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Brooklyn Nine-Nine strikes an "impossible balance" trying to tackle the aftermath of George Floyd

  • The NBC cop comedy returns tonight for its first episode since Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's killing of Floyd in May 2020 sparked a nationwide reckoning on police brutality and "copaganda" portrayal of cops on the small screen. Rather than avoid the Black Lives Matter protests, co-creator Dan Goor and his team have decided to tackle the controversy over bad cops head on. "When we catch up with the characters in something resembling the present day (give or take a Delta variant surge), two of the characters have left the police force, albeit for very different reasons," says Alan Sepinwall. "(The whole ensemble does return, though.) The others are still doing their jobs — just in a new context of which they are all painfully aware. The premiere involves Jake and Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) looking into a situation where a black woman was beat up by NYPD officers, who appear to have stopped her without any probable cause. As they investigate her case, they find not only systemic rot within the department, but a surrounding community of civilians who look on guys like Jake with suspicion and contempt. It’s admirable that Goor and company have chosen to directly address some of the problems that Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter protests placed more directly in the public spotlight. It’s just very tough sledding for a workplace comedy — even one as smart and sincere as this one — to tackle such a messy, seemingly intractable problem while still squeezing in jokes and more or less letting the main characters behave as normal. There’s a running gag in that first episode about how Jake keeps insisting he’s 'one of the good ones,' then acknowledging how false that sounds, yet Nine-Nine still treats him and the other regulars (well, maybe not Hitchcock and Scully) that way. It’s an impossible balance. The season’s chief villain is revealed to be the head of the police union, Frank O’Sullivan, placed by ace character actor John C. McGinley (Scrubs). On the one hand, this feels fairly true to life, as much of the recent discussion surrounding police reform has pointed to the unchecked power and influence of unions. On the other, leaning so heavily on O’Sullivan allows the show to largely sidestep the question of whether there is something fundamental to the nature of police work that keeps attracting so many Derek Chauvin types. (We never actually meet the cops who beat up the civilian, for instance.)" Sepinwall adds: "Mostly, though, continuing Brooklyn Nine-Nine in this environment just seems untenable, with these episodes not likely to satisfy either viewers who expect the show to more radically change itself, or those who just want the same series it was before months of lockdown and protests. Give the creative team credit for at least trying to acknowledge the ugliness now very publicly associated with policing, but the post-office version of Nine-Nine feels like it would have been the better way to go for a chance to spend a few more weeks with Jake and his friends."


    • There’s no way Brooklyn Nine-Nine was going to take on and dismantle the carceral system or the issue of police violence in a half-hour, or even an entire season: "Some of the season’s episodes largely ignore the cultural context altogether," says Karen Han. "Each is compelling on its own, but there’s no overall sense of direction. For instance, Captain Holt’s marriage hits the rocks due to the pressures Holt has felt as a Black police captain, but attempts to address his marital discord in subsequent episodes fail to address the source of the stress that caused it. That isn’t to say that every episode should have some grand moral—that would put the show at risk of seeming as disingenuous as Charles, who is desperate to make sure everyone notices how enlightened he’s become—but it leaves the show in a strange sort of stasis. Brooklyn Nine-Nine does the best job possible of acknowledging the problem with portraying cops as uncomplicated heroes while still remaining a good-natured, funny show, but it feels fitting, and fortunate, that this is its final season. There’s nowhere to go that won’t feel like some sort of a cop-out (no pun intended). But the show has pulled off miracles before, so the fact that the new episodes are at least thoughtful about the predicament its good-guy characters are stuck in is promising for the series’ finale—and its legacy."
    • It's hard to leave the season premiere feeling like there was a whole other episode of meatier material left behind: That is "perhaps because unpacking it might have imploded the show from the inside out," says Caroline Framke. "At the end of the day, this series is determined to make people feel better by each episode’s end, and has successfully done so for many (including this writer, who has, full disclosure, more than once called Brooklyn Nine-Nine one of her 'comfort shows'). Meaningfully addressing the consequences of police corruption would inevitably mean puncturing not just its premise, but its ultimately optimistic worldview."
    • Just because an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine isn't particularly hilarious doesn't mean it isn't good: "Everything people still adore about the show remains intact, particularly in a subplot involving Sergeant Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) diving into her fear that her strange, geeky chemistry with Holt is off," says Melanie McFarland. "Her efforts may be teeing up to something more serious but getting there is entertaining enough. It's hard to envy the position in which Brooklyn Nine-Nine finds itself. As a cop show it can't ignore what's going on in the real world and in its streets. As a show saved from one network's cancellation by dedicated fans, it's obligated to reward that loyalty with a worthy send-off. None of the five episodes provided for review contain any reasons for fans to turn it off, I'm happy to report. Indeed, the show incorporates our changed view of policing into a season-long arc involving (John C.) McGinley while still finding time for farcical misadventures, including a delightful send-off for Craig Robinson's recurring guest character Doug Judy."
    • Saying goodbye to Brooklyn Nine-Nine is more difficult for Latinx fans: "Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a rare show, and not just because it’s a hilarious long-running network comedy in the golden age of streaming," says Tamara Fuentes. "The series—which is about to take its final bow with season 8—features not one but two Latina leads in its stacked cast, an unfortunate rarity in entertainment these days. While this might not seem like a big deal to the casual fan, it means a lot to me and many other Latinx viewers who have struggled to see themselves reflected on TV for years. In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, for once I got to see two very different Latinas be funny without falling into the 'sexy Latina' stereotype. Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz) is serious in an I-will-kill-you-if-you-cross-me way, but she also shows a very soft side to her friends and coworkers. Amy (Melissa Fumero) has a traditional type-A personality which eventually breaks away little by little through the seasons. Rosa and Amy both have fleshed out backstories, families you get to know, and character arcs that feature them growing in unique ways. It’s uncommon and desperately needed representation, but Latinx fans aren’t the only ones happily surprised to see Rosa and Amy share the same screen together."
    • Presenting Brooklyn Nine-Nine's 17 essential episodes

    TOPICS: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, NBC, George Floyd, Black Lives Matter