For Stephanie Beatriz, The Miraculous Un-Canceling Of 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' Isn't A Miracle — It's An Opportunity
Cancellation was inevitable for Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The little Fox sitcom-that-could — a quippy, subtle yet unsubtle series about a ragtag bunch of Brooklyn detectives and their captain — aired its third-to-last episode of Season 5 to dismal numbers: Only 1.6 million people tuned in. But it was to be expected: Ratings in the low one millions plagued the series throughout Season 5. For a show on one of the big four networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox), the numbers were abysmal, a veritable death knell — even low-rated NBC critical darling The Good Place pulls in three and half million (or more) on most episodes.
Naturally, on May 10, just over a week before the Season 5 finale, Fox called it: Brooklyn Nine-Nine was canceled. The usual outpouring of sadness rang out from TV obsessives and critics, but that was to be expected. It's a culturally diverse critical darling from Parks & Recreation veterans Michael Schur and Dan Goor, reliable purveyors of hilarious, thoughtful television. Then something different happened. Instead of the outcry dying down as it usually does, it got louder. Celebrities like Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and Star Wars legend Mark Hamill joined the fray. The series became a top Twitter topic overnight. Everyone was dying to keep this little cop show on air. And for Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Stephanie Beatriz, it was the start of the most unique 31 hours of her life.
"The whole thing was crazy, it was just crazy. It’s an insane ride to think that you lost your job where you met the most special people in your life and you’re not going to get to see them every day anymore. It’s hard. And then suddenly, it’s something completely different," she says over the phone in early July. I can almost hear the entire range of emotions she and her cast-mates went through on that fateful May day in her voice. "I’ve never gone on a ride like that and I don’t think I ever will again."
Beatriz's rollercoaster ride, which started with an email to the cast from showrunner Dan Goor explaining that Fox would no longer produce the show and ended with a surprise pick-up, is something of a TV industry staple. It's lore that creators and audiences hold on to in times of uncertainty. Fans know that if Arrested Development could be revived on Netflix, if people could send mass amounts of literal peanuts to save Jericho, if Veronica Mars could go on to become a crowd-sourced feature film, and if Community could survive cancellation not once, but twice, there is often hope for their newly canceled faves. But this time, that path simply didn't appear to be available. The numbers were just too low, and hours after the cancellation was announced, streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu (which saved Arrested Development and The Mindy Project, respectively) had passed on the opportunity to keep BK99 alive. All hope seemed lost.
"All of us were really sad. I had wrapped my brain around the idea that it was not going to continue, I don’t know why, but it was just that what we had was very special and I was very grateful all the time, because you know you just never know. Stuff ends. These shows don’t continue forever," Beatriz says. But the day after the cancellation sparked mass outcry from fans, a spark of good news appeared in the form of a text from series star Andy Samberg to the group chat that the cast shares: "Andy was like, 'check your email' and there it was: NBC was picking up the show," Beatriz says, sounding as though she's still in disbelief, a month and a half after the save heard 'round the TV world. But it's real: Filming begins in late August, with the cast's first table read on Aug. 8 and life at the 99 (as the series' titular precinct is affectionately called) continues after all.
So yeah, if there's a non-violent escalation of pinching oneself, that's what Beatriz is doing right about now. Back in 2013 when she got hired on as Rosa (named Megan in the original script, before the creators decided that Beatriz should take on the role), she wasn't exactly drowning in offers.
"It wasn’t like it came across my desk and I thought about it," she says, of the pilot script for Brooklyn Nine-Nine. "It was like, 'Oh my god, please let me not just be horrible at this audition, please let me get a callback.' Then it was like, 'Please don’t let me f*ck this up." It took a while before she got to the screen test — the "Jesus Christ keep it together, Andy Samberg is in the room" part, as Beatriz puts it — but she won the role and Rosa's signature badassery and gruff demeanor found a place in the hearts of the fans whose fervent tweets saved the show.
Then there's the fact that, just like her character on the show, Beatriz is considerably close with her Nine-Nine coworkers, and now she still gets to see them at work every day. In fact, when I ask her what else she wants her fans to know about her upcoming projects, her first thought is to say that she's just so excited to see the rest of the cast.
