Brooklyn Nine-Nine is revolutionary for American TV that is usually white, male, and derives most of its laughs from playing along with sexism, racism, and homophobia. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has a racially diverse cast, which makes up almost half of its main cast, LGBTQIA+ characters who own their sexuality, and also strong, independent, and fierce women. The show’s diverse characters alone make it a front-runner for most progressive TV, but the show’s comedy that is devoid of stereotypes and tired clichés is an act of revolution in American TV that, for the most part, garners laughs by means of insensitive racist jokes, ancient sexist tropes, and LGBTQIA+ characters whose sexuality is comic relief.
The show celebrates racial diversity, women, and queerness, and is politically correct, aware, sensitive, and along with this is funny and refreshingly real. The people of colour, women, and the LGBTQIA+ characters on the shows aren’t props to bounce jokes off of – instead, they are well-written characters who serve an important function in the Brooklyn Nine-Nine universe as the white, male characters.
The racial diversity of the show is an attempt to be truly inclusive and doesn’t exist for the sake of creating a bulk of racially insensitive comedy. All the four coloured characters of the main cast are extremely well-written characters who aren’t stereotypes to garner laughs, and neither does the show take an us vs them narrative. The people of colour on the Nine-Nine squad are never seen as any different from the white cast. Two of the highest ranking officers on the show are black men, and the only two female detectives are Latina women.
Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher), Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews), Detectives Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), and Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), are all coloured characters that don’t succumb to stereotypes of their race. This is in contrast to American TV being dominated by coloured characters whose status as people of colour and their culture is used for comic relief.
Unlike Apu from The Simpsons who ‘speaks funny’, Rajesh from The Big Bang Theory, Gloria from Modern Family whose accent and poor English are often made fun of, with characters mimicking it in horrendous ways for laughs, the two black men of Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Captain Holt and Terry – don’t embody any stereotypes associated with black men. Their race is never a way to garner laughs on the show. Rosa and Amy are two Latina women devoid of accents for the white characters to mimic and mock and don’t have any fence scaling, border-crossing stories that can be passed around for laughs.
Another prime aspect that makes the show so increasingly progressive is its LGBTQIA+ characters and their treatment and interactions with the straight folks on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Captain Holt is an openly gay NYPD officer and has been vocal about his sexuality for decades, even when he was a detective working under someone’s command. He openly acknowledges the struggles and discrimination he had to put up with being a black, gay detective and the fact that it took him so long to have his own command is often attributed to the deeply ingrained racism and homophobia within the NYPD.
Last season, Rosa Diaz came out as bisexual, first to her colleagues and later in the episode to her conservative parents. Beatriz’s character coming out is important because most shows that have bisexual characters only ‘imply’ their sexuality through the plot and never actually have any of the characters openly acknowledge it.
Beatriz’s character coming out is important because most shows that have bisexual characters only ‘imply’ their sexuality through the plot.
For instance, in Modern Family, Sarah Hyland’s character, Hailey Dunphy is implied to be bisexual but never actually comes out. Her bisexuality is portrayed through her hitting on women at times, but her sexuality is never made an indispensable part of the character. Lisa Kudrow’s Phoebe from Friends was also implied to be bisexual, but her sexuality was never openly acknowledged. American TV has several of these examples, with bisexual characters rarely ever acknowledging their bisexuality, even in shows where gay characters are vocal about their sexuality.
Captain Holt being gay and Rosa being bisexual are as normal in Brooklyn Nine-Nine as any other character being straight. There is no self-deprecating gay humour, and their sexuality is never used for comic relief. Most shows with gay characters, use the sexuality of these characters for comic material, and most often, these jokes are homophobic. From portraying gay men as feminine, treating homosexuality among women as a fantasy for straight men, dismissing the existence of bisexuality, and overlooking the existence of transgender people, American TV has no dearth of horrible LGBTQIA+ representation, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine is here to change that.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine never plays off sexism as humour, either. The women on Brooklyn Nine-Nine are fierce and know how to hold their own. Though the show isn’t about sisterhood, it’s apparent that there exists sisterhood between the three main female characters. They all acknowledge the fact that they work in a largely male-dominated environment and to navigate a deeply patriarchal environment like that of the NYPD, they are aware they need to have each other’s backs. Although they are vastly different women, all of them are no-nonsense, bold, and strong.
They all acknowledge the fact that they work in a largely male-dominated environment and they are aware they need to have each other’s backs.
Terry Crew’s character, Sergeant Terry Jeffords often refers to himself as a feminist, which is rather uncommon for American TV. All the men on Brooklyn Nine-Nine are feminists in practice, and most importantly, they never pat themselves on the back or ask anyone to do so, for just being decent men. Outside of the main cast, almost all women appearing in other short-lived or recurring roles on the show are almost always fierce and bold. The show has no damsels in distress, and no women on it need saving.
For all its merits, Brooklyn Nine-Nine lacks in one area. Fat-shaming is prevalent on the show. From using murdered overweight people as comic relief to numerous jokes about Terry Crew’s character formerly being overweight, the show fails to display its usual progressive stance when it comes to body positivity and acceptance of all body types. Brooklyn Nine-Nine would be truly progressive if it could amend its stance on this and take an approach that celebrates all body types.
Despite all this, Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t shy away from facing the music and acknowledging institutionalised racism, sexism, and homophobia and their far-reaching and damning effects. The show often explores the discriminatory and toxic environment prevalent in the NYPD through brief but bold moments. Captain Holt often openly discusses the discrimination and hate he had to face at the hands of fellow detectives and superiors for being gay and black. He was often excluded, mocked, and shunned. In the first season, his on-screen husband admits to despising the NYPD and cops for how they have treated his husband over the years. In another instance, Jake Peralta, played by Andy Samberg punched his favourite author in the face for calling Holt a ‘homo’.
American police racism was explored in another episode, where a cop stops Terry Crews’ character while he is looking for his twins’ misplaced toy on the street. When he confronts the cop later, he bluntly says, “You can’t blame me, you don’t look like you belong in that neighbourhood.” When he narrates this incident to his co-workers, Jake confesses to doing some ‘pretty shady stuff’ on the street and being let off by cops because he is white. The show later sees the Sergeant’s kids ask if being black is bad and the characters attempting to explain racism to them in terms they can understand, and later, even sexism. The show not only acknowledges the disadvantages that come with being a person of colour but also acknowledges white privilege and the damning consequences of white supremacy.
The characters on the show always acknowledge the disadvantages ‘the others’ face and attempt to stand by each other and have each other’s back. When Holt is up for the commissioner’s post against a woman, a member of the selection committee says she is only being allowed to run for PR purposes and that the NYPD is not ready for a female commissioner. Holt reveals this to the audience at the conference and refuses to give his presentation to a biased and sexist panel, saying, “As someone who has been denied opportunities because of who I am, I cannot stand by and watch it happen to someone else.”
The characters are aware of their own privilege and the disadvantages and even double disadvantages that their friends and the people around them face, and with the desire to create a just, inclusive world, they have each other’s backs and never remain quiet when someone is being subjected to discrimination or hate.
Variety found that 90% of the main characters on TV during 2016-2017 TV season were white, and 80% were men, with numbers like this, shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine can revolutionise TV and maybe even the world.
Also read: Eight TV Shows For The Feminist In You
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is TV and comedy done right, and if life imitated it, we would all be living in a much better place that is inclusive, aware, and safe. Like Captain Holt said to Rosa when she came out as bisexual on the show, “Every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place,” and this holds true for our real, off-screen worlds, as well. It’s time to be, as the kids say, awake.
Featured Image Source: Deadline