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17 Essential Brooklyn Nine-Nine Episodes

Photo: NBC

This week, the men and women of New York’s 99th precinct will gather one last time as Brooklyn Nine-Nine reveals its eighth and final season, capping off more than 150 episodes of consistent and impressive workplace comedy. The season was recalibrated in response to the events of 2020, and it still remains to be seen what this cop comedy will look like now that “copaganda” has become a familiar term. But we can be reasonably sure that whatever else it does in its final ten episodes, Brooklyn Nine-Nine will continue its focus on what has become the show’s biggest asset: one of the best TV ensembles of the last decade.

Sure, multiple-Emmy nominees Andre Braugher and Andy Samberg are the faces of the show, but one of the great joys of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the extent to which it is a true ensemble endeavor, and choosing the show’s essential episodes requires highlighting great performers like Stephanie Beatriz (as Detective Rosa Diaz), Terry Crews (as Sergeant/Lieutenant Terry Jeffords), Joe Lo Truglio (Detective Charles Boyle), and the entire gang, as well as a rotating troupe of guest stars. These 17 episodes chart the progression of that ensemble, providing some of the show’s most memorable character-based moments and evolving gags (on that note, we stuck with one Doug Judy, one Pimento, and one Halloween Heist episode for this list). We’ve also noted a special commendation for the standout performer in each one, but it can’t be overstated how much the success of Brooklyn Nine-Nine comes from its remarkable cast chemistry. There are often highlights, but rarely lowlights. In chronological order …

“Pontiac Bandit” (Season 1, Episode 12)

After a relatively rocky start to the series, this is right around when creators Dan Goor and Mike Schur and the writers started to settle into their characters, displaying a greater knowledge of their performers’ individual strengths. This episode marks the first appearance of Doug Judy (played perfectly by Craig Robinson), an identity thief who promises to help Jake find his nemesis, a notorious car thief named the Pontiac Bandit. Rosa instantly senses that Doug is pulling some sort of scam, and the dynamic between Diaz and Peralta elevates the episode, defying a “dumb guy who stumbles into solving the case” setup of so many cop sitcoms — Jake doesn’t solve the case and he doesn’t trust his partner, even when she says, “1,000 push-ups,” their code for absolute confidence. The B-plot here is solid too, as Boyle returns from being shot, forcing everyone to be so nice to him that they even allow him to order lunch (a.k.a. “horrifying adventures in diarrhea”). And a scene where Holt admonishes the team for mistreating Boyle while holding two adorable puppies is an early example of what would become one of the show’s strengths: undercutting traditional notions of masculinity.

Special Commendation: Joe Lo Truglio. Robinson and Samberg are fantastic in the first example of their increasingly great buddy/nemesis chemistry, but this is an episode that allowed Lo Truglio to break out of Boyle’s regrettable season-one Diaz infatuation and show off his excellent physical-comedy abilities and his character’s culinary fearlessness.

“The Bet” (Season 1, Episode 13)

Two in a row! The week after the first essential episode, Brooklyn Nine-Nine really started developing what would become a key relationship: the one between Jake and Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero). It’s revealed that the two overachievers have had a long-running bet to see who can catch the larger number of bad guys. If Amy wins, she gets Jake’s car. If Jake wins, Amy has to go on the “worst date ever” with him. By putting his finger on the scale and running a vice sting at the last minute to net a van full of johns, Jake wins and goes about setting up the most tragic evening he can conceive, including an improvised re-creation of the dance from Titanic and a vicious children’s choir. But plans change when they’re forced to go on a stakeout together, allowing Samberg and Fumero to really build their chemistry. To cap it off, the B-plot about Boyle taking prescription medication that turns him into a brutal truth-teller is one of the season’s funniest.

