10 years of Brooklyn Nine-Nine: the most relentlessly funny show of the last decade

<span>Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

There is no escaping the fact that the people in Michael Schur’s sitcoms are adorable. First and foremost, shows such as The Good Place, Parks and Recreation and the US Office are very, very funny – but they are also populated by characters who care for each other. Jokes rarely arrive cruelly, cheaply, or at the expense of punchbag characters or specific groups. Relationships form and – shockingly – remain loving and stable with no splits thrown in for added brouhaha. Characters grow, enjoy arcs, evolve. These are people you might actually like to have in your corner. And 10 years ago, Schur co-created perhaps the most consistently kind and relentlessly funny of all of them.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine arrived on Fox in the US on 17 September 2013, and was initially regarded as a vehicle for Andy Samberg, the Saturday Night Live regular and viral Lonely Island musical comedy star. He plays Jake Peralta, a manchild New York detective who loves Die Hard and catching baddies far too much to take anything seriously, besides his job, at which he remains prodigiously capable. As a pitch, it’s only remarkable in its unremarkableness.

But any fears of a dramatically inexperienced comic tiresomely mugging away in the middle of a gang of straight foils are entirely unfounded. As with Schur’s other projects, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s supporting players soon became its ace in the hole. From ex-NFL beefcake Terry Crews’s gentle giant sergeant Terry Jeffords to Jake’s nerdy teachers-pet love interest detective, Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), each character is a richly drawn comic creation worthy of a sitcom in their own right. Be it Andre Braugher’s endearingly by-the-book but gooey-centred father-figure commanding officer, Raymond Holt, Chelsea Peretti’s unendingly wise yet inexplicably overconfident (she leads a terrible dance troupe called “Floorgasm”) administrator Gina Linetti, Stephanie Beatriz’s delightfully gruff, leather-jacketed badass cop Rosa Diaz, or Joe Lo Truglio’s cuddly, family-devoted, food-and-Jake-obsessed oddball cop Charles Boyle. Even gluttonous sad-sack desk-lifer clock-punchers Hitchcock and Scully are a pair of lovable slackers. Most of the time, Samberg’s Jake is the straight guy amid a gaggle of comic actors clearly having lots of fun in the ample time they’re given to shine. This is an ensemble cast right up there with the best of them.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine went on to demonstrate that it’s not just escapist fluff, either. Plots tackle racism, sexism, homophobia, police brutality, gender and illegal immigration – not subjects often threaded through a knockabout workplace comedy. An episode in which Terry is arrested while walking down his own street after being racially profiled by a white police officer is a particular highlight, with its comedy exploring a subject without ever once making light of it. Few shows can pull off being zany one moment and examining systemic homophobia the next, without one of those elements feeling incongruously wedged in. In Samberg’s words, managing to “strike the balance between funny and heartfelt” was always the aim, and it was achieved far less artificially than in, say, Ted Lasso – whose stifling sweetness often feels like being bludgeoned by a giant lollipop with a moustache drawn on it.

It is a sad testament to the state of the last decade’s politics that addressing these issues in a spritzy primetime comedy felt revelatory. This was a time when populism and the so-called “culture wars” were beginning to gain alarming traction. A diverse roster of various skin tones and sexualities (Captain Holt is gay, and married to the fabulously named professor Kevin Cozner; Rosa came out as bisexual when Beatriz did likewise, with the writers creating a bespoke storyline for her character) was certain to stoke the ire of certain dark corners of the internet. Brooklyn Nine-Nine did it anyway.

But this makes it all sound very po-faced, which of course it isn’t. Week in week out, Brooklyn Nine-Nine had one of the most reliable gag-rates of the millennium. This is the home of the peerless Backstreet Boys lineup sketch, Terry’s meltdowns and the best cold opens in television. To think there are people out there who love 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Arrested Development, who have never even seen Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It’s a travesty.

After initially being cancelled by Fox in 2018, after five seasons, a vociferous online campaign saw the Nine-Nine spared the chop by NBC and given a further three seasons. It finally bowed out in 2021. And while it never quite recovered from Peretti’s departure in its sixth season, the quality remained. Actors often say the cast of their shows are like one big family – and it’s usually such a lie you can almost smell their flaming pants through the screen. Here, the reports of tears on set on the last day of filming ring true.

It wouldn’t be hugely hyperbolic to say the past decade has been … suboptimal. Occasionally, tiresome. You could even suggest that the last 10 years have been a dismal, joyless toilet-fire of near-apocalyptic terribleness. So any specks of joy that managed to break through the general swamp of Brexit, Trump and Covid need to be treasured, nurtured and protected at all costs. And Brooklyn Nine-Nine is one of the purest specks of joy to be found anywhere. So if you’ve had a tricky decade and you haven’t watched it, here is something that will definitely help. And if you have seen it? Well, it’s repeated ad infinitum on E4, so why not just stick on an episode. You know you’ll feel better for it. Nine-Nine!