I’m biased when it comes to Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Why? Because the Nine-Nine served my old neighborhood.
October 2013. My soon-to-be-wife and I packed up our very fortunate lives in Austin to chase our dreams in New York City. Our sights were set on Brooklyn, but in transition, we settled on a small sublet in Harlem from a very kind Broadway actress.
Our plane to New York’s in-flight entertainment was Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a silly cop show featuring Andre Braugher, otherwise known to a Horror junkie like myself as that neighbor from The Mist. It looked fun! But after the package of clips and interviews cycled through for the 20th time on the three hour flight, I suddenly felt like I was trapped in a Sartre sitcom starring Andy Samberg.
After nestling into Harlem we finally checked out the show, and by the first string of holiday episodes, we were hooked.
A month later, we moved to Brooklyn. The unit we were meant to view had already been rented, so our broker stopped by a spacious apartment with roof access and a view of the Manhattan skyline. We didn’t need to see any other apartments after that.
While the Nine-Nine was on winter break and we moved, we would pass by a massive building a block from our first official New York home. We couldn’t place it, but it was familiar. The entire city has been shot one way or another, so maybe we recognized it from a film?
When Brooklyn Nine-Nine returned though, it opened on a wide establishing shot of the fictional Ninety-Ninth precinct. It was the same building on our corner! The 99th precinct is actually New York’s 78th. We couldn’t believe the serendipity, almost too cosmic to be a coincidence. Over five years later, the happenstance still blows my mind.
But enough of my Nine-Nine related anecdotes, you’re all here for these rankings!
There are 143 official episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, including the Season Five two-parter “The Big House”, the Season Four three-parter “Coral Palms” and Season Four’s extended episode “The Fugitive”. Here’s the catch though: “The Fugitive” aired over the course of one night (New Years Day 2017) while ‘Coral Palms’ and ‘The Big House’ played out over two to three weeks. Because of this, ‘The Fugitive’ is ranked as one, hour-long episode to make a total of 142 stories.
Much like my esteemed colleague Liz Baessler’s affirmation before her incredible It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia ranking, no episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is unfunny. If you are looking for some schadenfreude, check Twitter. Any episode in the bottom half of the list may have its problems like early season jitters, unintentionally uncomfortable running gags, or simply being a teeny bit forgettable, but they’ll always have multiple laugh out loud jokes. In a sea of hilarious episodes that make up Brooklyn Nine Nine’s service record, these episodes still fare better than anything you’ll find on CBS.
To steal a line from Neil Miller: remember that this is our list. It’s probably different than your list. And that’s okay. If your favorites aren’t ranked as you’d like: try not to get too upset. You can always do it yourself. Which also happens to be the title of your sex tape.
142. Into the Woods
Season 3, Episode 6
The hardest episodes to choose for this list aren’t my top 10 or 20. It’s the first, or should I say last, entry that is the most difficult to properly define. How is one episode worse than another? Are the jokes unfunny? Is it not best utilizing the ensemble? Is it still trying to figure out its voice? And for this early season 3 episode, the squad had decidedly found its voice, but it seems to have forgotten its plot. While Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), and Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews) city slicking is fun, the B and C plots revolving around Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti) and Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) trying to sell shoulder mounted flashlights to the NYPD and Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz) and Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher) bonding over her breakup with his nephew don’t connect either comically or emotionally. While I think Nick Cannon is an incredibly fun performer (Two words masquerading as one y’all: DRUMLINE), he was written with a sense of impermanence, making it hard for the audience to fall for his relationship with Rosa. But thankfully Rosa’s romances just get more nuanced and representative as the show progresses.
141. The Overmining
Season 4, Episode 9
As I said, no episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is wholly unfunny. Unlike most shows, even in the episodes that air more on the side of being a dud, there’s something that works. And what works in ‘The Overmining’ is that Ken Marino, even on an off day, is overwhelmingly likable. And as the doofus new Captain after Holt has been moved from the Nine-Nine, his affable quality comes through. But the episode can’t coast solely on the charm of Marino, and while a Terry/Gina B Plot and a Rosa/Boyle C plot are fine, they do nothing to hold this episode in our memories. The cardinal sin of any Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode isn’t being unfunny, but rather just forgettable.
140. M.E. Time
Season 1, Episode 4
Look, I appreciate a good “I think that doctor has sex with dead bodies” joke as much as the next guy. But while Brooklyn Nine-Nine never loses the dark bite that’s always been in the fabric of the show, it just doesn’t 100% come together in the way it deserves, especially with an actor as funny as Mary Elizabeth Ellis (It’s Always Sunny) in a guest role. But we do get the groundwork for Terry’s artistic talents which will better serve the squad in future episodes.
