There are plenty of reasons why Brooklyn Nine-Nine, starring Andy Samberg as the goofy Detective Jake Peralta, has resonated so deeply with fans: Its stellar ensemble cast, subtly progressive politics, and elaborately silly sense of humor have allowed the show to worm its way into viewers’ hearts in the five years since it premiered. For me, though, the marvel of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is this: It’s a good-natured comedy in which all the protagonists are members of the New York Police Department — and we root for them wholeheartedly.
When Fox announced yesterday that it was canceling three sitcoms — Last Man on Earth, The Mick, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine — the loudest protestations came from fans of the Nine-Nine, who let out a collective tweet of anguish when the news broke. Already, Hulu, Netflix, and NBC have shown interest in reviving the series, which is two episodes away from finishing its fifth season. (Unfortunately for this fan of The Mick, starring It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Kaitlin Olson, no one seems to be making a Hail Mary pass to save that series.) Someone should swoop in and come to the show’s rescue, because it’s a minor miracle that a sitcom about a group of lovable police officers has managed to thrive in this day and age — and not just among the typical network sitcom audience, which tends to skew old (and white), but among that coveted 18–49 demographic, too.
That was no mean feat, given the show’s context: In the months following its second-season premiere, there were waves of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in New York City — demonstrations in which tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest, among other recent deaths at the hands of police officers, the killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island. It’s hard to imagine similar scenes taking place in the Brooklyn of Nine-Nine.
The question of whether any show could make cops funny in this landscape loomed from the beginning. In a Comedy Central roast of James Franco that aired a few weeks before Brooklyn Nine-Nine premiered in 2013, Bill Hader quipped, “Andy Samberg, looking forward to your new show Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Funny cops. You’re always pushing the envelope, Andy. What’s going to happen when you run out of funny crimes like graffiti and pickpockets? Can’t wait to see episode 10 when Brooklyn Nine-Nine has to deal with a rape. ‘Oh, I dropped the rape kit. Sporgie Dorg!’ ”
Of course, unlike The Office — which Brooklyn Nine-Nine co-creator Michael Schur wrote for, and which extracted humor from its aggressively mundane and depressingly realistic office-park setting — the world of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is heightened rather than flattened. Tonally, the show has more in common with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Broad City, both of which also take place in a somewhat exaggerated version of New York City, which isn’t always pleasant but rarely feels truly dangerous.
As Brooklyn Nine-Nine progressed, though, it slowly began to confront the high-profile problems facing the real NYPD. Last season, the series finally dealt with the systemic racism plaguing so many police departments in an episode in which Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews) is arrested while off duty, for no reason other than a white cop felt he looked suspicious. In that same season, the deadpan Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) came out as bisexual, a story line that made the show’s queer fans jump for joy. (Beatriz herself took to Twitter to reveal her bisexuality in 2016.) It’s depressing this was remarkable in any way, but from the start the show stood out for its casting of two Latinx actors — Beatriz and Melissa Fumero, who plays Jake’s partner and love interest, Amy Santiago — a decision that surprised both performers, who couldn’t believe neither of them had been tokenized. This was not your grandfather’s NYPD.
So here’s hoping we get more time with this unicorn of a sitcom, which after a couple of seasons of fine-tuning has undeniably struck a chord with viewers. These days, it’s rare for a network sitcom to inspire the kind of outpouring of enthusiasm we saw yesterday. It’s rarer still to associate that kind of positive enthusiasm with the cops. If the real-life NYPD had any PR sense, it would hop on board this train, too.