Orange Is the New Blue in ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ Season 5

For its season five premiere, Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine rehashes a familiar theme, as two of its most beloved characters find themselves geographically absent from the titular precinct. In seasons past audiences have watched as Peralta (Andy Samberg) infiltrated the mob, Holt (Andre Braugher) got a desk jockey promotion, and Peralta and Holt struggled in witness protection; now, Peralta and Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) have taken the fall for a bank heist after trying to expose the crooked Lieutenant Hawkins (Gina Gershon). As their co-workers attempt to break the case and save their friends from the harsh realities of prison, the audience feels the separation anxiety, which has become one of the show’s calling cards.

What’s almost as certain is that the unravelling of this seemingly complex situation will unfold over the first few episodes of the season, and then things will be pretty much back to normal. It’s easy to criticize a show for falling into such obvious holding patterns or using cliffhangers to keep viewers engaged, but that misses the main point: “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” succeeds in large part because of its formulaic elements. Even though the series operates predominantly within the framework of funny cop shows, it exhibits enough wit and daring to transcend its chosen genre instead of being limited by it.

And, to be fair, this new long-distance story line is rife with potential. In the witness protection storyline of last season, Peralta had reinvented himself as a hotshot ATV salesman, but grew so comfortable and bored that he was crawling out of his skin to return home. Now, he’s forced to truly focus on his survival since being a former cop in prison makes him a marked man. Yet the show still manages to inject campy humor into the scenarios thanks to the affable, techno-un-savvy cannibal Caleb (Tim Meadows). Caleb shows Peralta the ropes inside the prison, where his only chance of survival is to join the hardest gang, led by Romero (Lou Diamond Phillips).

The stress also allows the writers to show us a lot about Jake’s character and the lengths he’s willing to go to for the love of his girlfriend and co-worker Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero). In an attempt to ingratiate himself to Romero’s gang, Jake is caught using a contraband cellphone to record a beating he receives from one of the guards. The warden (Toby Huss) asks Jake to operate inside the gang as an informant, and Jake complies on the condition that he can keep his cell phone. This link to Santiago is pivotal in maintaining Jake’s sanity and in keeping the prison details from becoming too grizzly for viewers.

Sadly, the debut is hamstrung by how little emotion gets invested into Diaz’s subplot. Exactly like Jake, she surely would face threats and persecution as a cop inside prison; but the show’s creators only write her in for an asinine subplot where she sends Holt and Jeffords on ridiculous errands to teach them a lesson. Sure, the things she asks them to do for her will generate quick chuckles, but it doesn’t really follow that Jake would have to potentially murder a prison guard while she had time to come up with a frivolous scavenger hunt.

Setting that misstep aside, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is back with the same smarter-than-average blend of cop procedural and oddball comedy that has always won them respect. Sure, they’re doing something undeniably similar to what they’ve done in the past, but that also leads them to the same comedic results.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine” season 5 premiered Sept. 26 and airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET at on Fox.