Why Brooklyn Nine Nine is the Most Progressive Show of the Last Decade

Photo by Charles ?? on Unsplash

“Are you saying my life matters less because I don’t conform to society’s heteronormative, child-centric ideals?”

Captain Holt (The Big House Pt 1, S5E01)

TV shows often come and go, lasting merely a few seasons, sometimes only one! So, in order to secure a prime-time slot and stay there, having a well-known and well-liked cast is just one of the requirements. Exploring current social issues and having relatable characters are just as important, if not more so.

Set in New York’s ninety-ninth precinct, Brooklyn Nine Nine follows the lives of the dayshift detectives. There’s Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), an immature detective though one who is extremely good at his job; Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) – a perfectionist and know-it-all who is equally as capable as Jake; overly nice, awkward, yet adorable food connoisseur Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) and Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) – the toughest, scariest and most mysterious detective within the precinct.

Then there’s Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker) and Scully (Joel McKinnon Millar) – two unbelievably incompetent and lazy veteran detectives who share short moments of sheer brilliance; yoghurt-loving family man Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews); Captain of the squad Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher) who manages to keep a straight face for 90% or more of each episode’s duration and his sassy, phone-obsessed assistant Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti).

The characters are without a doubt one of the weirdest ensembles on television but one with a loyal fanbase. So, after five seasons on Fox, when it was announced that B99 wasn’t up for renewal, people were understandably shocked, taking to social media to express their disapproval. The following day, after a strong fan-led campaign to save the show from cancellation, NBC announced it would pick up the show for a sixth season (Brooklyn Nine Nine airs on NBC in the US and E4 in the UK).

So, what makes B99 the most progressive show on television right now?

With its rag-tag team of characters, portrayal of serious issues and unique blend of humour, it’s no mystery how the show has won two Creative Arts Emmy Awards, and two Golden Globe Awards.

Firstly, let’s talk diversity. Within the ensemble are three female characters – Gina, Amy and Rosa, two of which are Latino. And these characters aren’t just background, supporting characters who have few lines and limited screen time. No – these characters are intrinsic to the storylines within each episode as well as the continuing narrative.

“While wearing a wedding dress, you leapt over a couch, sprinted down an alley, and jumped off a car to subdue the crap out of a perp like you were Wonder Woman. Amy, you are an amazing cop and a great leader, and you have proven that a billion times over. You can’t let other people’s opinions get in the way of what you want, especially because other people suck.”

(Rosa Diaz, Gray Star Mutual, S5E18)

Moving on to the male characters, Sergeant Terry Jeffords and Captain Raymond Holt – the two highest ranking officers in the precinct – are both black. And while race, gender and ethnicity are referenced within the series (S4 episode Moo Moo, explores racial profiling while numerous other episodes address racism and inclusivity issues with the police force, highlighted through Holt’s flashbacks), the show does not make a big deal about its own diversity nor does it make its diversity the punchline. Instead, B99 uses its ensemble to reflect the multicultural nature of New York.

In addition to being black, Captain Holt is also openly gay and happily married – this is addressed within the pilot and frequently encompassed within storylines including Full Boyle in S1 where Holt’s plot strand revolves around his creation of The African-American Gay and Lesbian New York City Police Association group.

“You’re gonna have to try a little harder if you wanna scare me. I’ve been an openly gay cop since 1987. So, you’re not the first superior officer to threaten me. You know how I’m still standing here? ‘Cause I do my job, and I do it right.”

(Captain Holt, The Tagger, S1E02)

Detective Rosa Diaz later comes out as bisexual – a huge step for bisexual representation on screen, as bisexuality is noticeably underrepresented within the media. Stephanie Beatriz, the actress who plays Diaz, is herself bisexual and has publicly expressed her excitement about being able to portray a character who is as confident in her sexuality as she is in her work life. Beatriz explained in an interview with Variety that there were no openly bisexual characters on screen when she was growing up. Known for her bluntness and no-nonsense candour, Beatriz’s character Rosa announces: “I’m a private person so this is pretty hard for me, but here we go. I’m bisexual. All right, I will now field one minute and zero seconds of questions pertaining to this. Go.”

With regards to stereotypes and typical TV tropes, Brooklyn Nine Nine quashes social expectations. Rosa, a female character, is seen as the toughest team-member while Terry, the physically strongest male has a softer side – he adores his young daughters and looks after the squad, regarding himself as the ‘mama hen’.

Then there’s the show’s strong female/male relationships – Jake has a strong platonic bond with Gina and Rosa having known them prior to working for the Nine Nine. As these relationships have stayed purely platonic, this highlights that male and female co-workers can just be friends which is something which is not frequently explored on screen.

And one of the best parts of the series?

The Brooklyn Nine Nine characters are never made out to be perfect – each character has its flaws, and these are addressed rather than being hidden. This ultimately makes the show more realistic and relatable. Jake is immature but is still one of the best detectives. Amy is insecure and constantly worries about what the Captain thinks of her though this fosters a thirst to prove herself. Charles is accident-prone and awkward though he is a hard worker, working through his trials and tribulations to success. Terry is sensitive and self-doubting but he always puts the needs of the squad before his and is extremely supportive of them even while he’s working through his own issues.

So, as well as highlighting character flaws, each character has its strengths and B99 shows this. From Hitchcock and Scully solving cases despite the squad having no faith in them, to Gina’s well-thought-through property ladder move, even the unlikely, underdog characters are stronger and smarter than they seem.

A comedy series which has an ensemble where the characters are equally as relevant and funny is a rare find, one which explores social issues and champions equality all the while providing first class jokes and a compelling narrative? Iconic.

To read more of Siobhan’s articles, visit her page at:  https://siobhandivers.wixsite.com/portfolio.

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Siobhan Divers
Siobhan Divers

20-something Glasgow-based History & Journalism graduate and freelance writer with a passion for all things creative. Covers everything from politics and sports to lifestyle, the arts and travel.

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