What Should Happen to Cop Shows Like ‘Brooklyn 99’?

Published on June 18, 2020

With the protests and conversations regarding police brutality and systematic racism happening around the country, people are starting to look more closely at how TV and film portray men and women in uniform. Recently, prominent actors and creators known for police programs have spoken out against police brutality and made donations to good causes. The cast and showrunner of Brooklyn 99, for example, raised over $100,000 to donate to The National Bail Fund.

Brooklyn 99 

Brooklyn 99 is a comedy about NYPD cops. It’s a delightfully silly NBC program that plays as fantasy, not a real life depiction or endorsement of law enforcement. It’s fairly detached from reality. However, there’s now debate about the show, which we’ll get to in a bit, but first off, it’s worth noting the cast and crew haven’t been silent these last few brutal weeks. 

The Donation

Brooklyn 99 star, Stephanie Beatriz, encouraged other actors who make good money playing cops to do their part. “I’m an actor who plays a detective on tv,” she tweeted. “If you currently play a cop? If you make tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in residuals from playing a cop? I’ll let you do the math.” The cast did the math on Brooklyn 99 and made a very respectable donation to a good cause. Here’s a statement released on behalf of the showmakers: 

“The cast and showrunner of ‘Brooklyn 99’ condemn the murder of George Floyd and support the many people who are protesting police brutality nationally. Together we have made a $100,000 donation to The National Bail Fund Network. We encourage you to look up your local bail fund: the National Bail Fund Network is an organization that can lead you to them. #blacklivesmatter.”

How Should Cop Shows Proceed? 

A lot of the major cop shows don’t spend much time focusing on police brutality or systematic racism, although Brooklyn 99 has depicted the latter in the past with Captain Ray Holt’s (Andrew Braugher) storyline. 

There’s usually more hero worship than criticism on cop shows, especially for the broadest and blandest of cop dramas on major networks. Recently, Power creator Courtney Kemp wrote a piece about how cop shows aren’t the problem, though; it’s the people writing them. Here’s an excerpt from her excellent piece in The Hollywood Reporter

The problem is not the existence of the shows. It’s the people writing them. Sixty percent of shows on television depict the police; 4.8 percent of working television writers are Black. The percentages of Latino, Asian American and Native writers are even lower. Do you see the correlation?

Kemp added:

“Rather than canceling police shows, I’d argue that now is the time to push for series that can illuminate the problems we’ve seen for years in American policing.”

What About Brooklyn 99?

Obviously, there are far greater problems in the world than the fate of a show such as Brooklyn 99, but it’s always the right time for discussions about depictions of people in power. Now, what about for a comedy like Brooklyn 99? It’s not realism in the slightest, it’s mostly pure silliness. The fictional, ridiculous cops hardly come across as an endorsement since it’s not at all a realistic depiction. Does the lighthearted portrayal of cops, as critics are claiming, inherently make it an endorsement, though? Maybe there’s truth to that. At the end of the day, any view of art is valid. Anybody who’s experienced police brutality or mistreatment, obviously, probably wouldn’t take too well to a group of jokey and lovable cops.

For that reason, people online are wondering if Brooklyn 99 should change its setting, such as to a firehouse. Some people are even tweeting the show is unintentional propaganda and should be canceled. Like Kemp said, though, it’s not a time to cancel but to evolve. 

The NBC show returns for its eighth season this year. According to star Terry Crews, the show won’t ignore Black Lives Matter and the protests. Crews recently told Seth Meyers the cast and crew had “some somber talks and some really, really eye-opening conversation about how to handle this new season.” The show can’t ignore what’s happening in the world. It can still have its laughs and silliness, but it can’t play dumb or ignorant or silent. Ideally, Brooklyn 99 sparks conversation as well as laughs next season. The show isn’t going anywhere, neither are most fictional cop shows, but it is time for them to grow, starting with who’s writing them, as Courtney Kemp wrote. 

If you’re looking for organizations to donate to, here’s a list of ten we recommended at Grit Daily.

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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