Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a sitcom based on police officers of the ninety ninth precinct in Brooklyn, New York.
The main characters are the straight white man-who-is-still-a-boy Detective Jake Peralta, the straight-laced obsessive Latina Detective Amy Santiago, the mysterious and dangerous Latina Rosa Diaz, the clumsy Detective Charles Boyle who displays traits which are not considered traditionally ‘masculine’, and their Sergeant Terry Jeffords who is a burly African American who is portrayed as soft and sensitive. The police captain of this precinct is the serious, strict, un-emotional, gay, African-American Raymond Holt, who is married to a quiet, white Professor of Medieval English Literature.
In this description of characters, easily gleaned from the first few episodes of the series, it is easy to see that even at a glance the characters are multi-layered: several facets come together to make them who they are, whether it is their personality quirks, race, sexual orientation, or pet peeves. The show plays up nearly all facets of each character in different episodes to allow for a rich development of character and plot.
What is very surprising is how the straight-white-male character Jake Peralta defies expectations: he may still be a ‘man-child’ but only in the sense that he continues to enjoy pranks, the Die Hard movies, and taking on silly bets as a grown man. In other ways, all the ways that count, he is mature and sensitive: despite being impulsive enough to want to crash an active shooter incident just so he can help his friend Rosa, he is able to analyse his actions and instead return to the precinct to offer emotional support to his equally nervous team-mates. He easily accepts and encourages his girlfriend Amy’s career ambitions which lead to her becoming his superior and before they become a couple, is careful not to be coercive or rude about her relationships.
Similarly, both African-American characters defy stereotypes of African American men in the popular consciousness. Neither is the ‘angry black man’ or the ‘violent criminal’. In nearly every episode, Terry Jeffords expresses his deep love and dedication to his wife and twin daughters, dismantling the stereotype of black men as ‘absentee’ husbands and fathers. Raymond Holt’s storyline reveals the challenges he has faced as a gay black man on the police force in the 1980s and 90s, which were made worse by his interracial marriage.
The female characters Amy Santiago, Rosa Diaz, and Holt’s nutty assistant Gina Linetti reflect the real life complexity of real life women. Amy and Rosa are tough cops and in constant healthy competition with Jake, while Gina despite appearances holds the trump card that gets the characters out of the scrapes they get into. Simultaneously, Amy, Rosa, and Gina are free to be scared, to want love, be angry, be secretive, and even to fail without it being an indictment on their characters. But most importantly, they are allowed within the narrative of the show to succeed and be happy. Rosa even comes out as bisexual and through the character the show is able to portray a complex coming-out experience on screen which holds meaning for lots of viewers who may be grappling with their sexual orientation.
Instead of portraying a utopian ideal, unachievable and fantastic scenario, what Brooklyn Nine-Nine does is offer up a goal - for the real world police force and for the entertainment industry. A representative cast - in terms of gender, race, and sexual orientation - far from repelling viewers garners wider audiences and more positive reviews. It is a show that, through its casting choices, reflects the demographics of the real world. While being an ideal to work towards, the show is also fully embedded in America of 2018, which is an America struggling with police brutality, racial profiling, and gun violence.
By Meenakshi Nair