The world today is scary, with a side order of grim, so it is understandable that one can be so cynical of the times we live in, particularly when it comes to the government or law enforcement.
Michael Schur, one of the pioneering names in today’s era of American network television comedy, crafted, alongside Greg Daniels, Parks and Recreation, a comedy series that addressed the problems with modern government, while giving us characters within that world that we wished existed simply because they tried to do the right thing within it, even when the rest of the world, or in the show’s case the town of Pawnee, Indiana, tried to bring them down a notch.
One of the other prominent names on Parks and Recreation was Dan Goor, who wrote and directed several key episodes, not to mention the lyrics to the popular song within the show “5000 Candles in the Wind”. Taking a similar attitude to its lead characters, not to mention good-hearted nature, to a police precinct setting, Goor and Schur crafted Brooklyn Nine-Nine, arguably one of the best comedy shows on television right now. The biggest competition probably comes from another Schur creation: The Good Place.
Entering its fifth season on UK television, which has been running since the fall in the US, the series has gone from strength to strength, mixing hilarious comedy. astute observation, wonderful characters that manage to subvert our expectations at every turn, not to mention giving us a group of characters who you badly wished really worked in law enforcement, all the while dealing head on with issues that many of us have with the police force in real life.
Not for nothing does Brooklyn Nine-Nine make us laugh hysterically with its plethora of brilliant story telling, one liners and ongoing jokes, but can also throw in important plot lines and themes, such as “Moo-Moo” in which the character of Terry (a frequently scene stealing Terry Crews) becomes the victim of police racism. The episode is still deeply funny, but the dialogue, not to mention a key conversation between Terry and Captain Holt (Andre Braugher, who I will praise to the heavens shortly) cuts very deep and for a series that can brilliantly revel in increasingly silly humour, it cannot help but leave a massive lump in the throat.
That such an important and real conversation can come from a series in which the lead character constantly references Die Hard, not to mention brilliantly withering put downs delivered by Chelsea Peretti, is testament as to why the series is one of the absolute best comedies currently on the air. It can make you laugh out loud, or chuckle along throughout its twenty two minute run time, but every once in a while it can make you stop and truly appreciate its handling of some potent and powerful themes.
Like all brilliant sitcoms, or single-camera comedy series, the show is made up of such a wonderful ensemble cast that to pick a favourite is would almost be too difficult, if not for the fact that there is one clear stand out and that is Captain Raymond Holt, but thankfully the series never lets him dominate too much and one finds themselves loving equally Jake, Amy, Charles (whose family gets increasingly weird it seems with each passing episode), Gina, Rosa, Terry, Hitchcock and Scully. The entire cast is superb, with no weak member to bring it down, but in the middle of it all is Braugher’s superb dead-pan performance as Holt.
An openly gay character, but his sexuality is never once played for laughs or used as a way to ridicule him. In fact, his marriage to Kevin (an equally dead pan Marc Evan Jackson, another Schur-regular) is shown to be loving and wonderful, even if they are the most deadpan couple in history, while the butt of the jokes featuring Holt is down to his dry nature and those moments when he sometimes lets loose a little, such as when he declares his chopper call sign as Velvet Thunder, or his “vindication” when Rosa exclaims how much she loves the wedding arch he’s built using balloons.
It’s portrayals like this, warm-hearted, natural, and funny, with a side order of wonderful silliness, that make the series an undisputed highlight of television right now. It adheres somewhat to the Parks and Rec/Office formula, but does so in a way that it feels completely its own.
Yes, some of the characters and their personalities feel like those from Parks (Amy has a thing for making binders which is very Leslie Knope, while Gina recalls the comedic intensity of April Ludgate), while it has a lovely habit of making its central romantic relationships work instead of mining them for obvious drama; Jake and Amy have a will they/won’t they thing going on for the first two seasons, and once they get together they stay together and navigate their romance with maturity and humour, while Raymond and Kevin are shown to have their squabbles, but they always make it work and never love each other any less even if they have a disagreement.
While Jake and Amy don’t quite reach the heights of Leslie and Ben (understandable as the Parks and Rec couple are one of television’s all time great romances), Samberg and Fumero are so damn adorable you can’t help but cheer them on.
Like all things brilliant about the series, it subverts character expectations at every turn; Peralta looks as if he’s going to be an atypical immature leading male character, and yet for all his predilection for being something of a class clown, he is shown to be a pretty good cop who legitimately cares for his friends, with real respect for Holt, whole Amy’s uptight nature belies someone who is sweet and brilliant at what she does, while her desire for Holt’s respect is played beautifully instead of as a comedic flaw.
Then there is Rosa. This upcoming season will see the intensely dedicated and sometimes hilariously tough character be given what looks to be one of the series’ best storylines, not to mention, like with the portrayal of racism last season, it being dealt with beautifully, honestly, and realistically. Like everyone else on the show, Stephanie Beatriz’s performance is simply wonderful.
The most despairing thing about the series is that it is currently in danger of being cancelled. Five seasons is a good run for any television show, but the series is one that is a light in very dark times. We live in an era when trust of the police is an at all time low, and with governments in the western world seemingly wanting to point towards prejudices that border on the extreme, there is something incredibly comforting about Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It never shies away from some darker truths, but it wraps it up in a bow that can make one laugh and one just a touch more hopeful.
Jake, Amy, Holt, Terry, Charles, Rosa, Gina, Hitchcock and Scully may not be real, but the series has a feel good factor that makes one wish they were. Sure, it’s not a realistic depiction of police work, but that the series throws in reminders of real world concerns, such as racism, homophobia and sexism, and deals with them head on in a way that is brilliantly real, while making us laugh, is a toxic for the days when we have to deal with racism, homophobia and sexism from those in power and really ought to know better.
It truly a bright light to emanate from our television, and hopefully it may continue for a while yet.