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Josh Bids Farewell to Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Brooklyn Nine-Nine really grew on me.  I watched right from the start, and I always thought the series was a great deal of fun.  But slowly, the series developed from an enjoyable comedic trifle to a true comedy great.  In my mind, Brooklyn Nine-Nine stands tall among the greatest comedy TV series ever.  That’s a bold statement, but I stand by it!  The two-part “The Last Day” capped off the series’ shortened eighth and final season in grand fashion.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a show that I think is easy to underestimate or dismiss.  It might not have the dark edginess of, say, The Larry Sanders Show or Seinfeld or 30 Rock; it might not have the big ideas of, say, The Good Place; it might not have the boundary-breaking innovativeness of, say, Arrested Development or Newsradio.  But Brooklyn Nine-Nine slowly developed into a unique and wonderful show with a style and flavor all its own.

First of all, the show is tremendously funny.  It was funny right from the get-go, and as the writers and actors refined their craft and characters, the humor got better and better.  Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a gentle, upbeat show.  This might make it less “cool” than other shows, but I love TV shows that can be sweet at the same time as they’re funny.  (This is something that has been a hallmark of the work of both co-creators, Dan Goor and Mike Schur.)

For any TV show to be truly great — and this is especially critical for a comedy show — the ensemble cast must be great.  Here is where Brooklyn Nine-Nine truly shines.  The ensemble cast of this show was truly spectacular.  Andy Samberg was a big comedy star when the show was launched.  He’s been funny all the way through the series’ run as Jake Peralta, a great detective who is also a classic sort of TV man-child.  Mr. Samberg and the writing team were wise enough, though, to ensure that this show wasn’t just “The Andy Samberg Show.”  They surrounded Mr. Samberg with a team of comedy killers, each of whom could easily be a fan-favorite character.  Probably the biggest break-out surprise of the show was casting the phenomenally talented dramatic actor Andre Braugher (renowned for his run on Homicide: Life on the Street) in a comedic role as the ultra-serious police Captain Raymond Holt.  Mr. Braugher’s gravitas, and stentorian voice, because fierce comedic weapons on the show.  The series allowed Holt to get sillier as the years went on, but Mr. Braugher’s deadpan delivery could always be counted on to deliver a hilarious laugh-line.  (In fact, Mr. Braugher gets what I think is the show’s last huge laugh in the series finale with his “title of your sex movie” line.)

My favorite character on the show was probably Rosa, played by Stephanie Beatriz.  I could never get enough of Ms. Beatriz’s ultra-unflappable, tough as nails Rosa.  She was always so funny, and Rosa only got more interesting in the later years, after her character came out as bi-sexual.  (My esteem at Ms. Beatriz’s performance as Rosa grew even higher after I first heard her natural speaking voice, which is about as un-Rosa a voice as I could imagine!!)

But, truly, I deeply love this entire cast.  They’re all phenomenal.  Melissa Fumero was dynamite as the beautiful, supremely confident super-nerd Amy Santiago.  I loved that the show allowed Amy to be incredibly nerdy but didn’t fall into the usual TV trap of making her completely socially awkward.  No, Amy was in many ways one of the most “normal” characters on the show, and she was a capable detective who was just as good as Jake (if not better).  The show only sent Amy into the socially inept realm in her dealings with Captain Holt, who she worshipped; that was a great choice, as Ms. Fumero was great at that type of comedy and I loved the way her relationship with Captain Holt developed over the series.  Speaking of relationships, I also loved the way Amy and Jake’s relationship slowly developed over the run of the show.  Brooklyn Nine-Nine was never a show centered on a will they/won’t they romantic couple a la Sam and Diane or Jim and Pam.  And yet, the Amy-Jake relationship was allowed to gently and naturally develop into the sweet central heart of the show.

