Review: ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ reveals the goodness of humanity

by Joyce Lee | 2/5/19 2:30am

There was a moment of collective solidarity on the Internet — which is really rare, considering it’s the Internet — when Fox announced the cancellation of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” in May of 2018. Fans of the show, from Lin Manuel-Miranda to Guillermo del Toro, all tweeted their outrage, leading to the show’s resurrection at NBC a mere 31 hours after the announcement of its cancellation. 

It was a dramatic moment for a television sitcom, and it might be curious to those who don’t follow the show as to why it became so dramatic. What’s the big deal with “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”?

Season six of the sitcom is currently airing on NBC, and its recent episodes highlight, perhaps, why it was so important to fans that this show continue. At its core, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is a sitcom about good people doing good things for each other and their community, even in the face of somewhat ridiculous adversities. This approach is hardly a surprise, considering showrunners Dan Goor and Michael Schur are both alumni of “Parks and Recreation,” which Schur also co-created with legendary “The Office” showrunner Greg Daniels. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is thus only the latest in a long line of shows about normal, goofy humans who work together and hit major life milestones in a somewhat grimy office setting. 

Despite being a show set in a police precinct, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” only uses the procedural format of most crime shows as a backdrop for its more character-driven plotlines. Crime-fighting is only another way to become better friends, to establish heartwarming mentor-mentee relationships and to show how intrinsically flawed people can become better through the help of their friends and co-workers. Jake Peralta, played by a wonderfully warm Andy Samberg, begins the show as a definitive version of a “man-child,” who became a detective because of his love of “Die Hard.” His foils include his romantic interest Amy (Melissa Fumero), a Hermione-esque police detective, and the precinct’s new police captain Ray Holt (Andre Braugher), who gets nicknamed the “Robot Captain” for his stoic and unchanging expressions.

In the first episode of the new season, “Honeymoon,” viewers see a change in the “Robot Captain,” who ends up deflated and uncharacteristically depressed over the loss of a promotion to police commissioner. Braugher is excellent at balancing his portrayals of Holt as a completely humorless authority figure and a robotic man who is often oblivious to social cues; this is great fodder for the episode when he inadvertently crashes Jake and Amy’s honeymoon. The iconic moment is when he stands over them in a ghastly pink tank top that reads, “What’s up, beaches,” his face as stoic as ever. 

Unlike “Parks and Recreation” or “The Office,” there is no real straight-man in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which provides a greater opportunity for comedy as the show plays the various exaggerated eccentricities of the characters off of each other. This trait also gives them room to be flawed and to correct those flaws without losing a source of comedy. Braugher, in the initial episodes of season one, seemed to be slotted to play the straightman, but it has become increasingly obvious that all of the characters take their turns playing the straight-man for each other. The result is a well-rounded cast that is able to grow together to form a somewhat functional police precinct, and an even better example of good people who are able to outgrow their flaws.

The overall good humor and minimal cynicism of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” proves that a show does not have to be dark or weighed down by political commentary to be relevant. The cast is incredibly diverse, with a black gay man as police captain, a bisexual Latina woman as a terrifying detective and a black man as the precinct’s sergeant, among other examples. The show doesn’t assume that representation alone means diversity; it takes care to include the particular concerns of minority groups within the plotlines without being tokenizing. It shows women having ambitions of becoming police captain, black policemen working to problematize police brutality and educate their fellow officers, and LGBT characters having tender and healthy relationships that face their own hurdles. 

There are no overt messages in the sitcom, no specific references to what’s going on in the world post-2016, but by maintaining this dedication to its diverse set of characters, the show provides a relief for those of us who are sometimes lost in the endless stream of cable news. As hilarious as it is to see Holt crash Amy and Jake’s honeymoon, the episode also deals with a black, gay police captain losing a chance at a promotion because he refused to play into the status quo. The show is a sitcom, but it’s not one to mislead people into thinking that diversity can always win. There are repercussions as much as there are successes, and the show works because there is not only time to acknowledge this fact, but to also show how people can overcome their setbacks through the community they have built for themselves. 

In some ways, the cancellation of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” revealed how important the show has become for those who are always looking for positive representations of humanity — perhaps because it sometimes is the most accurate reflection of the world we live in. There are terrible things that happen, but by and large, many of our friends and neighbors are good, kind people who sometimes need to work through some flaws. Even if that’s not the case, it is the kind of world we can not only hope for, but work together in building.