Why We're Loving Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Wednesday May 7 2014
by Julia W.

So, How I Met Your Mother just ended. It premiered almost a decade ago, and back then, we thought it was the Best Thing Ever. Looking at it now, it’s more uncomfortable than anything else. Maybe it went on too long, maybe it was our burgeoning awareness of feminism and privilege, but really? Watching straight white characters smugly quip about how many sluts they bang? TV can do better than that.

Fortunately, it does do better than that. There’s been an increasing number of fun, light comedies -- meeting the How I Met Your Mother need -- but without humour that relies on slut shaming and problematic stereotypes. Parks and Recreation  is one. We’re here to talk about Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which is another. Beware, there be spoilers ahead.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a cop show, set in Brooklyn’s fictional 99th precinct. It centres around the team who work there, an eclectic, strange, but deeply loveable group of people. One of the first things you notice is the diversity of the characters. The two commanding officers are black, the main detective is Jewish, two of the detectives are Latina, and four are white. Of the central characters, four are men and three are women. It’s amazing how refreshing it is to see a group of characters who look like a normal workplace.

As with every comedy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine often gets its humour from characters acting as stereotypes: Charles is an over-the-top foodie; Rosa is super angry; Amy is uptight, straight-laced and ambitious; Gina is materialistic; and Jake is the typical wise-cracking maverick. However, they’re also more nuanced and three-dimensional that most characters, and resist being reduced to these stereotypes.

As we get to know the characters, these superficial character types are undermined. Amy may be uptight, but she’s also awkward, funny, and is never derided for her ambitiousness. Although Gina is materialistic, she departs from the vapid female character type when we discover that she is actually really thrify, financially smart, together, and is not without emotion or empathy.

Although the Brooklyn Nine-Nine characters embody tropes, they aren’t ones that come from their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. The black characters are totally remote from the ‘angry black police officer’ stereotype. Rosa may be angry and aggressive, but she isn’t defined as a bitch, not as a hormonal crazy-lady. The commanding officer, Captain Raymond Holt, is gay. Astoundingly for a mass appeal TV comedy, that fact neither defines his character, nor is it the source of his humour (which comes from his lack of visible emotion, a trait that flies in the face of TV’s camp, overemotional gay male stereotype). Indeed, the only time in the series when it becomes an issue is when an old racist journalist tries to make it one, whereupon he gets punched by one of Holt’s detectives. It’s a wonderful moment.

The only potentially problematic bit of the show came in the relationship between Rosa and Charles. Although Rosa repeatedly told Charles that she wasn’t interested in him romantically, he continually pesters her and tries to get her to date him. The series seemed to be playing out yet another Nice Guy scenario: Nice Guys (who are only interested in women for romance or sex, not platonic friendship, and believe they are owed affection for simply being a friend) get the girl eventually, just as long as they keep trying. Gross.

Miraculously, however, the series managed to not only avoid this, but to talk about why Mr Nice Guy isn’t a good model for human relationships. The series makes it clear that Rosa doesn’t owe Charles romance, even though he is a nice character, and that his obsession with her is not healthy. Charles finally realises this, and he apologises to Rosa for not taking her ‘no’ seriously, and acknowledges that his behaviour must have been making her uncomfortable. They are able to move on, and forge a friendship based on actual liking, rather than creepy ‘friend-zone’ friendship. When Charles gets over his obsession with Rosa, he finds romance elsewhere, in the deliciously realistic way of meeting someone at a party, having mutual interests, and then hooking up inside a cupboard.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine premiered in September of last year, and has won two golden globes (best actor and best comedy/musical) and been renewed for a second season. It seems that viewers don’t mind -- or indeed actively enjoy it -- when comedy steps beyond the stereotypes and embraces diverse casts. Hopefully the success of Brooklyn Nine-Nine will encourage more productions to follow its model. If this is the future of TV, then we like it.

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