Terry Crews has never been better than here as the intensely focused and upbeat Terry Jeffords.  Yes, Mr. Crews’ tremendous physical condition was always a fun source of humor on the show (right up to the Kool-Aid Man jokes in the series finale), but wisely the show gave Terry lots of layers beyond that.  Mr. Crews was never funnier than showing Terry getting flustered, and the show mined that for tremendous humor.  I also loved just how weird the show allowed Terry to get (even though on the surface Terry seemed like a much more “normal” character than, say Boyle) exploring his various obsessions.  As with the show itself, one of my favorite aspects of Terry was how he always tried to be upbeat.  (The “Terry loves waking up” morning alarm on his phone that we glimpsed in the opening moments of the series finale was a perfect example!)

Joe Lo Truglio’s Charles Boyle was the most obviously bizarre character on the squad at the beginning, and the show managed the neat trick over the years of on the one hand making Boyle even more strange, as we learned more about him, but also deepening and humanizing his character so that he could grow and become a great detective and also a great father.  Mr. Lo Truglio is a brilliant comedic actor and he was great at bringing a believability to the most outlandish Boyle comment or behavior that make Boyle so funny.  I loved the way the show eventually explored and developed the entire strange Boyle clan (sort of how The Office found a lot of comedy from exploring the Schrute family…)

Chelsea Peretti’s Gina Linetti was a wonderfully unique comedic creation.  At times I felt the show struggled with how exactly to best use Gina (both because she wasn’t actually a police officer, and because Ms. Peretti’s strange and unique comedic energy seemed at times to be so different than that of the other performers on the show), but Ms. Peretti was never not hilarious on the show.  (I particularly loved the stretch of time in which she was paired up with Boyle in the middle of the show’s run.)

Then, of course, there were the two lazy, bumbling buddies Scully (Joel McKinnon Miller) and Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker).  These supporting players were elevated to the main cast for seasons 6-8.  (They even got a flashback origin episode in season six!!)  In the history of hilarious TV annoying side-characters (annoying only to the show’s characters, never the audience), Scully and Hitchcock stand tall.  (Though the real Scully and Hitchcock would presumably prefer to remain seated at all times.)

Over the years, the series has developed a fantastic repertoire of guest-stars and traditions.  I always looked forward to the annual “Halloween Heist” episode, and the annual appearance of jovial car-thief Doug Judy (played so spectacularly by Craig Robinson).  The series has had some phenomenal guest actors over its run, including but not limited to: Jimmy Smits as Amy’s father; Bradley Whitford and Katey Segal as Jake’s parents; Stephen Root as Boyle’s father; Danny Trejo as Rosa’s father (wow this show did a great job casting the parents of the main characters!!); Marc Evan Jackson as Captain Holt’s husband Kevin Cozner (I love that name); Jason Mantzoukas as Rosa’s on-again off-again unhinged boyfriend Pimento; Nicole Byer as Doug Judy’s sister Trudy Judy; Nathan Fillion as an actor playing a cop who shadows our crew in the Nine-Nine; Ed Helms as United States Postal Inspection Service Officer Jack Danger; Tim Meadows as Caleb, the friendly cannibal; Nick Offerman as Captain Holt’s ex-boyfriend; Sterling K. Brown as a murder suspect in “The Box”; Kathryn Hahn as Boyle’s ex-wife; Lin-Manuel Miranda as Amy’s brother; J.K. Simmons as a past detective colleague of Captain Holt’s; Maya Rudolph as the Marshall overseeing Jake and Holt when they’re in the Witness Protection program; Kyra Sedgwick as Holt’s nemesis Madeline Wunch; Ken Marino as C.J., the no-backbone temporary head of the squad; Dean Winter as “the Vulture”; and so many more over the years!

Brooklyn Nine-Nine was cancelled by Fox after season five, but thankfully NBC rescued the show and brought it back for three more seasons.  I’m so thankful that the series has had these extra three years!!  I was bummed that this final season was so short (only 10 episodes), but I’m happy the series was allowed to be given a proper ending.

In between the seventh and eight season, of course, the world changed with the death of George Floyd (and far too many other people of color) and the Black Lives Matter movement.  Suddenly, a silly comedy about New York City police officers seemed to be an awkward premise for a show.  Many fans of the series wondered how Brooklyn Nine-Nine would address this when it returned for its final season.  Some thought that perhaps it would be best if the show didn’t come back at all, while other fans suggested that maybe the series should magically change the jobs of the characters for the final season.  I’m glad that the show did return, and allowed the characters to continue as the same characters they’d always been.  I was impressed by the way this eighth and final season’s stories were designed to address, rather than hide from, the changes in our world.  (Reportedly the writers completely scrapped and rewrote the season’s first batch of episodes.)  I think this was the right choice.

