A Warm, Empathetic Cop Show

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, created by Dan Goor and Michael Schur

What kind of job do you have – comedy or drama? Comedy workplaces include offices, radio stations, bars and coffee shops; more dramatic workplaces include hospitals, courtrooms and police stations. Part of what makes Brooklyn Nine-Nine such a delightful show is that it reverses that usual trend. Yes, it’s about detectives in New York City, but rather than being a grim procedural plumbing the depths of human depravity, it’s a bright, cheerful comedy about friendship and the possibility of genuine growth. The central relationship is between Detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Captain Ray Holt (Andre Braugher). Peralta is a man-child who won’t grow up; Holt is a staid gay man who rose through the ranks of the NYPD by following every rule to the letter, constraining his personality in the process. Each teaches the other how to fill in the gaps in their own lives, Peralta learning to give up his boyish dreams of being the heroic cop, Holt learning how to open up and receive support from the other members of the detective squad. Together, the detectives become better, fuller versions of themselves. That goes for the show as a whole. By redirecting the expectations of a cop show, finding humour and camaraderie rather than a cut-and-dry, punitive sense of justice, the show compels us to think differently about the police force in general, expecting  – even demanding – them to be better, more human, than they’re usually depicted. Those omnipotent servants of the police state over on CBS, parsing through your personal data to catch entirely hypothetical villains? They look downright clownish, and offensively so, after watching the warm, empathetic approach of Peralta and the rest of the Nine-Nine squad. A TV show can’t change the world, but it certainly can change other TV shows, and changing the way viewing audiences regard the police is a vital project. And funny too! 

  • Adam’s work has appeared in many venues, including the Paris Review Daily, Electric Literature and Real Life. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and two daughters.

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