In light of the Black Lives Matter protests that took place all across Canada and the United States in summer of 2020, the release of the eighth season of NBC’s comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine was delayed.
While Brooklyn Nine-Nine features a diverse ensemble cast featuring BIPOC and queer characters who often find themselves in the midst of outrageously comical mishaps, these same characters are also police detectives in New York City.
To properly address the tensions surrounding police brutality in the US in a series whose protagonists are officers themselves, the show’s writers took some much-needed time to rewrite a few of the new season’s episodes.
Until the eighth season airs, fans can only speculate as to whether Brooklyn Nine-Nine will be able to balance such a heavy subject with its normal light-hearted comedy. One way to gauge the likelihood of success, however, lies in examining its previous episodes.
In the fourth season, the episode “Moo Moo” shows Sgt. Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews) grappling with the injustice of being racially profiled by another officer when off duty at night.
The episode does a masterful job of discussing racial profiling with a healthy amount of seriousness, while incorporating comedy in an appropriate way.
What’s key about the comedy in this episode is that it does not mock or undervalue the issue of racism. At no point is a joke about racial profiling ever told at the expense of a Black person. Instead, the comedy highlights the ridiculousness of racial profiling and the people who perpetuate it.
One such comedic moment is a well-timed flashback where Det. Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) is shown breaking and entering into a home in broad daylight, wearing a goalie mask. He’s stopped by a cop but is given a pass after explaining it’s just a prank.
Outside the comical portions of the episode, the bulk of the narrative focuses on Jeffords, as he grapples with how to hold the racist cop accountable.
During a standout moment, Jeffords consults his commanding officer and fellow Black cop Cpt. Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher). In lieu of condemning the actions of the cop, Holt advises Jeffords not to file a formal complaint, highlighting the tragic reality of the oppression a Black officer would likely face after coming forward and reporting a white cop.
The stakes for Jeffords are high: reporting the officer might jeopardize any future opportunities for promotion. Holt posits that standing down now might grant Jeffords a chance to be promoted. Then, after attaining more power, Jeffords can use it to make meaningful change. But no matter the choice, Jeffords has to make a sacrifice.
The conversation is nuanced, but concise. It does an exemplary job of assessing the broad strokes of racial profiling while touching on its complexity. It achieves all this, and manages to weave in some clever quips for Jeffords and Holt. It’s nothing short of impressive.
If this level of intelligence and respect regarding racial issues is present in the newest season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, there will be nothing to worry about in terms of how it handles Black Lives Matter. This, combined with the show’s hilarity, might even provide a level of catharsis to those who’ll be watching in 2021.
Published in Volume 75, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 19, 2020)