Does Brooklyn Nine-Nine qualify as “copaganda?” That’s a question that Joe Lo Truglio and the rest of the cast probably never imagined having to answer when they signed on seven years ago.
As Lo Truglio tells me on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, the NBC comedy’s eighth season is currently scheduled to start production the day before the 2020 election. When the cast and crew finally return to the set after a longer than expected hiatus, it will be in a culture that thinks very differently about how police are portrayed on television.
“I know the writers have had their hands full navigating all of the large events that have been happening,” he says, confirming what co-star Terry Crews revealed back in June about creator Dan Goor’s decision to scrap four episodes that had already been written following the police killing of George Floyd. “They threw all those scripts out the window and now they’re onto something else,” the actor, who portrays Officer Charles Boyle on the show, adds. “So I’m glad that the show is being current and very aware of the climate that we’re doing these shows in.”
Confirming that Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s eighth season will contain a storyline that specifically tackles police brutality, Goor recently told Variety, “We want to make sure we get it right.”
Lo Truglio says he hasn’t actually seen any of the new scripts yet, but explains that Goor has met with each of the main cast members individually to talk over ideas for the new season. He also reveals that the writers and producers brought in the racial justice organization Color of Change just after the protests began to discuss how the show can depict its police characters in a less stereotypical, more forward-looking way.
“The conversations revolved around how we want to go about talking about these issues,” Lo Truglio says. “And so much of it was, let’s realize that we’re walking through a door now and we can’t walk back into the old room. We’re moving forward.”
“It’s a different world now,” he continues. “And we need to honor the fact that it’s a comedy, that we do want to entertain, but we also don’t want to seem tone-deaf. And so those conversations had a lot to do with, how can we make these characters grow—which has always been a strength of the show—in a way that also addresses these issues that are growing outside the show?”
After a series of scene-stealing performances in a long list of comedy films—beginning 20 years ago with Wet Hot American Summer—landing a series regular role on Brooklyn Nine-Nine in 2013 marked a major milestone in Lo Truglio’s career.
“It’s the dream of every actor to be in a show like this that lasts this long and has such a strong supporting cast and most importantly, terrific leadership at the top,” he says. “It was one of those projects that—not that it came out of nowhere, but I didn’t expect this type of success. We all got along from the get-go. But you never really know how the show is going to work with audiences.”
It has not been the easiest road for the show, which was canceled by Fox after five seasons and only picked up again by NBC after fans campaigned on social media to save the workplace sitcom. And while it’s arguably been the best thing that’s happened in Lo Truglio’s career, he came very close to missing out on it altogether.
“At the time I think I was just getting tired of auditioning and wanted things handed to me and that’s just not how it works,” he says, recalling how he almost skipped his callback. “So it was kind of a lesson in humility and I realized that I wasn't going to get the job if I didn’t go in. And I’m really glad that I did, because you just cut yourself off to so many things when you don’t do that.”
“So yeah, it was something I almost missed,” Lo Truglio admits. “And I thank all the people that were around me saying, don’t be an idiot, get in there, this is how it works.”
Seven years later, this silly police comedy finds itself in the middle of a nationwide reckoning about the role of cops in society.
“There’s an obligation for us to stay funny, but I think there’s also an obligation for us to address in a very real way being a cop show,” Lo Truglio says. “There’s not even a responsibility, although some may argue that there is and they wouldn’t be wrong, but there’s just an opportunity to introduce these other perspectives on these issues.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Stand-up comedian whose new special ‘Welcome to Buteaupia’ premieres on Netflix Tuesday, September 29th, Michelle Buteau.