SPOILER ALERT: This piece includes spoilers for “The Good Ones,” the eighth season premiere of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” airing Aug. 12 on NBC.
The eighth and final season of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” opens by immediately establishing that it will, in fact, be taking place in our pandemic reality rather than sidestepping it for convenience’s sake. First, a masked Jake (Andy Samberg) and Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) demonstrate their solution for socially distanced high-fives involving broom handles and rubber gloves. Then, their taciturn coworker Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz) throws them into further chaos by announcing that she’s quitting, a choice she later chalks up to the George Floyd protests making police brutality too big an issue for her to ignore anymore.
With that twist, the show makes plain that it won’t be dodging the thorny questions of ethics in policing that last summer’s protests pushed to the forefront — at least not for this one episode. The season premiere addresses the issues in calculated doses so as to keep the series’ basic premise intact. No matter how progressive “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has taken pains to be — both in spirit and with starring roles for characters like bisexual Latina detective Rosa and the precinct’s gay Black captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher) — there’s only so much it can do to mitigate the fact that it is, at its core and heart, a slapstick comedy about cops.
“The Good Ones,” co-written by David Phillips and Dewayne Perkins, does its best to tackle the ongoing controversies around the police, systemic corruption, and community distrust of all the above. In addition to Rosa resigning, Boyle spends the episode annoying his Black boss Terry (Terry Crews) with anti-racist talking points that are as well-meaning as they are deeply annoying. Rosa, now a P.I. trying to help victims of police brutality, agrees to work with Jake on a case only to realize he’s just doing it to prove that “not all” cops are so bad. Amy (Melissa Fumero), back from maternity leave, spirals when she thinks she’s lost Holt’s affection, until he finally admits to her that he’s so shaken up from the year’s events that he’s barely been keeping it together. On paper, each of these story threads makes perfect sense for the world that “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has established, in which its self-consciously “progressive” precinct is an exception within the more obviously backwards machine of the NYPD writ large.
And yet, it’s hard not to leave “The Good Ones” feeling like there was a whole other episode of meatier material left behind, perhaps because unpacking it might have imploded the show from the inside out. At the end of the day, this series is determined to make people feel better by each episode’s end, and has successfully done so for many (including this writer, who has, full disclosure, more than once called “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” one of her “comfort shows”). Meaningfully addressing the consequences of police corruption would inevitably mean puncturing not just its premise, but its ultimately optimistic worldview.
Take Rosa’s resignation, the season’s clearest response to the real world and biggest creative swing overall. On the one hand, it makes total sense that Rosa, a person who only barely tolerates working alongside other people at all, would be the one to take the drastic step of leaving policing altogether. On the other, it’s downright jarring that no one else seems to have had the same debate with themselves. They’ve barely even reconsidered the nature of what they do beyond how uncomfortable it is that more people feel empowered to look at them with disdain. When Amy comes back from maternity leave and excitedly asks for “everything that happened” while she was gone, the first answer is that resident dirtbag Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker) retired. They’re all sad that Rosa quit, of course, but basically understand it as a personal choice on her part that’s irrelevant to their own experiences. Jake and Rosa get some scenes with real teeth to them, especially as she calls him out on centering himself in her experiences — but her storyline is otherwise presented in something of a vacuum from the rest of the show.
Over the course of its previous seven seasons, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has gone of out of its way to make its main cast of characters unusually diverse and compassionate, purposefully upending expectations of what “a cop show” should be and look like from the beginning. It’s even occasionally tackled issues like racial profiling, homophobia and dirty cops in a way that acknowledges even “the good ones” are working within a hopelessly arcane system. Given all that, and how invested most of the characters are in the greater good, how is Rosa the only one to even consider that she no longer wants to be part of a cop show at all?
Maybe most frustrating, or else representative of the opportunities lost in the premiere, is the final admission from Holt. As is his way, Braugher acts the hell out of it, imbuing Holt’s signature stoicism with the reluctant pain the moment requires. But the only reason his complex feelings carry over into the next episode — “The Lakehouse,” which aired immediately following “The Good Ones” — is because they adversely affected his marriage. We don’t hear anything about how Holt feels about being a gay, Black police captain in 2021 beyond that it’s hard. And when Amy tells the rest of the group about their conversation in “The Lakehouse,” it’s only to inform them of Holt’s potential divorce rather than his feeling the existential weight of being a Black police captain.
Holt and Amy have always had a lovely friendship, but tying this revelation to it is a waste of a potentially even more powerful moment. It also makes it even more plain that there should’ve been another episode taking place well before the events of “The Good Ones” that would allow everyone to have their own reactions to more people questioning the foundation of their profession in realer time. At the very least, it would have been incredibly impactful to include even a single interaction between Holt and Rosa, the two seemingly most affected. The only indication we get of how Holt reacted to her resignation is that, as he insists in “The Good Ones,” it had “nothing to do with us.”
Integrating the ripple effects of last summer into the show’s final season is an admirable choice that demonstrates “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”’s longstanding determination to be … well, one of The Good Ones. But its struggle to do so in these opening episodes also proves how impossible it is for a show about cops, no matter how thoughtful and funny, to be as progressive or self-reflective as this one strives to be.