Special Commendation: Melissa Fumero. Andre Braugher gets some great beats as he keeps saying the wrong thing to Terry and his wife about Terry’s return to the field, but Fumero nails the balance between Amy’s competitive nature and being a good sport, willing to go along with Jake’s silly bet and even having a good time before the night is over. It’s an episode that now feels formative to the character.

“The Jimmy Jab Games” (Season 2, Episode 3)

When the father figures of the 99 are away, the kids will play. One of the most playful and goofy early episodes of the show is also a spiritual precursor to the series’s soon-to-be-established tradition of heist episodes. The Jimmy Jab Games (a horrible mangling of the name Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believe it or not) are a series of challenges like eating expired Chinese food or a footrace in anti-bomb suits, allowing the cast to really play up their strengths with physical comedy. Weaving Jake’s increasing interest in Amy into the plot of a truly goofy chapter, it’s also an episode that shows how deftly the writers were starting to balance character and situation on this show. Most importantly? It’s really funny.

Special Commendation: Chelsea Peretti. One of the supporting MVPs of Nine-Nine when she was on the show, Peretti often stole entire episodes with just a scene or two. Such is the case with this one, as Gina panics after Boyle allows a tape that would reveal their affair to get into the hands of Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker).

“Beach House” (Season 2, Episode 12)

By this point, Brooklyn Nine-Nine had won a Best Comedy Golden Globe, and the show’s growing confidence was evident in its sophomore season. There are a number of strong episodes in the first half of the year, but this one is easily the best, and maybe the first great episode of the series. Boyle invites the precinct to party at his ex-wife’s beach house, but Captain Holt finds out about it and talks his way into an invite. What follows is a classic sitcom setup of the boss who doesn’t know how to relax with his employees, but it allows the cast room to explore new comedy angles, working from character instead of situation. From the uncomfortable awkwardness of sitting in a hot tub (with no bubbles, of course, per Holt’s request) to Gina’s chart of how different Amy is after each drink (she dreams of one day seeing “six-drink Amy”), it’s an episode filled with great scenes rooted in specific character dynamics.

Special Commendation: Andre Braugher. Let’s be honest, he could be the MVP of every episode, but he’s particularly great in this one, as Holt recognizes that he is allowing himself to become increasingly vulnerable with the precinct. The look on his face when he realizes that everyone is having the actual party without him is heartbreaking.

“Johnny and Dora” (Season 2, Episode 23)

Brooklyn Nine-Nine embraces a classic tenet of the TV sitcom — the season-ending cliffhanger — and one of its biggest came at the end of season two. However, this episode would probably be essential even without Wuntch (Kyra Sedgwick) finally defeating her nemesis, leading to a cliffhanger about the identity of Holt’s replacement as captain of the 99. After all, it’s the one where Jake and Amy kiss for the first time. The initial smooches are just part of the job, as they pretend to be newlyweds Johnny and Dora to catch an identity thief, but the final one is for real. This is a great episode when it comes to balancing situational humor with pushing the characters forward. It’s confident, self-assured, and very funny, nailing its ending in a way that had fans counting the days to the start of season three. Remember when shows used to do that every May?

Special Commendation: Andy Samberg. Really, anyone could have gotten it for this episode, especially Fumero and Braugher, but this is really Samberg’s chapter as he finally gets the confidence to push his relationship with Amy forward. By this point in the run, Samberg has figured out Jake’s boyish charm while also understanding how he can be the center of the show without stealing focus.

“Yippie Kayak” (Season 3, Episode 10)

Anyone with even passing knowledge of Brooklyn Nine-Nine probably knows that leading man Jake Peralta’s favorite movie is the admittedly perfect action flick Die Hard, and it only took the writers two and a half seasons to give their hero his chance to be John McClane. Jake, Boyle, and Gina head to a store to buy a late Christmas gift when it’s taken over by criminals, finally giving Peralta his first “Die Hard moment.” At the same time, Amy tries to join Holt and Rosa on a Polar Club swim, only to be reminded that she’d rather be just about anywhere else. Throw in a cameo by the Vulture (Dean Winters), and you have a great centerpiece for season three, an episode rich in humor, references, and heart. It’s an episode that pays homage to an action classic without ever really directly satirizing it. It’s not so much a Die Hard episode as a reminder of how much Jake Peralta loves Die Hard. There’s a difference.

