Brooklyn Nine-Nine premiered 10 years ago this week. The cop comedy was definitely hilarious right out of the gate, but it fixed its minor issues early on to become one of the most reliable sources of laughter for the rest of its run. It got unceremoniously canceled by Fox, but found a new home at NBC in a matter of hours after a well of online support from the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda (who later guest-starred) and Mark Hamill (who didn’t but should have). Its final season was delayed due to COVID and a reckoning with how the media portrays cops in an almost exclusively positive delight. While I respect the effort, it made for some very cringe-y moments in its last episodes. (Though it did give us John C. McGinley as a police union president who’s cartoonish but basically realistic.) Here are my top 10 episodes.
10. “The Lake House” (Season 8, Episode 2)
Like I said, Season 8’s attempts to grapple with the “copaganda” label were noble but rough. But it still had plenty of gems like this one, in which Jake attempts to “Parent Trap” the separated Kevin and Raymond, enlisting a reluctant Terry into his scheme. There’s some moving, detailed character work here, but it also finds time for Rosa to get incredibly high and eat chips with Scully for the whole episode.
9. “Ding Dong” (Season 7, Episode 7)
The show’s best recurring antagonist without a doubt was Madeline Wuntch (Kyra Sedgwick), whose rivalry with Holt produced some of the show’s biggest laughs. (Let’s enjoy some of their insults right now, shall we?) In her last appearance, she dies, but still puts Holt to the test in an incredibly complicated last act of subterfuge, forcing him to let go of their bitter feud.
8. “Bureau” (Season 3, Episode 22)
Andre Braugher’s deadpan delivery as Captain Raymond Holt made for one of the great comedic performances of the 2010s. (Alas, it resulted in four Emmy nominations but no wins.) But pairing him with an equally deadpan Dennis Haysbert was a stroke of genius. The latter plays Holt’s former partner, now working for the FBI, but with a sinister secret. Their Mission: Impossible-esque break-in to steal classified documents results in one of Braugher’s funniest moments.
7. “The Crime Scene” (Season 6, Episode 6)
While the show had a supremely gifted ensemble, this episode sidelines most of them to let Peralta and Diaz (in a series of increasingly wild hairstyles) focus on a seemingly unsolvable case. It’s a whip-smart, hilarious episode that also has room for genuine character growth.
6. “The Bet” (Season 1, Episode 13)
And here the seeds were planted for the best will they-won’t they of the 21st Century. Amy loses a bet to Jake and has to attend the “worst date ever,” which gets interrupted by a last-minute stakeout. The two bond over the course of the night, and their romance would play out beautifully over the rest of the series.
5. “The Pontiac Bandit Returns” (Season 2, Episode 10)
It’s impossible not to love Doug Judy. Craig Robinson’s indelible character – a charming car thief – builds an unbreakable bromance with Jake, making it a challenge for the latter to do his job. All of Robinson’s appearances are worth watching, but this remains their best, as Judy parlays his information about a drug dealer into a suite deal, complete with fluffy bathrobes and room service.
4. “Johnny and Dora” (Season 2, Episode 23)
Romantic as hell.
3. “Coral Palms” (Season 4, Episodes 1-3)
Forced into Witness Protection after their lives are threatened by a mobster, Holt and Jake relocate to Florida, posing as Greg and Larry. The former ingratiates himself with a gaggle of gossipy power walkers, while the latter spirals into a fried food coma and frosts his tips. Their attempts to put away their angel of death forces them to put aside their different policing styles, all the while scoring some incredible jokes about America’s craziest state.
2. “The Box” (Season 5, Episode 14)
I really wanted to put this as No. 1. But it felt wrong to put the show’s least representative episode in the top spot. A true bottle episode, it features Jake going head to head with an arrogant dentist (Sterling K. Brown) accused of murder. The interrogation scenes are intense, and the conflict between Holt and Jake on how best to crack their suspect feels true to their characters. It’s a perfect episode of TV, but an atypical episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
1. “HalloVeen” (Season 5, Episode 4)
It could have been so easy to mail in the fifth annual Halloween Heist episode. Some crazy antics, a few surprising betrayals and a last-minute twist and call it a day. But the show took it up a notch with a Handmaid’s Tale-themed diversion, a fake Cheddar and a truly heartwarming finale. It’s the show firing on all cylinders.