Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a fun, amiable, and wacky sitcom based on six cops, has been praised for its diverse cast multiple times. But in the current times, it is important to ask – should a cop show be allowed to occupy the same space as a comedic office-based sitcom?
Brooklyn Nine-Nine revolves around the ninety-ninth precinct of the NYPD (New York City Police Department). The same part of the city where Randolph Evans, a fifteen-year-old black boy was shot by a white police officer in 1976. In 2004, an unarmed nineteen-year-old Timothy Stansbury was shot dead by a white NYPD cop in the same NY City Burrough of Brooklyn. There have been at least seven recorded deaths of black people in the hands of real cops, just in Brooklyn since 2004.
Right now, the USA is seeing mass Black Lives Matter protests triggered by the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by white police officers. The murder and the aftermath of events have brought light to the history of racism, police brutality, and racial profiling against black people more than ever. The NYPD was also seen as being extremely violent during the recent protests.
There have been at least seven recorded deaths of black people in the hands of real cops, just in Brooklyn since 2004.
It is natural for movie or sitcom producers to not be comfortable addressing such a horrifying reality. But in these grim scenarios, how should a sitcom on cops come around to be?
Inherent issues with Brooklyn 99
Jake Peralta, played by Andy Samberg, the central figure of the show is a white American man who becomes a cop because of his love for Die Hard, a movie franchise that pathologized cops as lifesavers and heroes for years.
Jake comes across as a good cop. But in episode seven of season one, he brings in a black man, played by Kid Cudi with no evidence. His fellow officers agree to hold the suspect till the last minute of the legally allowed forty-eight hours while the team searches for evidence. In the end, Peralta proves that the suspect is guilty. Where the precinct succeeds at coming through on a white cop’s intuition, the theme here is problematic, to say the least.
Watch: Jake Peralta interrogates Kid Cudi
in reality, black men are often dragged off the streets by cops and those arrests generally don’t lead to an amiable set of events. The episode ends with the focus on team spirit and not the unlawful arrest which normalizes and even in some way praises the biased judgment of a white cop.
Vices in the open, time and again
Time and again, Brooklyn Nine-Nine shows how NYPD was racist, sexist, and homophobic through Captain Holt’s experiences and by Peralta’s hero Jimi Brogan’s character. It keeps going in retrospect about sloppy and violent cops. Brooklyn Nine-Nine keeps insisting that NYPD has changed dramatically. The thing is – once you address bigotry, you cannot stop pointing it out without implying that bigotry doesn’t exist anymore.
Watch: Captain Holt’s history in NYPD in Brooklyn Nine-Nine
A lot of people might argue an entertainment piece should be viewed precisely for its entertainment value. However, research has shown that crime TV-shows distort people’s understanding of institutions of justice and its real-life implications.
It is the responsibility of TV writers to depict reality. In this case, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, at the moment holds the same authenticity that Disney films do. According to the show, cops are loved by the citizens and bring justice to them. The only people who really hate cops are the wretched perps. Even though there is another character that hates cops: Kevin, Captain Raymond Holt’s partner. Kevin, a white gay man is angry towards NYPD because of their bigotry towards his husband in the 70s.
Where Nine-Nine distorts the picture?
The show, unfortunately, fails to find anyone to address the bigotry of today. The ability to write and produce a show which humanizes cops and presents them as heroes comes with the privilege of believing that the law has your best interests at heart, a privilege black people in the states do not have. Therefore, a show with more that has ninety percent white writers showing a fairytale version of an inherently violent institution leaves a bitter taste of white privilege.
Watch: Andy Samberg talks about Brooklyn Nine-Nine Season 8
So, what’s the future of the show? The show has canceled four episodes from the coming season. Andy Samberg has said “We’re taking a step back, and the writers are all rethinking how we’re going to move forward, as well as the cast,” He continues, “We’re all in touch and kind of discussing how you make a comedy show about police right now, and if we can find a way of doing that that we all feel morally okay about.”