In the season 5 premiere of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) finds himself in prison after he and his fellow detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) were framed for robberies they didn’t commit. Early on in his incarceration, the warden (Toby Huss) summons Jake to his office and orders him to infiltrate a dangerous prison gang. “Oh no! No, no, no, no, no, no!” Jake protests. “The only people less popular in here than cops are snitches.”
“Well, let’s be honest,” the warden replies. “It’s not great in here for trans people. They have a hard time.”
“It’s a problem,” agrees Jake with a sigh.
The scene then proceeds apace (Jake ultimately agrees to the warden’s plan), but the moment, however small, is emblematic of how the morality of inclusion is baked into every episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Though Fox just canceled the show yesterday, there’s a chance Hulu or another outlet may save the comedy from extinction — and the world needs a show as open-minded, heartfelt, and ridiculously funny as Brooklyn now more than ever.
Rather than choosing specific episodes to tackle topics like racism, homophobia, and sexism, from day one, Brooklyn created a universe that was diverse, progressive, and wholly inclusive. The 99th precinct is populated with a racially mixed group of cops, including Detective Diaz and sergeants Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) and Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews). The precinct’s captain, Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher), is a happily married man who this season is in the running to be the first openly gay commissioner in NYPD history. (His chief rival for the job, Capt. Olivia Crawford, played by Fargo’s Allison Tolman, would be the first female commissioner, because in the Brooklyn universe, milestones like that are important.)
The matter-of-fact nature of the comedy’s inclusion keeps it from feeling preachy. When Diaz came out to her colleagues as bisexual this season, she announced it during the morning briefing — very in character for Rosa — and then agreed to field “exactly one minute and zero seconds of questions on this subject.” (Also a very Rosa thing to do.) Her colleagues didn’t criticize or celebrate her decision — they simply accepted it and moved on. But Brooklyn also takes place in (a slightly nicer version of) the real world, which meant Rosa did experience some prejudice — her parents weren’t ready to accept her sexuality — and the conflict wasn’t neatly wrapped up by the end of the episode. After the Diaz family game nights are canceled, Jake brings the whole squad to Rosa’s apartment for a new “family” game night tradition. Just thinking about Holt’s speech to Rosa (“Every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place”) makes me get misty.
As I wrote in my plea to Fox in March, everyone in the Brooklyn Nine-Nine universe is treated as a person with value — even the lazy duo of Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker) and Scully (Joel McKinnon Miller). In the new episode “White Whale” (airing May 13 at 8:30 p.m. on Fox — tune in, Nielsen families!), Holt’s commissioner rival Olivia Crawford continually needles him for being “one million years old,” while he dismisses her youthful inexperience. It should not be a spoiler to reveal that by the end of the episode, Holt and Crawford come to appreciate each other’s skills (though not before Holt gets in a sick burn about power walking). In so many ways, big and small, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has respect for its characters, and more importantly, for the viewers who love them. If Fox doesn’t want to be a part of this love-fest, surely there’s another network/streaming service/entertainment platform of any kind that does.