By drift partner.
Primetime sitcoms aren’t generally where one might look to find subverted tropes, diverse casts, and genuinely funny jokes that don’t rely on a laugh track. And certainly, FOX is not the network one would expect to be hosting such shows (Arrested Development was iconic, but FOX never really knew what to do with it). However, in the absence of Parks and Recreation and Community, I cannot think of a more interesting, subversive comedy currently running on TV than Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
The premise of the show is simple: it’s set in the 99th precinct of the NYPD, following the tight-knit squad of officers who patrol the area. Considering the recent exposure of nationwide police corruption, I wouldn’t blame you if that was instantly a turnoff, but this isn’t going where you might think it’s going. It is about police officers, but the show is aware that not all police officers are the good guys, and a recent episode even addressed head-on some of the problems with the Scotch-taped attempts at PR that so many precincts have been attempting. What’s more, the characters are not always right. The show allows for character growth and change in a way that a lot of network sitcoms are still resistant to (shout out to Parks and the earlier seasons of Community for bucking this trend as well).
First, let’s look at the way this show handles its white male characters. Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) are partners and best friends, even as Boyle disgusts Jake with oversharing about his diet and sex life and even as Jake is occasionally selfish and a little mean. But neither are allowed to get away with the typical white male sitcom character jokes: Jake is respectful of his female colleagues and doesn’t make bigoted jokes, and even though Boyle is creepily obsessed with Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) throughout the first season, the show never makes her the butt of the joke – it’s him. How the writers handled that subplot is actually one of the reasons I am most inclined to recommend the show: at no point during his creeping was Rosa worn into accepting his affections or badgered into a date with him. Instead, she calls him out on how weird he’s being and they become close friends once Boyle gets over his infatuation.
Second, the characters of color are gloriously non-stereotyped. Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) is a gay black man who survived an era when he was likely to be shat on for both of those identities, and now he rules his precinct with an iron fist – but also with compassion and a true sense of camaraderie with his officers. He also has a sweet relationship with his husband Kevin and a deadpan manner that makes about half of everything he says hilarious. Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews) is a giant of a man who could bench press a building, and nothing is more important to him than his wife and daughters. He loves yogurt and spent hours building a princess castle for Cagney and Lacey, his older twins, and he will also not stand for any nonsense from his squad. Rosa Diaz is a terrifying ex-ballerina who will climb out a window to avoid talking about feelings and also kill everyone if anything happens to her dumb dog. And Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) is a neurotic perfectionist who idolizes Captain Holt and is secretly a mastermind of elaborate schemes. These characters could be played by anyone of any race, but as they are they’re allowed to be their own characters without needing to fall back on lazy tropes or race-related stereotypes.
Third, much like Parks and Community, we actually believe in the relationships. As opposed to certain…other…ensemble comedies (think CBS), the characters seem like they genuinely like and respect each other, whether they’re friends or romantically linked or even just have a grudging respect for each other. Amy and Jake were hinted at since the beginning of season 1, and at first I hated the idea, but the show has really brought me around on that pairing. Their UST was actually believable and based on more than bickering, and now that they’re a couple, they talk about their issues and compromise and are honestly sweet together. Boyle and Jake, as mentioned, frequently bash heads for various reasons, but you do honestly believe that they love each other like brothers. Holt and his magically batshit assistant Gina (Chelsea Peretti) are complete opposites which frequently leads to hilarity, but there’s a warmth to their interactions that make it clear they do, deep down, like each other. Jake and Gina have been friends since childhood and have an adorable shared outlook on life that’s a joy to watch. Rosa and Amy bounce off each other in much the same way that an eager puppy and resigned cat do. And so on. No matter which pair you put together, the interaction will be both funny and realistic.
Put succinctly, I believe this is one of the most important shows airing right now. It offers these diverse elements quietly and humbly, and it does so while being creative and charming. Even if you see some of the jokes coming, they’ll make you laugh because the entire cast is talented and could make the most played-out joke work. I’m really grateful for its existence, and it’s one of the shows I most look forward to every week.