Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the antithesis of a hard-boiled crop drama. Instead of dramatic, ripped-from-the-headlines cases, the series depicts the lighter side of law enforcement and includes a progressive police force. But in tonight’s episode, the comedy is about to get heavy. The Fox show, which stars Andy Samberg, Terry Crews and Andre Braugher, is taking on racial profiling, but with a twist–a big one.
“It’s just so brilliant the way the writers dealt with this subject,” Crews tells EBONY. “Because it brings a whole new thing into play in the fact that here we are, African American, [but] am I blue or am I Black as a police officer? Which is a new topic that hasn’t been brought up. [We also discuss] how as an African American cop, how are we going to deal with these things that affect our community?”
In the episode, Crews’ character, Sergeant Terry Jeffords, is in his neighborhood late at night looking for one of his twin daughter’s favorite blankets when he’s approached by a White cop who accuses him of being a criminal before finding out Jeffords is a fellow officer. What follows is a fresh spin on an age old problem prevalent in communities of color.
Racial profiling and racism have often been portrayed on television and in film, but not in the way Brooklyn Nine-Nine goes about tackling the issue. Producers and writers have been looking for a way to tell this story since the show’s inception four years ago. As co-creator and executive producer Dan Goor tells it, the writing team struggled with how to get real about racism while still staying true to the show’s light-hearted nature.
“How do we keep our guys and gals the good guys because we love our squad, but at the same time represent a very serious issue and be on the right side of that issue?” Goor says.
Crews, who turned to a career in acting after a stint in the NFL, believes that levity is the great filter through which we can tackle some of life’s heaviest blows.
“Comedy is the best way to deal with really serious subjects,” he explains. “The best comics in the world, from Richard Pryor to George Carlin, to Dave Chappelle right now—the harder, the more difficult the subject matter the funnier it can be.”
But why, four seasons deep, did Brooklyn Nine-Nine decide the time was now?
“It took on more urgency,” Goor reveals. “We had Terry come in and we just talked generally about a bunch of stories and Terry related an experience to us, several experiences, and that gave us a little bit more urgency.”
One of the experiences Crews recalled took place when he was still playing in the NFL. According to the actor, he was on a plane waiting to take off when he was removed from the flight and questioned about the details of his travel. Authorities assumed he was a drug dealer because he’d purchased his ticket in cash, but once it was revealed that he was football player, they pestered him for his autograph.
“At first I was happy they let me go but then all I could think about was what if I wasn’t a football player?” he says. “What if I was just going to see my mother? What if I was traveling with my family? This whole thing gets addressed right here in this episode. Here he (Jeffords) is detained and racially profiled [and told], ‘If I would have known you were a cop I wouldn’t have done that?’ But it’s like why are you doing this in the first place?”
Though the show is known for its comedic genius, when you’re trying to tell a story with this type of weighty subject matter, sometimes things just aren’t funny.
In fact, during one incredibly tense moment where Jeffords confronts the officer who profiled him, the script was originally written, and first played out, with a silly scenario also taking place. But the actors and crew saw that the moment was too powerful to be turned into a joke.
Veteran actor Andre Braugher, who plays Caption Holt, first questioned the show’s ability to properly address the issue in one episode. As Goor tells it, “I pitched it to Andre – he was like, ‘Oh so you’re going to tackle this issue in 21 minutes and 35 seconds? Good luck.’”
Braugher had a reason to be concerned. With debacles like the insulting Pepsi/Kendall Jenner ad and the recent SheaMoisture marketing flub, it’s clear people particular about how are issues are unpacked. Still, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s writers forged ahead anyway—and even won Braugher’s approval. Once the actor saw how it would play out, he added yet another twist on how his character responds to the incident.
Find out what happens when Brooklyn Nine-Nine airs tonight at 8:00 p.m. on Fox.