'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' Mulling How to Incorporate COVID-19 Into Season 8

"The question is how they have been affected by the virus and the pandemic as New York City residents and as first responders in New York City," showrunner Dan Goor tells The Hollywood Reporter.
NBC
'Brooklyn Nine-Nine'

[This story contains spoilers from the season seven finale of NBC's Brooklyn Nine-Nine.]

NBC's Brooklyn Nine-Nine wrapped its seventh season Thursday with a feel-good finale that offered a glimpse into a common struggle: that of working parents as Jake (Andy Samberg) and Amy (Melissa Fumero) battled a New York City blackout as the latter went into labor and ultimately gave birth to their son. Behind the scenes, the writers went back to work this week on season eight of the cop comedy and debate how to incorporate New York's first responders and the novel coronavirus into their scripts.

To hear showrunner Dan Goor tell it, brushing the global pandemic under the proverbial rug is not an option — namely because so many of the city's first responders have been impacted by the deadly COVID-19 virus.

Below, Goor and star Samberg talk with The Hollywood Reporter about the season finale, the show's future beyond season eight and what the early discussions the writers are considering about how to still tell funny stories while not turning a blind eye to the world's current reality. (Note: These interviews were conducted in two separate calls.)

Dan, you just opened the remote writers room, via Zoom, for season eight this week. How do you see the value of comedy amid our current world? We've heard stories of folks quarantined at home turning to comedy as an escape, and, personally speaking, your show has been the go-to for my wife and I in these difficult times.

Goor: It has been incredibly gratifying for all of us to read tweets from people who are happy to be watching our show and to escape into these characters who happen to be living in a world that is corona-free. We also have the luxury of having completed this season before any of this happened so there is kind of a blissful and excusable naiveté and ignorance about the world. It's not like we're putting our head in the sand; it's like we didn't know about it when it happened. We are really conscious of the fact that there is a value in giving people a release and in just making a show that's funny and has characters who love each other and are good people.

Samberg: There's different shades of it. You still have Seth Meyers and John Oliver and all the late night people doing their shows and keeping people informed through comedy when you want to engage. Then there's stuff like Brooklyn and whether it's shows like Parks and Recreation that are wonderful examples of something that you can escape into because they are idyllic and there is tension release there. There are so many people spending time watching TV and movies because they're on their computer all day and hearing all of this really intense stuff that you need to give your mind a little bit of a break.

You're a show set in Brooklyn that features first responders who have been hit hard by COVID-19. How much are you considering incorporating it next season?

Goor: As we move into next year — right now we literally have had one day of the writers room — it's what we're talking about. We think there is a value to escapism, but at the same time, we don't want to be ignorant. There is a debate about what next year will look like. I don't think anybody wants us to, nor do we want to, have our characters toiling away in the depths of the pandemic. I don't think that's the direction we'll go in. But the question is how they have been affected by the virus and the pandemic as New York City residents and as first responders in New York City. How do we keep the show funny? How do we do that while still making them of this world and of their world? It's challenging. The only thing that makes it slightly easier is if we are shooting it, it means that a lot of things have happened: the curve has more than flattened and we are in a world where social distancing has been relaxed and people are back at their jobs. Some of the issues will be partially solved [for us]. I'm not saying that things are going to be all better. That said, I do think it's possible that there will be an episode or parts of episodes that do explore what their lives are like now — or were like now — because that that informs who they are. But we are really trying to figure it out.

What have the early pitches around COVID-19 looked like?

Goor: There was a pitch in the room that they live in a world where coronavirus was cured after two weeks. I had a negative reaction to that because it feels like then they are not anchored and tethered to the world anymore. And you lose the value of that; it's harder to laugh with them. They are not people who are going through the same thing you are. And part of the catharsis, I think, is that they are these people you know who go through the kinds of things you go through.

And Brooklyn is a show that is very much set in the real world, having tackled subjects including #MeToo and racial profiling…

Goor: I also feel like there are stories to be told. There will be so many after-effects of this, even once there is a vaccine and once we're all back at work. Those are things that are worth exploring. People lose jobs — does the spouse or partner of one of our main cast members lose their job? Does that put economic pressure on them? Does that lead to funny stories about them having to do multiple jobs at one time or take a night job? There are ways in which we can try to bring the real world into Brooklyn without it being super tragic.

