We can’t talk about the Season 8 premiere of Brooklyn Nine-Nine without first talking about everything else.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has never shied away from diving headfirst into heavy stuff in the past. Two of the show’s best episodes are centered around things that most other workplace comedies wouldn’t even think of even trying to approach: “Moo-Moo” (which found Sgt. Jeffords being a victim of racial profiling at the hands of another officer) and “Show Me Going” (which put Rosa in the middle of an active shooting situation and followed her coworkers as they tried to deal with the stress of not knowing whether she was safe). So in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, showrunners Dan Goor and Michael Schur did the unprecedented: completely scrapping everything they had written for the show’s upcoming eighth season and starting over. Shortly afterwards came the second big piece of news that hangs over the new season: Season 8 was going to be the end of the line.
Fortunately, what we get in “The Good Ones” is mostly the same Brooklyn Nine-Nine we know and love: a funny, well-written sitcom with one of the best and most diverse casts of any show in the last few years, while also being unafraid to directly take on big topics and handle them in a way that doesn’t suffer from Very Special Episode syndrome. But there’s an even greater sense of real world awareness present than what we’ve seen in years past. It doesn’t always land—I personally gritted my teeth when Rosa was complaining about “having to share a WeWork with a Twitter influencer”—but it gets it right where it’s really important.
Like many episodes of Nine-Nine, “The Good Ones” pairs its characters off and gives each pair their own mini storyline. Amy is worried that maternity leave has affected her relationship with Holt and tries to fix things by following advice from a relationship book. This is mostly standard Nine-Nine fare, but it does lead to one of the episode’s most raw discussions on how difficult the past year has been—for all of us, but especially for people of color.
Meanwhile, Terry has to deal with Boyle trying to be more “woke” and going about it in some of the most cringeworthy, inappropriate ways imaginable: going to a black barbershop and getting a style of haircut only ever worn by black men, wearing African attire on Juneteenth, and Venmoing money to Terry for what he calls “mini reparations”. Most of the comedy of the episode comes from this storyline, with Amy/Holt following close behind, while also serving as an excellent sendup of the “performative woke” types commonly found on social media, who make a big deal out of “being aware” in the sense that it gets them attention while also not doing anything tangible to address the issues at hand.
But the big storyline of the day—and the heart and soul of “The Good Ones”—goes to Jake and Rosa. In the cold open of the episode, Rosa interrupts Jake and Boyle’s demonstration of their solution for the all-important problem of how to give a high five while maintaining social distancing to drop a bombshell: she’s turned in her resignation and is leaving the Nine-Nine.
When we pick up in Spring 2021—yes, the show mostly does a time skip over COVID-19—Rosa is now working as an independent PI and hasn’t been seen by her friends at the Nine-Nine in a matter of months. When she shows up at a celebration for Amy’s return from maternity leave, we find out that she’s recently picked up a difficult case: a black woman has been assaulted by two police officers in another precinct and is now facing charges after one of them wound up with a broken finger. Jake happens to have a history with the captain there and is convinced that she will help them, so Rosa agrees to take him along.
What follows is an almost cartoonish sort of “greatest hits” of all the ways in which the police system protects its own, mixed in with a strong dose of the…new attitude that many people now have towards police officers: an incomplete report by the offending officers that amounts to “Suspect had suspicious item. Scary.”; the head of the police union who physically stands between the pair and justice a la George Wallace, blocking the doorway of the rookie officer they want to take a statement from and ranting about how no one is treated as horribly as police officers; bodycam footage that everyone involved acknowledges was tampered with but knows will never be proven; a captain who, upon receiving that footage, erases it and gives Jake and Rosa a lengthy lecture on just how difficult it is to actually fire an officer and that the only person who would wind up facing any sort of punishment would be herself.
Like many great Nine-Nine episodes, “The Good Ones” takes full advantage of leading man Andy Samberg’s willingness to be the fool, the well-meaning but in some way ignorant person in need of an adjustment to their worldview. Throughout the episode, Jake insists that he’s one of “the good ones”, when everything around him is saying that “the good ones”—at least, his idea of “the good ones”—don’t exist. They can’t exist. When so much of the system is geared towards protecting their own, even from internal investigations, the good ones wind up having to settle for an uneasy tolerance of the bad ones—if they don’t wind up leaving altogether. As Rosa tells Jake, leaving the Nine-Nine was the most difficult decision she has ever had to make, but she couldn’t ignore the problems of the system she’d been a part of anymore.
Each storyline ends in a similar way: a heart-to-heart between the two characters involved. Terry tells Boyle that his heart is in the right place, but the way he’s been approaching things is only making things uncomfortable for everyone else. Holt comes clean to Amy about the toll that the year has taken on him both physically and mentally, to the extent that he and his husband Kevin have separated.
A lot of what’s going on is laying the groundwork for the rest of the season—the second episode of the night, “The Lake House”, centers around Jake trying to help Holt and Kevin mend the rift in their relationship. But if the ambiguous note that the Jake/Rosa storyline hits is anything to go by, it seems as though Brooklyn Nine-Nine isn’t going to be shying away from the big question of whether or not a show like it can even exist in 2021.
As Holt tells Amy, “It’s been a tough year to be a black man, a police captain, and a human.” There’s always been a strange dichotomy about Brooklyn Nine-Nine: it’s a show about police that portrays them in a mostly positive light, largely loved by a demographic of people who have very good reasons to be wary of the very institution of the police. The show comes back to us fully aware of how difficult things have been and continue to be for all of us. It’s also aware that by the very nature of its premise, it can’t fully settle back into the role of comfort viewing that it’s become for so many people in the same way. Brooklyn Nine-Nine probably won’t give us an answer as to whether or not “good cops” can exist, but it does seem to be aware that a show about “good cops” doesn’t really seem to have a place in the world right now.
At least we get a chance to say a proper goodbye.