional resonance in a plot, even when it’s still a joke—like Terry/Amy’s resolution at the end of “Hitchcock & Scully.” It’s obviously there in the Jake/Gina plot by the end. But there’s not really any of that in the radio contest plot (unless you count Holt’s realization about fun), and it’s just barely there in Rosa/Boyle. The latter story also peaks at the beginning, with the obligatory but very Rosa exposition dump about Alicia (Gina Rodriguez) and Boyle malfunctioning over the sudden overdose of Rosa facts. But as cool as it is to see BatRosa flip down from the ceiling, “The Boyle Decision-Making Manual” that leads to no decision at all is a weak plot for these characters’ friendship, even though usually, any reference to “Casper the movie” leads to something special.

While the idea of taking the plots in this episode back to an old school simplicity is perfectly fine and could’ve even led to some interesting places, in execution, they just don’t. Yes, “The Tattler” (and Brooklyn Nine-Nine) can be fun without necessarily having to be productive, but this episode doesn’t even reach the heights of fun in Nine-Nine that would typically excuse that.

Also, “tattler” really is not as catchy or as fun to hear as “hoot.”


Stray observations

  • Rosa: “Dope name. Sounds hot.”
    Jake: “He was hot, Rosa.”
    Gina: “For the record—he could barely read.”
    Jake: “He didn’t have to read, Gina—he lost his virginity when he was 12 years old.”
    Gina: “Which is horrifying.”
    Jake: “But it wasn’t back then. Back then, it was… everything.”
  • The “legendary ska band Ska-vester Ska-llone” only had one song: “Stop Or My Mom Will Ska.” Jake, Gina, and stuck-in-the-‘90s Mikey (Paul Rust, lover of chemicals) skanking along to it somehow elevates the song.
  • Holt: “Well, this is a total waste of time.”
    Terry: “Sure, but you can still have fun even if you’re wasting time.”
    Holt: “That’s absurd. Productivity is what makes things fun. That’s why humans go to work.”
    Terry: “...it is?” Surprise: I’m actually the real-life Captain Holt.
  • Rosa (halfway through reading Sophie’s Choice): “Ugh. Just choose the daughter.”
  • Jake: “Unfortunately, Bliss is not here. Probably in the VIP section at a Fatboy Slim concert.”
    Amy: “Would that be cool for a 37-year-old?”
    Jake: “The ‘Funk Soul Brother’ is timeless, Ames.” Jake has a point.
  • Gina: “Thanks so much, Jake and Jake’s wife.”
    Jake: “She knows your name.”
  • Holt: “And I can’t believe it took you this long. Yogurt is literally your one thing.”
    Terry: “Okay. Okay.”
  • Gina: “Oh damn, Gina.”
    Quentin: “Did you just ‘oh damn’ yourself?”
    Gina: “Someone had to.”
  • Gina: “I don’t read comic books.” Chelsea Peretti was just on Comedy Bang Bang, making clear she knows nothing about Batman or any comic book thing. In fact, after Gina makes the Spider-Man comparison and Jake points out Peter Parker and the spider “weren’t best friends before the bite,” the way Chelsea plays her reaction suggests Gina might not have known that at all. All she knew was that a spider bit him.
  • Amy: “Jake, this isn’t so bad. History is full of great tattlers. Martin Luther King tattled on racists.”
    Jake: “That’s a pretty undercutting way of describing his accomplishments.”
    Amy: “I’m just trying to help. It felt bad.”
  • Jake: “Yes, I love it. Why learn to grow when you can fix the past? This is exactly why I don’t need therapy.”
    Amy: “Not sure this is the lesson I want you to take away from this.”
    Jake: “Too late! We’re gonna prove I wasn’t ‘The Tattler’, therapy is a scam, let’s do this!” Meanwhile, therapy could probably help Jake realize why he gets so upset about being wrongfully accused.
  • Perhaps the most ‘90s bit of all is Amy’s Flanderization in this episode. Her considering “The Tattler” a sexy nickname makes sense, and it’s also unexpectedly hilarious to see her punch out the glass in the administration office’s door. (A moment I had to rewatch multiple times just to make sure her fist was wrapped. It appears it was.) But past Amy admitting that she “likey” Jake’s perfect attendance record—pretty much after she brings Danny to Jake—she’s on a whole other level of type A absurdity, if you can even call it that. I’d worry I’m kink-shaming this character, but the science project and the book report on Jane Eyre aren’t even part of that, right?

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