Special Commendation: Andy Samberg. Two in a row seems a little wrong, but this one definitely belongs to Jake, and not for the obvious reasons. What could have been just a silly tribute to Die Hard becomes a playful exploration of character, as much a Christmas episode as an action-driven one, fitting the movie even more perfectly. Although it’s tempting to give this to Lo Truglio just for his delivery of “Yippie Kayak, Other Buckets!”

“Coral Palms” (Season 4, Episodes 1–3)

Season three ended with Jake and Holt being targets of a crime lord named Jimmy “The Butcher” Figgis (Eric Roberts), sending them into hiding in Florida under the Witness Relocation Program. Season four opens with a three-episode arc that essentially counts as one long one, at least for our purposes. Jake and Holt are stuck in Florida — in fact, they’re the only two members of the regular cast in the first episode, making them the only two performers to appear in every episode of the series to date — while the rest of the 99 have to go on a road trip to get them back. Ken Marino guest-stars as the deadpan idiot captain C.J. while Jim O’Heir and Roberts add their own flavors to a very funny trio of episodes that help transition the show from the inconsistent third season into the fourth one, sending Figgis off in style and revealing how much the relationship between Amy and Jake is going to define the year. It also sets the stage for the precinct to be relegated to night duty for defying C.J.’s orders, which results in a brief but welcome change in tone.

Special Commendation: Andre Braugher. For how he adjusts to life in Florida, but mostly for the way he calmly walks Jake through his nausea and discomfort while removing a rod from his own leg.

“Moo Moo” (Season 4, Episode 16)

Brooklyn Nine-Nine started off relatively progressive but became more so with each passing season. Still, at about 100 episodes in, the show hadn’t really touched on race relations between the NYPD and the citizens of New York until this tense episode, in which an officer racially profiles Terry when he’s out of uniform in his own neighborhood. Some of it sounds a little overwritten at times, but Braugher and Crews really push through that aspect, especially in a conversation between the two about the best approach to Terry’s problem. This is an episode that wouldn’t have worked earlier in the show’s run, as it plays off what fans know and love about the detectives of the 99 as much as anything else. Balancing the serious notes with a B-plot about Jake and Amy babysitting Terry’s twins Cagney and Lacey, it’s a “very special episode” that doesn’t forget to be funny.

Special Commendation: Terry Crews. Braugher is also very solid, but the episode belongs to Crews, forcing him to show more range than he really had up to this point, and he delivers.

“Cop-Con” (Season 4, Episode 17)

The writers pivoted directly from the serious tone of “Moo Moo” to one of their goofiest episodes, a comedy of errors about a missing laptop at a police convention in Rochester, New York, the “Mustard City.” Episodes that pull the detectives out of the police station often find new ways to play to the strengths of the ensemble, and that’s exactly the case here, as Holt’s perfectionism is amplified via a planned presentation that gets derailed when Terry and the rest of the gang have a hotel-room party. Even Scully (Joel McKinnon Miller) gets an unexpectedly great subplot as Gina and Amy help him ask out a woman he meets at the convention. It also has one of the best Nine-Nine cold opens, when Jake puts a sleeping Hitchcock’s hand in a bowl of water to make him urinate and nearly ends up drowning the big idiot. All that and a trip to the thermometer museum!

Special Commendation: Joel McKinnon Miller. Scully and Hitchcock developed from mere cameos in early seasons to more consistently funny characters with each passing year, and this is Miller’s best episode.

