In another timeline, I imagine a lot more of us would have spent our pandemic winter mainlining Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Full of warmhearted goofs, silly running gags, and the kind of mutually supportive workplace friend group that just about everyone in the world has either been too socially isolated (working from home) or too hazardously harried (working on the pandemic front lines) to be able to enjoy IRL since March of 2020, the NBC (née FOX) comedy could well have been a binge-y balm during some truly dark times.
Could have been. Conditional. The conditions in our actual timeline being, of course, the murder of George Floyd, the righteous anti-police protest movement of mid-to-late 2020, and the damning sea of copaganda all those goofs, gags and mutually supportive hangs were swimming around in. I can’t speak for every longstanding Brooklyn Nine-Nine fan out there, but even in the darkest moments of the winter surge, the very last thing I wanted to do was queue up Jake Peralta’s Greatest Hits.
Unsurprisingly, this is a sentiment that showrunner Dan Goor, along with the rest of the creative team behind B99, both empathized with and anticipated. Already deep into the writing process for what will be the series’ final season when the Black Lives Matter protests kicked into high gear last summer, the creative team (as star Terry Crews told Access Daily in late June), made the decision to scrap the four episodes of Season 8 they had already broken in order to start a new story from scratch.
Given the series’ consistently progressive approach to what justice both can and should look like—well, and the fact that Goor, together with the cast, donated $100,000 to the National Bail Fund Network, stating explicitly that they “condemn the murder of George Floyd and support the many people who are protesting police brutality nationwide”—it was easy to imagine what direction that new story might take. Still, with only a 10-episode order in hand to tell that Season 8 story, and a literal century of collaboration between cops and Hollywood to confront while doing so, it was at the same time hard to imagine how they might possibly pull it all off.
Well, friends. Having screened the first five episodes of this final season, I can officially say: I have good news, and I have bad news.
The bad news is, for all the fun fans and critics had imagining the most audacious turns the series might take to get away from the taint of the NYPD—USPIS, anyone?—Brooklyn Nine-Nine still looks committed to ending its run as a cop show. On the one hand, this is a bummer. On the other, though, I don’t know what more we could reasonably have expected. It was nice to dream about Jake, Rosa and the rest of the 9-9 resigning en masse to, I dunno, start a pizza empire or something. But it’s hard to argue, even in light of the shitshow that was 2020, a left turn that sharp would be staying true to the characters—nevermind the personal, socially conscious growth they’ve all dedicated themselves to for the last eight years.
So yes, sorry. Bad news: Brooklyn Nine-Nine is still a cop show.
The good news is, though, whatever a single half-hour broadcast comedy could possibly do to chip away at America’s hero-cop mythology, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is, in this final season, committed to at least trying. One of the 9-9 having a persona/moral revelation that results in them resigning from the force? They try it. Another having a different personal/moral revelation that results in cringey (and unsurprisingly expensive) white guilt? They try it. Another, still, trying to wade through the trenches of bad COMPSTAT data to start a pilot program to fix the NYPD from the inside out? They try that, too. And with the addition of a deliciously malicious John C. McGinley (Scrubs) as the Police Union lawyer through which all hope for meaningful reformation goes to die, they’ve found the 9-9’s perfect final narrative foil. (Not to mention setting Andre Baugher up with Holt’s simple “Ohh. This is a very frustrating conversation,” for one of his best line deliveries in recent memory.)
I don’t want to say too much more about the specific choices Goor and his team make in telling this final story in their longstanding run—in such a joke-dense show, most of them, after all, double as punchlines. But I will say for anyone worried that the series’ elevated commitment to socially-responsible storytelling might detract from what was previously its signature commitment to slapstick-filled casework and Boyle’s blue-balled euphemisms, don’t be. For every minute that Season 8 dedicates itself to confronting the need for police reform, it adds a minute of quintessential B99 tomfoolery. The entirety of Episode 2 is spent, for example, at Holt’s lake house, ostensibly for bird-watching, but also for some classic Jake Peralta scheming. Episode 4, meanwhile, puts Peralta on the trail of a riddle-loving serial killer, while Episode 5 sees the (presumably final) return of Craig Robinson as Jake’s best frenemy, the Pontiac Bandit. These episodes are just as joke-dense and fun as their funniest pre-Season 8 episodes have been, everyone from the main cast down to the guest stars putting in their full 9-9%.
Of course, as welcome as Holt’s lake house and the return of Doug Judy are, this season does have its fair share of hiccups. Skipping over not just all of 2020 but all of COVID, for example—which the season does immediately following the premiere’s cold open—may let them move to a less fraught, more “solvable” space, but it also gives the writers more easy outs than a significant share of the show’s longtime fans are likely to be happy with. That [spoiler] leaving would be the fallout of the George Floyd protests makes plenty of sense; that that would be the only fallout (at least, professionally) that the detectives of the 9-9 would have experienced throughout that summer and fall makes… less. Also, for all that COVID is put in the rearview mirror for the purposes of narrative expediency, the fact that literally no one is wearing masks to interact with the general public, or when going in and out of government buildings on various official business, is maddening. I mean, it’s truthful, sure—a recent study showed that COVID was the leading killer of active duty police officers in 2020. But it’s still maddening!
Those few quibbles aside, I’m still excited for the rest of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s final season to play out. I can’t imagine where they’ll end up—personally, I’m hoping for the most audacious ending possible—but I trust them to land somewhere good.
The final season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine premieres Thursday, August 12 on NBC with two back-to-back episodes. New episodes will air in pairs every Thursday through September 16.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.
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