At some point, Brooklyn Nine-Nine will run out of stories featuring guest stars. These past few weeks have been unusually full of 9-9 visitors, from Captain Holt’s sister to Jake’s mother and father. The show is more adept than most at bringing in new characters and integrating them into the ensemble seamlessly for an episode or two, but it’s now been three episodes in a row that feature flashy guest stars in prominent storylines. “The 9-8” features ever-charming Damon Wayans Jr. as Jake’s old partner Steve, whose strong rapport with Jake threatens Boyle, who is used to being the most important partner in Jake’s life. The rest of the squad has to deal with Steve’s precinct moving into their office temporarily, and the highest of hijinks ensue, ending the episode with an all-out 1970’s-style police brawl, broken heaters and all. “The 9-8” also dives into police corruption and drug plants almost with too much lightness, cementing once again the show’s deeply optimistic worldview on cops and crime.
It turns out that Steve, Jake’s eager and equally silly cop buddy, planted drugs at a criminal’s house to solve a crime. Boyle, who before then had been left behind and discredited by both Steve and Jake, discovers the truth about Steve. Jake then confronts Steve in a comically tiny closet in the office, telling Steve he is going to turn him in for what he’s done. It’s again a moment that Brooklyn Nine-Nine comes at important police conversations sideways, although this time, unlike last week’s body cam plot, there are real consequences. Steve is taken away, and Jake and Boyle return to their strong partnership, having weathered the conflict. The show is clear that Steve is wrong and Jake and Boyle are right, and Steve’s actions lead to his dismissal. “He can’t be a cop and plant evidence, even if the criminal they were investigating had done bad things in the past,” the show is saying. This is most cases on Brooklyn Nine-Nine: the criminal is in the wrong, and the squad is in the right, perhaps other than some truly terrible cops like The Vulture and winsome criminal Doug Judy who veer from the norm.
It wouldn’t really make sense if it were any other way, because Brooklyn Nine-Nine is not Breaking Bad: it is not a dark anti-hero drama interested in exploring the gray areas of human life. It is created to make people laugh, and “The 9-8” does that aplenty, as the rest of the squad is confronted with weirdos that make Hitchcock and Scully tolerable members of society. There are women with too many porcelain figurines, there are entitled white men with service dogs they don’t need for foot pain they probably don’t have, there are captains invading other captains’ spaces with no regard for hospitality. The entire story is the worst points of having a friend visit for a weekend, except dialed up to twenty thousand and set on fire. It’s not a surprise the two squads end up in a bare-knuckle brawl all over the office; tensions are high and the 9-9, while a great team, have little patience for change. Seeing the squad collectively losing their minds at the rudeness of the 9-8, even Captain Holt, is a nice reminder of their support of one another, even in the midst of madness. The past few episodes have seen different teams of two and three characters sequestered in their own side plots, so to have most of the squad (minus Jake and Boyle) together in a story shows the strength of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s ensemble.
“Karen Peralta,” last week’s episode, was frustrating for what it could have been and instead was not, as the show used police body cameras to tell jokes around people’s body parts, ignoring any hint of the history and context of body cameras and police in 2016. While “The 9-8” is funny and inventive, “Karen Peralta” was a strange moment in Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s history that is difficult to shake. Like Jake with Steve, the show has revealed what it truly is: a comedy mostly disinterested in addressing real police issues, content with the deeply hopeful and incredibly, unbelievably fictional world of cops and criminals it has created. It is hard to know if that is enough, if a comedy can just be instead of being about something. The answer still isn’t clear, and may never be, and to enjoy Brooklyn Nine-Nine going forward, that might have to be enough.
Photo Courtesy of FOX