“HalloVeen” (Season 5, Episode 4)

The annual heist episode is always a fan favorite, and it’s tough to pick only one for a list like this, but the fifth is essential not just for its clever construction but for where the heist lands: Jake Peralta proposing marriage to Amy Santiago. It might have made this list anyway just for the brilliant construction of having everyone in the precinct backstab each other in order to get their hands on an “Amazing Human/Genius” belt. The cast comes to life in the Halloween episodes, playing up the most intense aspects of their characters, particularly Fumero and Braugher, both of whom are spectacular in this one. Holt’s response to realizing his beloved Cheddar has been replaced by another “bitch” is fantastic.

Special Commendation: Melissa Fumero. Amy’s competitive nature typically has to be suppressed to make her a better team member, but the heists allow her to turn that knob up to 11 and produce some of her best moments.

“Game Night” (Season 5, Episode 10)

In the fifth season, Stephanie Beatriz stepped into the spotlight as her own coming-out as bisexual on social media was worked into Rosa’s arc. The writers handled it gracefully, revealing the range of an excellent supporting player while never losing the comedic through-line. Two legends, Danny Trejo and Olga Merediz, play Rosa’s parents in a classic sitcom setup of one character using another to hide something from their parents. In this case, Rosa convinces Jake to pretend to be her boyfriend since she knows her mom and dad aren’t ready for her bisexuality, but Rosa can’t hold the secret for too long. Trejo and Merediz are strong too in an episode that deftly handles a progressive issue but does so from a place of character instead of turning the actors into mouthpieces.

Special Commendation: Stephanie Beatriz. It feels like Hollywood has only started fully utilizing the range of this excellent actress, one who can do drama (Short Term 12), comedy, and even a musical (In the Heights). She’s one of the most consistently great Nine-Nine performers, and this is her centerpiece.

“Safe House” (Season 5, Episode 12)

“Hello, Kevin, it’s me, Raymond Holt.” Only Captain Holt would introduce himself with his full name to his husband Kevin (Marc Evan Jackson), ending the hysterical cold open in which Mr. Holt is shuffled off to a safe house after the evil Seamus Murphy (Paul Adelstein) threatens to have him killed. Holt’s marriage has been a consistently welcome presence on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a wonderful example of the show’s inclusivity that’s never overplayed for laughs. Kevin is the yin to Raymond’s yang — two men who clearly have similar highbrow tastes and relatively cold demeanors, but also a deep understanding and love for each other. Holt displays his commitment in this episode through overprotectiveness, forcing Jake and Kevin into escalating precautions while in a safe house, even threatening to take away their one hour of open-window time. Meanwhile, Rosa goes to a hair salon to get information from Murphy’s girlfriend, but she’s got Gina feeding her lines through an earpiece based on Gina’s sister’s friend Dana, who’s “real sloppy.” Seeing another side of Beatriz’s comedy skill set adds to one of the sharper episodes in the show’s best overall season.

Special Commendation: Marc Evan Jackson. His deadpan wit is put to perfect use in a series of exchanges between Kevin and Jake about the work of one Nicolas Cage that are increasingly hysterical, culminating in what has to be the only Captain Corelli’s Mandolin joke in network-TV history.

“The Box” (Season 5, Episode 14)

Who doesn’t love a great bottle episode? One of the best half-hours of television on any network in 2018 was this brilliant interrogation of a sociopathic dentist played by Sterling K. Brown. Accused of being behind his partner’s death, Brown’s character thinks he has Holt and Peralta figured out, but the pair end up collaborating perfectly on a tactic to take him down. It’s a wonderful showcase for the three performers that really reveals how much Braugher and Samberg had refined their chemistry by this point. Five and a half seasons in, Jake is much more than the dumb cop in this duo, as his instincts produce just as many results as Holt’s perfectionism. It’s smart, funny, and kind of thrilling.

Special Commendation: Of course, the episode really belongs to Braugher and Samberg, but it would be unfair to cite one over the other, so let’s give the prize to Brown, giving one of the best guest performances in the history of one of the last network sitcoms to really utilize guest stars well.