While I’m glad this is the road the show went down, the end result, not surprisingly, wasn’t always terribly satisfying.  Brooklyn Nine-Nine hasn’t shied away from addressing more serious topics in the past.  Generally the show has been able to do that in more effective and naturalistic ways than the TV cliche of a schmaltzy “very special episode”, though the shift between a serious topic and jokes hasn’t always been the smoothest.  I felt that tension more than I’d have ideally hoped here in this final season, as the show tried to still be goofy and silly at the same time as it was depicting its characters wrestling with what it means to be a police officer in the year 2021.  Some of the tonal back-and-forth was jarring.  At the same time, how could it not be?  I feel like the creators did the best they could, and while the result was a sometimes awkwardly balanced show, I respect and applaud the makers of this show (both behind and in front of the camera), for not closing their eyes to the world we’re living in.

One of the best and most notable aspects of Brooklyn Nine-Nine has always been how special it was to have such a diverse cast, with so many people of color in the lead roles.  That’s still pretty amazing here in 2021, and it was even more special back in 2013 when the series began.  All the more so, with this cast, it made sense for the show to address today’s reality in this final season.  Unfortunately, as I noted in the above paragraph, it didn’t all work for me.  For example: John C. McGinley is a terrific comedic actor, but his new character of antagonistic head of the Patrolman’s Union Frank O’Sullivan felt awkwardly jammed in.  He was a bit too much of a straw-man evil nemesis to suit me.  The show was more successful when it tried to be more nuanced, such as Rosa’s conflicted feelings about being a cop, which led to her leaving the Nine-Nine.

This unevenness prevented season eight from being one of the best seasons.  (That honor goes to either season five or six, in my mind.)  I would have been sad about this final season’s shortened length in any situation, but I think it particularly hurt the series’ ability to really wrestle with this new status quo.  Some of these storylines and character beats would have been more effective had they had a longer run-time over which to develop.  Still, there wasn’t an episode in this final run that I didn’t enjoy.

And, to my great delight, the series finale, “The Last Day,” was a terrific final episode.  It was a great example of the type of storytelling that Brooklyn Nine-Nine always did so well: a good-hearted, twisty-turny, very funny story that also provided good closure to these characters who I’d grown to love.  The story of the finale, in which Jake — and, it turns out, several other characters — attempt to craft a “perfect goodbye” to commemorate his last day at the Nine-Nine, was a very clever attempt to address head-on the quixotic nature of crafting a “perfect goodbye” when making a finale to a long-running TV show.

The episode was filled with lovely call-backs to past episodes and the whole history of the show.  I was delighted that the overall structure of the episode was one final Heist competition among the squad-members.  I loved seeing Gina again, along with Pimento and even Fred Armisen as the fellow with the rather difficult-to-pronounce name.  I loved getting one last great “title of your sex tape” joke, as well as one last debate as to the correct pronunciation of the name of Boyle’s son.  It was fun to revisit past characters such as Wunch (when the gang visits her grave, to discover that Holt goes there weekly to put up a balloon arch) as well as Amy’s ex-boyfriend Teddy, who is still obsessed over her.  It was fun to return to the site of the stake-out from the first season in which Boyle first calls Jake his best friend, as well as revisiting the series’ best cold open (in which Jake gets his line-up of perps to sing “I Want it That Way”), and I loved the joke reference to the opening credits!  That really made me laugh.  It was great to see Hitchcock back in person.  (Though I’m not sure the weirdness of having him appear solely on video-chat for the entire final season was worth the effort.  Was Dirk Blocker not available this year, or was this all just a long build-up to his surprise appearance here??)

I’m going to miss Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  This is a show I can’t wait to go back and watch again from the beginning someday.  To Dan Goor and the rest of the Brooklyn Nine-Nine team: well done; I wish there was more.  (Title of your sex tape?)

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