“So, a lot of change around here, huh?”
Those were the words Amy Santiago finished out the second season of Brooklyn Nine Nine with. And while the changes within the show aren’t all as devastating as losing both the vending machine or Captain Holt or as exciting as Jake and Amy awkwardly wading into romance, they were on great display during Sunday night’s finale.
I will be the first to admit that two years ago when previews first aired for Brooklyn Nine Nine‘s premier that I was less than impressed. It wasn’t even that the previews looked bad, it was just…my expectations for a show like this were low. I assumed Jake would be a dick, that Amy, Rosa, and Gina would be inundated with sexist story lines, that Captain Holt would be a bore, and that Boyle would just be gross. It takes a lot to make an actually good sitcom anymore. Too often show runners are stuck in the past with broad and stereotypical characters and dated, offensive humor. And no offense to the man, but Andy Samberg is just not someone I really equate with progressive thinking.
I watched the premier with a friend – just flipping channels and running into it, nothing planned – and was actually incredibly surprised. The pilot wasn’t perfect, but it certainly caught my attention and brought me back for the next week. And as I continued watching week to week, I realized that basically all my assumptions were proved false.
Now it’s two years later and I firmly believe Brooklyn Nine Nine to be one of the best sitcoms on tv right now. The show is progressive in its casting: the leads characters are two white men, one white woman, two latina women, and two black men (one of whom is gay). Each of these characters’ backgrounds certainly inform the character, but they hardly define them. None of the characters’ backgrounds stands in for humor. Instead, each of the characters are fully realized people with strongly drawn motives and values and foibles and quirks. And Jake Peralta – with his friendships with Boyle, Rosa, and Gina, his respect for Captain Holt and Sergeant Jeffords, and his treatment of Amy – is far from the boorish, privileged dick he could have been.
I’d been a little worried with the series final of Parks and Recreation. There was something just so earnest about that show that I really cared for. Not that I don’t appreciate the snark and sarcasm that so pervades our entertainment culture right now, but Parks was always a breath of fresh air for me, a show that found so much of its humor and storytelling from optimism and joy and kindness and always striving to do better. But, while it’s not the same show, I think Brooklyn Nine Nine is certainly picking up where Parks left off. Because, besides just being one of the most consistently funny shows on tv right now, B99 does such a good job at finding its humor in celebrating the quirks of its characters: in Boyle’s enthusiasm, in Gina’s wackiness, in Amy’s love of rules, in Rosa’s standoffish-ness, in Jake’s immaturity, in Jeffords’ mother hen tendencies, and in Captain Holt’s robotic delivery. These characters are wonderful because of their weirdness.
We’ve come to the end of the second season, and like Amy said, there have been a lot of changes. Terry’s wife is expecting another baby. Captain Holt is being transferred out of the ’99. Amy and Jake have opened the doors to a romance between them. And of course, the vending machine is leaving them. But these are only the big changes that have been happening. There are other, much more subtle changes that we’ve seen throughout season two.
Boyle, who started out the show infatuated with a Rosa he could never hope to understand, now knows what it’s like to actually be in love. Sure, things didn’t work out for him and Vivian last season, but the experience certainly gave him perspective on his own self worth. And more than that, it helped his relationship with Rosa. The two are actually friends now, with him knowing her well enough to know she would hate a surprise birthday party, and caring for her enough to help her boyfriend plan a birthday surprise she would actually appreciate.
Rosa, meanwhile, has allowed herself to open up – in her own brusque, deadpan way – letting not only new boyfriend Marcus in, but also letting herself blur the lines of her personal and professional life with Captain Holt, Marcus’ uncle. At times it may be awkward – what woman really wants to hear her very straight-laced and very gay boss ask if her “bosoms feel tender” during a pregnancy scare – but they can do it.
Amy still seeks validation from Captain Holt, but she’s become more comfortable in her own skin. Her self worth doesn’t live and die on his words. Sure, she’ll still work hard for his approval, but she’s also seen herself not just as his deputy but as his equal.
Gina, narcissistic to the core, declares her loyalty to Captain Holt and vows to follow him to Public Relations.
And Jake, having learned respect and validation from Captain Holt, stands at attention waiting for the new captain to arrive.
Battles are being fought and decisions are being made and through it all these characters are growing. They’re learning and maturing and they’re not the same people they were back when the series began. Not everything needs to change. Not everything should change. But so far, the changes both big and small have been good. So what’s next?