We are sadly as a society at a point where everyone knows someone or has been directly affected by either the virus or the economic fallout from it. Have you considered if any of the man characters will have had COVID-19 or had a family member who did?

Goor: Yes, it's certainly something we're talking about. I don't know what we'll do. One in five New York City police officers is out sick or self-isolating due to contact with COVID-19. It is certainly something that we are talking about. Or do we pick up afterward and find out that some of them are sick? I don't know. However we do it, we will try make sure the show is still funny and the characters are who they are. Even in an "issues" episode, we try to do in the most Brooklyn Nine-Nine-y way we can do it.

Andy, as someone who plays a New York police detective, do you have a message for them?

Samberg: Thank you for your service and stay as safe as you possibly can. So many people in New York and all over the world who work in public service and in hospitals are doing so much to help protect us and help people and trying to save people's lives and putting themselves in danger. It's really heavy. It's stuff that you really don't expect will happen to you in your lifetime. So, all I can really do is send my thanks out to those peeps. And to anyone else reading, if you haven't already and you can, you should be donating and helping people. That's the most proactive thing a lot of people can do from their homes right now.

Let's talk about the season finale. What inspired the blackout concept?

Goor: What really inspired it was the blackout that happened in 2003. My wife was a lawyer in Midtown New York at the time and had to walk back to Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge. I lived in New York at the time and there were a lot of things that moved me during that time that were impactful. Some of them were in earlier drafts and then just fell out, like normal citizens started directing traffic. Almost all of these things fell out because they didn't involve our characters. Restaurants gave away food for free partly because their freezers were broken so they were going to lose it anyway but it felt like a civic thing. There was just a way in which the whole community came together. I know that blackouts are a trope in television but it did feel like while they are a trope in television they impact our police officers differently than they do just on a family show or some other work place.

Right, like when Friends did it, you didn't see the police response.

Goor: Yes! In the same way that Amy caught perps in her wedding dress, I love the idea of her being a badass and choosing to do the job as she goes into labor. I understand, having been by my wife's side during two births, how crazily unrealistic that may be. But it still seemed fun and worth doing.

When you guys broke this episode, did you approach it as a season finale or a series finale, which you've had to do a number of times in the past when the show's future was uncertain.

Goor: We knew that we were coming back and had known for a while. If we had known we were not coming back, I wouldn't have made the series finale Jake and Amy having a kid because I don't think that's the main arc that we're telling. But it did feel like a nice season-ender.

The finale offered a glimpse at how Jake and Amy would juggle demanding careers and being parents. How are you looking to build on that next season?

Goor: We're going to handle it the same way that we handled their romantic relationship, which is to try to be as natural as possible, to build things in a very natural way the way, without forced conflicts. But there are real conflicts and tensions involved in being working parents who love their jobs and having a kid who they want to be a good parent to. So that seems like a great story generator. We want to be conscious of the fact that the show exists at the 99th precinct primarily. At the same time, we are not going to ignore the fact that they have the kid but we're not going to all the sudden spend 95 percent of the time at their house. Also, parenting is another way we can bring out their natural odd-couple dynamic. In the same way that trying to have a kid was the thing that no matter how prepared Amy tried be she couldn't control, there are elements of being a parent that are exactly the same and I think will be a real comedy driver for Amy.

Andy, how do you think Jake being a father will change him?

Samberg: The way that it changes all parents when you're forced to be more responsible just by what it necessitates. Once you decide you're going to have a kid and give it what it needs and keep it alive, you give up a lot of other things. And when you give those things up you mature just by nature. The way that his story has shifted from being terrified of being a parent to giving himself over to the idea of doing it and then having a hard time with his own father and seeing how much he has adjusted himself to putting himself in a position to be the kind of father he wishes that he had had? I think he's going to really throw himself into it and be ecstatic about it. I have a young kid myself so there was a lot even this year that I connected with. I feel like that will just continue. It's not going to be hard to act a lot of that stuff. (Laughs.)