“Jake & Amy” (Season 5, Episode 22)

As the fifth season was coming to an end, the makers of Brooklyn Nine-Nine could see the writing on the precinct wall and knew cancellation by its then-network Fox was likely imminent (it was), leading to an episode that would work almost as well as a series finale as a season-ender. After all, why not close the story of the 99 with that standby sitcom capper, a wedding? Jake and Amy’s wedding day is destroyed by a bomb threat, bringing in Amy’s ex-boyfriend (Kyle Bornheimer) and his bomb squad to save the day (even though he doesn’t really want to). Some of the best episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine take common sitcom setups, like a wedding, and use them to elevate character rather than falling back on familiar comedy clichés. The final scenes of “Jake & Amy” even tug at the heartstrings, leaning into how much its title characters truly do love each other.

Special Commendation: It almost feels like Samberg knew this was the end of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, as he allows Jake to be a little more serious than usual, really feeling present in the chaos of the bomb threat and the joy of the actual wedding. He understands that fans want to see Jake and Amy happy at this point and leans into that love story in a way that feels genuine.

“Suicide Squad” (Season 6, Episode 18)

The sixth season saw Brooklyn Nine-Nine move to NBC, where it may have felt more at home all along, but there were some strange growing pains coming off the creative peak of the fifth season. While there are solid half-hours throughout the year, there are few that feel essential until this wonderful season finale that calls in some of the show’s best recurring guest stars. Dean Winters, Kyra Sedgwick, and Ken Marino — the Vulture, Wuntch, and C.J. — are brought in to help Jake and his team take down Commissioner John Kelly’s (Phil Reeves) Stingray operation. It’s just a hysterical episode from beginning to end, with a smart plot that stands on its own while also working as fan service for the people who know these characters and how they interact with the series regulars.

Special Commendation: Andre Braugher. Every heated interaction between Holt and Wuntch allows the actor to tap into a new level of hysterical intensity, and this episode contains some of his best as he constantly questions whether or not they’re actually finally on the same team.

“Pimemento” (Season 7, Episode 3)

Jason Mantzoukas is one of the funniest men alive and he’s been a consistently hysterical presence on Brooklyn Nine-Nine for years, playing unhinged detective Adrian Pimento. Once a love interest for Rosa, Pimento has gone increasingly off the mental grid with each appearance, and his last one is his best, with him arriving at the precinct with short-term memory loss not unlike that in Memento (or Finding Dory). He asks Jake and Boyle for help figuring out who is trying to kill him while being unable to remember anything that’s happened in the last few minutes. This is primo setup for a fearless comedian like Mantzoukas, who is allowed to turn up the dial on Pimento even higher than usual. There are a few Pimento episodes that could make this list, but none are funnier than this one, and the writers balance it out nicely with a subplot about Jake and Amy trying to conceive a child.

Special Commendation: Jason Mantzoukas. Duh.

“Lights Out” (Season 7, Episode 13)

The writers of Brooklyn Nine-Nine return to another sitcom classic for the seventh-season finale: labor! As a blackout descends on the city, Amy’s water breaks, but the members of the precinct are scattered all over the city. Holt and Terry are stuck in an elevator together; Jake and Boyle are across town trying to catch a criminal; Rosa is the last person who wants to help Amy deliver her baby. Even Hitchcock and Scully get a fun subplot as they help Amy in their own uniquely disgusting way. There’s even a Lieutenant Peanut Butter appearance! Season seven was generally stronger than the previous one, and appropriately ends on an episode that gives everyone a chance to shine.

Special Commendation: The whole cast. Yes, it’s cheating, but this season finale is on this list because it so cleverly finds a way to give everyone a memorable beat before the show went on sabbatical for longer than anyone could have predicted.

17 Essential Brooklyn Nine-Nine Episodes