TV: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 8)

Considering its longevity and how much I love it, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has gotten short shrift on this site, perhaps because I watch it in real-time rather than binging it in more easily analyzable chunks. Fortunately, not only did its eighth and final season zip out very quickly, but it’s an absolute gem of a farewell year, giving me a chance to write up an enthusiastic goodbye.

Created by Dan Goor and Michael Schur, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is an ensemble sitcom that might be best described as the setting of Barney Miller re-envisioned through the lens of Parks and Recreation. Set in a fictional district, it’s a structurally conventional workplace comedy focusing on the day-to-day casework of a detective squad in New York City. The initial set-up looked to get mileage out of conflict between erudite, robotic squad commander Raymond Holt (the pricelessly funny Andre Braugher) and enthusiastic man-boy detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg, in the role of his career), but quickly found its legs as a winning, fast-paced comedy about a found family. The series has had ups and downs over the years, occasionally forcing its rhythms and suffering a cancellation and revival. But thanks to its fast pace, clockwork execution, a battery of inventively deployed recurring gags, and a heartfelt core, it remained a don’t-miss series with an amazing cast that includes Stephanie Beatriz, Dirk Blocker, Terry Crews, Melissa Fumero, Joe Lo Truglio, Joel McKinnon Miller, and Chelsea Peretti, not to mention scores of talented guest stars.

Delayed by the pandemic, season eight lasts only ten episodes, and was developed with dueling pressures: one, successfully capping off of a long-running and beloved series, and two, coping with the aftermath of nationwide protests over police brutality. The writers totally kill it on both fronts. Season eight manages to balance its usual upbeat, zany style with smart, earnest storylines tailored to deal with increased public awareness of policing problems and corruption, exposed by recent civil unrest that resulted in widespread violence against peaceful protesters. These stories include a subplot involving a disillusioned Rosa Diaz (Beatriz) leaving the force to become a private detective, and regularly pitting the squad against a crooked police advocate named Frank O’Sullivan (John C. McGinley) who has made it his mission to shield the NYPD from legal accountability. These episodes manage to address serious issues, without overstepping into “very special episode” territory, all the while maintaining the show’s signature optimism and good nature. The result is a tight, well messaged, and appropriate send-off for a series ending at just the right moment—with a series finale that is just about pitch perfect. A spectacular ending.

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