With Brooklyn Nine-Nine Season 5 arriving on Netflix UK on 8th March, we look back at the first season – and where you can watch it online.
The American sitcom formula has been fairly easy since Friends. Take a group of people who get along well, a lead character who isn’t entirely mature, a bunch of stock character types to surround him and a small amount of romantic tension. An over-arching narrative isn’t essential but occasionally can be used to fabricate some kind of audience investment. Then, simply change who interacts with whom each week and ta da! Scrubs, How I Met Your Mother, New Girl, The Office and The Big Bang Theory. Even the paragons of contemporary comedy Arrested Development and Community fit this mould, albeit with a far more surreal edge.
It’s a formula that works for audiences, essentially creating a short, undemanding amount of time spent with people you feel like you know. (Each of the above have succeeded in terms of audience size, although Scrubs saw diminishing returns and The Big Bang Theory was never actually a good show.)
It’s no surprise, then, that the latest sitcom to roll out of the US fits this formula almost as if Scrubs had never ended. Like that show and The Office, it uses a workplace context wherein all these characters develop. Ok, so Brooklyn Nine-Nine is not particularly original, but what’s surprising about this police force sitcom is just how good it is.
The pilot episode starts worryingly: Andy Samberg – a Saturday Night Live alum many find grating, but was in Hot Rod, one of the funniest films of the 21st Century – seems to be doing his usual, loud shtick, while Sgt. Jeffords (Terry Crews, hilarious as always) gives a quick introduction to each of the characters in a way that suggests they may never progress pass their one-line descriptions. But then the programme does something interesting. At the end of the episode, the stern Captain Holt (the brilliant Andre Braugher) reveals that he is gay, an entirely unexpected move that quickly subverts your expectations and establishes the show as one that allows its characters to be more nuanced than their simplistic introductions suggest.
Take Samberg, for instance, playing the ostensible lead (although this really is an ensemble piece), Jake Peralta. The immature man-child, who shares the same look as Scrubs’ JD, could easily have been another lazily written protagonist who believes that women should love him and who goes on a ‘journey’. Instead, he is actually the best officer in his department and has nothing but respect for most of his colleagues. Even his brash exterior is almost acknowledged as a stereotype by the way he occasionally lets his insecure side show. The rest of the cast, from over-achiever Santiago (Melissa Fumero) to food-obsessed Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), all hint at complexity beyond their stock roles, and not just in an end-of-the-episode-while-lessons-are-learned kind of way. Terry Crews’ character, also called Terry, is a gentle leader, in spite of his ridiculous physique, while you may need to see Stephanie Beatriz in a small, quiet role (Short Term 12) to appreciate the strength of her performance as the aggressive, sour Diaz. There is genuine affection between these characters – and the writers, too – which makes this a positive and upbeat series, where people are good at their jobs, respect each other and make each other laugh. It’s infectious.
Captain Holt’s homosexuality, referred to only a few times and never the target of an obvious joke, signals another strength of the show, in that he leads an incredibly diverse team. The two most senior roles are African American men, while two Latin American women are arguably the most competent, yet it barely makes a big deal out of this. There is nothing in the way of racial or sexual stereotyping. Sometimes, Brookyln Nine-Nine actively rejects this for the sake of an astute joke. Compared to the recent behaviour of the actual NYPD, there is something strange yet positive about seeing a fictional version of the force managing to be thoroughly modern in its acceptance of multiculturalism, without ever making a statement about it. If only the rest of television, not to mention the police themselves, could catch up.
Oh, and it’s also really funny.
Season 1 to 5 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine are available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
Where can I watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine on pay-per-view VOD?