139. Return to Skyfire
Season 5, Episode 8
Ask yourself these questions next time you watch ‘Return To Skyfire’: why do you think the joke “He pulls. HE PULLS!” is meant to be funny? Is it because we don’t expect a George R. R. Martin proxy to be a sexual animal if it wasn’t for his money and fame? What does that say of the women he’s with? Is the show purporting that they’re just starfucking? What makes any of this impressive to Terry and Jake? Suffice to say, certain fan culture has been poisoned by many bad apples turned virulent misogynists, and this running gag rubs elbows with a kind of frat-ish humor that is unexpected from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. All of this being said, I do not find anything intentionally malicious about this joke. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you think on it. And it’s because of this joke I have to don my New York Post hat and say: ‘Return to Skyfire’ is a bit of a misfire. But if we can be assured of anything on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, is that it’s a show about learning from your mistakes.
138. The Last Ride
Season 4, Episode 15
The major issue with this episode is an issue I have with any show that uses this tired trope. The episode centers around Holt believing the Nine-Nine will be shut down. The problem is…we know the Nine-Nine won’t shut down. So a lot of the tense air is sucked out of scenes, like Charles and Jake’s “last case together”, because the device is easily seen through. Does that mean this humor doesn’t work? Absolutely not. Who doesn’t love the Ginazon and how they save the day? But the emotional throughline just lacks the gravity because the central problem is too improbable to be taken seriously.
137. The Tagger
Season 1, Episode 2
Man, Holt really didn’t trust Jake in the first season! Here is the first of many storylines revolving around Holt “babysitting” Jake on a case. While the show will add more complexity in later seasons, they haven’t fully hammered out who these two personalities are and with that it suffers from “Early Season Jitters”. But that doesn’t mean the episode isn’t without its merit, namely a cameo by Artemis Pebdani (It’s Always Sunny) as a psychic who psyches out Boyle. But what I find the most to appreciate about these early Jake/Holt interactions is how earnestly The Captain recognizes Jake’s innate talent and works to draw the best in him out, despite Jake feeling too controlled. It instantly makes us recognize why these two will play so well off of each other in the show’s future. And hey! An always fun cameo by Resident Surly Everyman James M Connor (Vice Principals)!
Season 1, Episode 21
While the episode’s title alludes to the unsolvable case that Jake and Terry are working on, this is all about our first Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker) and Scully (Joel McKinnon Miller) pseudo-centric episode. The docile duo unlocks their full investigatory potential to track down the hidden bathroom that Rosa and Gina have let the infirmed Boyle in on. I appreciate the glimpses we get as to why Hitchcock and Scully are still on the force, especially when their detective work proves fruitful, but in a sea of other great episodes, not all the cream can rise to the top.
135. The Venue
Season 5, Episode 6
The Vulture swoops in again, but this time to jack Amy and Jake’s wedding venue. And from someone, dear reader, who is to be wed soon in The Big Apple, I can say with some degree of authority that this is a major dick move! So of course, Dean Winters plays it perfectly. But otherwise, in an episode that revolves around a prolonged dick joke, Terry’s use of the third person, and Captain Peanut Butter, New York’s Finest Police Horse, it feels more like a swing and a miss.
134. The Night Shift
Season 4, Episode 4
While this crossover with Fox’s LA-based sitcom New Girl has a surface level of self-awareness that makes it cute, it lacks a deeper dive considering Damon Wayans Jr., who was starring in New Girl, also had guest starred in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. While we didn’t need a Groucho Marx mirror routine with Wayans Jr.’s dual characters, it would have been a great nod to both shows to have this happy accident seem highly intentional. Either way, ‘The Night Shift’ thankfully doesn’t devote an incredible amount of time to the crossover event, allowing Holt to bond with the squad over their mutual hatred of working the graveyard shift.
133. Operation: Broken Feather
Season 1, Episode 15
You’ll notice a trend for me in these bottom of the list episodes: their major entertainment crime, to channel the inimitable Gina for a moment, is being the physical embodiment of The Shrug Emoji. What this episode importantly does is start dropping the Will-They-Won’t-They hints between Jake and Amy as Peralta can’t quite put into words why the idea of Amy potentially transferring to Major Crimes has him so shook. Sure, we know why, but it’ll take him at least another season to figure that one out! But with this episode does have is one of the best lines from the first season:
“I’m surprised you read Othello.”
“What the hell’s Othello, I just called you the parrot from Aladdin”
To all my theater nerds in the back: THIS SHOW SEES US!
Season 2, Episode 13
I want to believe that some episodes are specifically named after action films. While ‘Payback’ isn’t the most memorable episode (and definitely not as memorable as the film it may be named after), it ultimately just culminates in Jake spilling the beans on Terry having another child. The joke of the episode though is Amy and Holt bonding over the consumption and sudden surprise diarrhea of “street meat”. To trust the halal carts in New York, take it from me: have an iron stomach first.
Season 6, Episode 12
Ugh. It’s really hard for me to believe two things with this episode. 1. How did Jake and Amy not actually talk about wanting kids before they got married, and 2. I’m a little surprised they went with Jake not wanting kids, despite his character having a bad relationship with his own father. I get it, I really do, but the choice felt too easy and obvious for a show that’s always looking for a way to subvert ingrained stereotypes. BUT despite a plot hole the size of Texas, the episode is a great reminder that Julia Sweeney is an absolute gem of a guest star and having a bit of a renaissance thanks to her roles in this, Shrill, and Work in Progress!