The Quiet, Progressive Nature of Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Why aren't you watching yet?
First, just to kick things off, I love Brooklyn Nine-Nine and it’s probably my favorite comedy currently on television, filling the Parks and Recreation void of heartfelt comedies. So it may momentarily seem that I’m biased, but even if I didn’t love the show and all it’s characters, if I wasn’t invested in their relationships, I’d still be pleased with how inclusive the show is. This isn’t the first time that this aspect of the series has been pointed out, but it’s something worth celebrating in a television landscape that’s broadening its horizons at a maddeningly slow pace.
The show is, firstly, great at breaking typical archetypes. Terry Crews plays Terry, an overall good natured softie who uses his twin daughters as ways to bestow lessons on behavior on his team. More than once he’s been written as more as a parental figure to the Nine-Nine (and if you have yet to see season one’s dinner party episode, please do so after you finish reading. Or now, it’s cool.).
Terry is this towering, imposing figure who contradicts this by being possibly the nicest soul on the show, one who loves love and his yogurt parfaits. His genial nature is a nice comparison for Charles Boyle’s character (Joe Lo Truglio) who began as a “nice guy” and was improved vastly when the show homed in on his more particular traits such as his love of shampooing his partner’s hair, or his snobby, food elitism. His friendship with Rosa is much more interesting when it’s a platonic relationship being developed, opposed to a pining, unrequited one.
Rosa’s entire personality is a departure. Not only does her characterization avoid any stereotypes, she’s also been written into a role typically reserved for men. She gets to play the no-nonsense, bad ass cop and there’s no tragic backstory to explain it away, she isn’t tough with a heart of gold or ever softened by any one person she’s dating. While I couldn’t help but be annoyed that a large portion of her development in season two did involve a boyfriend, Marcus, played with no charm by Nick Cannon, I was glad that his inclusion in the series never took away from the Rosa that we’d met. Rosa is tough as nails and we don’t need to know why, she’s amusing enough as is and Stephanie Beatriz is hilarious in the role (so much so that I still would like to see more of her).
It’s notable that there are also two latinas on the show (Beatriz and Melissa Fumero’s Amy) with neither of them being reduced to stereotypes. Eva Longoria also was a guest star in season two as Jake’s girlfriend and was never painted as the bad guy when the inevitable break up happened. It shouldn’t be noteworthy that a show hires two women of color as more than bit roles, but you don’t see a lot of diversity on television (particularly comedy) and when diversity happens, it’s worth watching and supporting.
In general I love the way that the female characters are handled on this show. They’re written as capable and intelligent but are still given the same amount of comedic ground to play with. They get to be silly and slapstick (Amy growing increasingly drunk in an episode last season is a particular highlight), they get to indulge in physical comedy (any time the extraordinary Chelsea Peretti gets to dance as Gina) and are allowed plenty of scenes where it’s only women in the scene. Gina and Amy in particular had some nice scenes in season two, where Gina’s consistent picking on Amy turned more affectionate rather than mean spirited, especially once Amy began to let loose a little in front of her.
I understand that despite what I said, many people will still be unable to fully accept the shows progressive nature when the leading man is still a white, straight male but Andy Samberg’s Jake Peralta isn’t your normal leading male archetype and has instead on many occasions been written to be a feminist. For a second I worried that I was simply projecting, but the instances kept happening. Whether it be his friendships with the women in his life, his disgust at a suspect’s perverted thoughts over a woman, his belief that he shouldn’t force his feelings on Amy, believing she doesn’t owe him anything, I’m willing to stick my neck out and say Jake is one of the most (if not the most) feminist male leads on television currently.
Sure, he can be ignorant, but it’s never to be hurtful and it never is at the expense of a female character. His relationships with Amy, Rosa and Gina are all fleshed out and their friendships are written to be just as important as his with Charles or his with Holt.
As much of an ensemble showcase that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is, it thrives on having Andre Braugher on board as Captain Holt who doesn’t just have the best one liners on the show, but also instills with an extra layer of heart and humor. It’s revealed in the pilot Holt is gay and his sexuality is never used as a punchline for a joke, and while he speaks about the hardships as starting out as a cop who’s both black and gay, his sexuality is also never made as the defining feature of his character. His sexuality is simply another aspect of who he is as a human being, a multi-faceted individual just like every other character on the show.
These characters are more than their one word descriptors and the humor is never vicious or mean spirited (something that even Parks and Rec had trouble with in terms of the Jerry/Gerry/Larry character).
Beneath the characters antics and the implausibility of some of the workplace behavior is a show very taken by the characters, and the writer’s affection for them carries over. As audience members we too are attached to them, and what makes them all the more satisfying to watch, beyond the charm and group dynamic, is the idea that we can see ourselves reflected on screen. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has never been self-congratulatory about their diversity and I hope that’s because they know it’s nothing to celebrate doing, it’s simply something that should be done onscreen more.
The Nine-Nine gang returns September 27th and with a core group of characters such as these it’s difficult not to welcome them back.
Allyson Johnson is a twenty something writer and a lover of film and all things pop culture. She’s a film and television enthusiast and critic over at TheYoungFolks.com who spends too much of her free time on Netflix. Her idols are Jo March, Illana Glazer, and Amy Poehler. Check her out at her twitter @AllysonAJ or at The Young Folks.
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