"I’m excited to see them all this coming week. "We’ve been on hiatus so all of us are electronically talking to each other but I’m excited to see them all this coming week," she adds with an audible smile. Two weeks after we speak, in late July, she and the entire cast will gather together first at San Diego Comic-Con and then at a comedy club in Los Angeles for a fundraiser to fight family separation at the U.S. border and to help manage its after effects, organized by Beatriz's co-star Chelsea Peretti. ("You might not know it from her character on television, but Chelsea is one of the most loving and caring people I’ve ever met in my life," Beatriz adds.)
But beyond her desire to see her friends and have an amazing job, there's the not-so-little Season 5 moment that changed everything. In the late December episode "Game Night," Rosa came out to her best friends and co-workers as bisexual, matter-of-factly and without ceremony. The scene mirrored Beatriz's own casual coming out moment and one that was vitally important for bi representation because Rosa actually said "bi" rather than leaving anything up to interpretation. (That's huge, by the way, when you consider that according to GLAAD's annual Where We Are On TV study from 2017, only 28 percent of the LGBTQ characters tracked across broadcast, cable, and streaming programs are bisexual — and that's after you consider that 28 percent is a slice of the only 6.4 percent of the characters on television and streaming in 2017 that were LGBTQ.) When the series was granted a second chance, so was the story of Rosa's dating life, which is open and free now that both her friends and family know her truth.
"I think it’s important for her character development for us to see her in relationships with women," Beatriz says with the caveat that she's not yet seen the scripts for Season 6, but that she doesn't see a happily ever after in her tough detective's future. "I don’t know if Rosa is the sort of settle down type at this point in her life — I don’t know that she is. I think she’s watching everyone around her dig in and make the relationship deeper and I’m not sure whether or not she feels any insecurity there. It’s always fun to see Rosa feel insecure, because it’s not something that she feels a lot of the time," she adds with a chuckle. Seeing more development of Rosa's family — who didn't take her coming out as kindly as she'd hoped — is also on Beatriz's list of storylines she's hoping for. But for fans crossing their fingers that Season 5 finale guest star Gina Rodriguez comes back to romance Rosa on a long-term basis, it just might not be in the cards: "I know she wants to do it again, and I know we want her to do it again, it’s just about whether or not it works out," she says, adding that the first time around, the crew was only able to get a single day on Rodriguez's stacked calendar.
But while Beatriz is not a writer or showrunner and doesn't technically control where her storyline goes, she says the writers have created an extremely collaborative environment in which she feels comfortable speaking up to make Rosa's journey as authentic as possible. In fact, they famously consulted with Beatriz before they wrote Rosa's coming out episodes.
"I went into that meeting and I spoke about my own experiences and I spoke about what I thought was important to have in the script, but I didn’t have input on the way the scenes were laid out and those were just handed to me and they were brilliant," she recalls. "We’re really, I hate to say it, but blessed — hashtag blessed — with our writing staff because they come from all different places and walks of life, and lots of different ages and different sexual orientations and sexes and it’s a f*cking dope group of people and they’re pushing themselves to be really good and real and definitely what we’re getting to read and act is really dope and real."
It's that dopeness and realness that, despite what the ratings say about who's watching, makes Brooklyn Nine-Nine so worthy of its miraculous return. This is a series that treats its diverse cast of characters like the humans they are, rather than as representations of their racial and sexual identities. It's also a series that focuses on a profession that is continually a source of controversy (law enforcement) in a way that might actually, truly have the capacity for that elusive political unicorn: crossing the aisle.
"Our show is really smart and sneaky, in that you know, it makes you fall in love with these really fun, funny characters and we give them a lot of depth underneath and sort of, you know, gently lead you toward a world in which cops are really trying to do their best to make the world a better place," she says. "The men are feminists and everyone wants equality for everyone around them no matter what their ethnicity or sexual orientation might be. That’s a world I’d like to live in."
And thanks to Brooklyn Nine-Nine's second chance, that's exactly what she gets to do.
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