tv review

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Is Back, Thank God

Melissa Fumero and Andy Samberg in Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Melissa Fumero and Andy Samberg in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Photo: Vivian Zink/NBC

Spoilers for Brooklyn Nine-Nine season six below.

When a canceled TV show is raised from the dead, it brings up a mixture of two specific emotions. First, there’s joy and a sense of reprieve. It was a near miss! It was almost gone, but now it’s been rescued! But underneath that, there’s a niggling feeling of concern. What if the show feels different now? What if it’s run out of things to say? What if it should’ve gone out on top, and now its memory will be saddled with this unfortunate and unnecessary final chapter? I have seen the first two episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s new season — the first since the sitcom was canceled by Fox and then saved by NBC — and I am delighted to report that you can put the little voice of concern to rest. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is just as goofy, warm, fast-moving, and funny as ever.

Even better, the new season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine seems to be doing exactly what any show in its sixth season should do. It’s not reinventing itself whole cloth, but it does look like the writers asked themselves how best to use this gift of more time, and what else Brooklyn Nine-Nine might have to say about the world right now. I’m sure the new season will feature many classic B99 gags, and it’ll be full of references, callbacks, and happy heartwarming friendship silliness. Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) will still love Captain Holt, his wife Amy Santiago, and Die Hard. Amy (Melissa Fumero) will still love notebooks and organization; Terry (Terry Crews) will still love yogurt and working out and his family; Charles (Joe Lo Truglio) will still love Jake and Dianne Wiest; and Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher) will still love his husband Kevin, his dog Cheddar, and the works of John Philip Sousa. But it’s clear in the first two episodes of season six that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is also going to tilt itself toward new ground.

The first episode picks up where the last season left off: Jake and Amy have just gotten married, and Captain Holt is about to reveal whether he’s been selected as the new commissioner of the NYPD. Naturally, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has to pull a few obvious moves to make sure that Holt will stay in the squad room rather than abandoning them all for a new job. But he’s not thrilled about it, and in a silly, implausible twist of fate, a seriously depressed Raymond Holt ends up crashing Jake and Amy’s romantic resort honeymoon (because of course he does).

I don’t mean to spoil the premise of the first episode (although if you’re a loyal B99 viewer, I trust you know by now that the delight of the show is never ever going to be in unexpected plot twists). But this premise becomes a smart way for Brooklyn Nine-Nine to do a little navel-gazing about itself and what the show’s still doing on TV. “I thought if I played by the NYPD’s rules and didn’t make any waves, one day I would rise to a position where I could make meaningful change,” Holt says. Now, he’s figured out that if he wants to actually create reform, he needs to speak up about what he wants. He wants to go directly to the mayor and talk about how vigilante police practices are harmful and unjust. He wants to make noise about the things he thinks are unfair. And at the end of the episode, Holt makes a very dramatic statement that sounds like both an arc for the season, and a conscious choice for Brooklyn Nine-Nine to be more out loud about what it means to be a cop show in 2019.

It’s a noticeable choice for the show, which could so easily have pivoted straight toward a greatest-hits plan for this sixth season. Thank goodness it didn’t: As Jake and Amy note at one point in the premiere episode, with no small amount of exasperation, it’s not as though all crime has been eradicated from Brooklyn, or that the problems of police and community relationships have been solved. If Brooklyn Nine-Nine is going to keep being a feel-good show about how the greatest powers in life are friendship and love, it feels right for it to acknowledge that it is also still a cop show, and to make at least some small gestures toward what that might mean. Holt decides to fight his own Establishment, and I have to believe that’s a statement that’s meant to resonate with [gestures broadly at surrounding world].

Even within that new frame, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is still unmistakably itself. The second episode of the season — which kicks off with a flashback to the shiny ’80s heyday of the show’s two dummy characters, Hitchcock and Scully — is absolutely delicious. There are mild internecine feuds inside the squad room, the bread and butter of any workplace comedy. There are also laser-accurate cultural callouts that remind us that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is written by consummate TV fans; at one point, Jake tells Holt that he hasn’t seen him this happy “since they picked up The Durrells in Corfu for a fourth season.” (The Durrells in Corfu! Is my mother secretly on the Brooklyn Nine-Nine writing staff?!)

It’s easy to forget because Brooklyn Nine-Nine does its job so well, but this is a fundamentally an escapist show. In its sixth season, though, it’s trying to be that without forgetting that it’s also set inside an arm of the government meant to enforce a fundamentally unjust status quo, at a time when the status quo seems to be on the verge of catastrophic collapse. That balancing act is no mean feat.

If it wanted to take the easy way out, Brooklyn Nine-Nine could’ve followed the guidance of Holt’s and my mother’s favorite show, The Durrells in Corfu. That show is a beautiful period-piece confection about a British family led by a single mother who decides to throw up her hands at the trouble of her current life and decamp to the Greek island of Corfu, where everything is sunny and full of olives, and life has problems but everything is mostly okay. Brooklyn Nine-Nine could’ve, in its later years, decided to move to Corfu, as it were. It could’ve turned away from the world and gone the route of pure pleasure, becoming so buoyant and weightless that it drifted off into its own world. I love that aspect of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I love the gags and the goofiness and the enormous mumps and the pranks. I want that escapism to be the biggest part of the show, but at the same time, I’m so glad that it’s taking this gift of a sixth season to also stay firmly tied to the ground.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Is Back, Thank God