What have you learned from playing Jake, and how has the character changed you?

Samberg: There's a lot with Jake that has coincided with my life. It's one hand washes the other in a lot of ways. Who I am has changed him as a person, too. (Laughs.) The first episode they really lay it out clearly: Jake needs to grow up and his biggest challenge is focusing and being more serious in his life because he's got all this potential. The fun thing that has been surprising in how we have dealt with Jake is that it wasn't necessarily related to his work. What was deemed important and what he veered toward was a lot more about coming to terms with who he is and allowing himself to really feel his feelings and just standard male stuff: Figuring out how to communicate with people that he loves and cares about; learning how to be in a committed relationship; and committing to starting a family. It was less about career ambition and more about growth, which I thought was cool.

Jake and Amy name their son Mac, after Die Hard's John McClane. Were there any other names on the table or did it have to be Die Hard?

Goor: It had to be Die Hard-related. The other leading contender was to make that the season cliffhanger, but we felt like that was a total cop-out. Like, Jake says, "We're naming the baby …" and then it cuts out and you hear the "not a doctor" tagline.

The show has always featured these big moments between Jake and Amy. What's next for them?

Goor: I don't know. Bar mitzvah?! (Laughs.) It's about them being parents and about their jobs. Amy's career is more important to her than ever before. I think it's about continuing the maturation process of Jake. Maybe it's a career landmark for one of them and maybe it's a career landmark that has an impact on their family. But again, we just started the room, so it's hard to say.

Samberg: Being a good father is heavy on his mind. He keeps voicing that concern. And parenthood has many phases, so that's a never-ending one. Just when you think you've got the hang of it, it changes drastically. So that will be there for us going forward. Jake talked about wanting to be on the task force and things come up that he's interested in that. Anything that makes his job feel more like he's in a movie he's hungry for. But on the other hand, once you have kids that affects people differently and maybe Jake and Amy wouldn't want to be putting themselves in the line of danger all the time.

On another note, Terry (Terry Crews) teaches Holt (Andre Braugher) a hip-hop dance. How much convincing did it take to get Andre and Terry to do that, knowing you would actually show it?

Goor: For Terry, zero. Andre, in his self-effacing way, was like, "Good luck making this work!" And then he was amazing. We did three takes and every one of them was incredibly funny and we were on the floor laughing. It was amazing. And Terry could be a professional dancer, he's such a talented hip-hop dancer and just dancer in general.

Last we spoke, there had been rumors that season seven was going to be the last one for Brooklyn. As you head into season eight, do you have a sense of how much longer you'll run?

Goor: Right now, we are really just concentrating on the present and on making season eight great. It is hard to think about the future with the world the way it is right now. We feel lucky to have jobs and to have fans that love the show.

You've had a number of finales that have had to double as series-enders. Do you know how ultimately the series will end or have you stopped thinking about that?

Goor: There are a few ideas that I have kicked around and I've kicked around with [writer-producer] Luke Del Tredici, the number two on the show, and that I think would be satisfying. It's difficult because the circumstances keep changing and so it's hard to lock into one idea of what the future could be or will be. I'm not 100 percent sure how it ends, but I have some good ideas.

Elsewhere, Dan, you have a pilot in the works at NBC. What's the status of that?

Goor: NBC ordered a second script and we're in the process of writing the second script and outline. I am grateful that they have ordered another script, I think it's another opportunity to highlight what works about the show.

Andy, your comedy trio The Lonely Island did the Bash Brothers special for Netflix last year. Have you guys been using the quarantine to work on anything new?

Samberg: We keep texting each other saying we should, but we haven't yet, I'm sad to say. But I was excited because my buddy Chelsea Peretti just put out an EP about coffee! (Laughs.) Comedy and music is great, even if it's not us. But, yes, we keep saying that we should be doing something and then don't. But maybe we will. We'll see how long this goes, hopefully we won’t because this will end soon.

Andy, what have you been watching?

Samberg: My wife and I are watching Mad Men, which I had never actually seen all the way through. My wife and I keep thinking that we can't tell if we're drinking because we're watching Mad Men or the other way around. (Laughs.) But We definitely started making cocktails.

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.