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SHAH: Brooklyn Nine-Nine is more than just funny sitcom

Opinions Column:

Television is revolutionary. For many of us, it is mostly a mechanism to procrastinate and hate yourself afterward, but the truth is, much of the content we devour is through television, making it a cornerstone of our culture that is vital to analyze. In a world where headlines are increasingly disparaging, sitcoms are the heart of the people.

Last Sunday, the fifth season of sitcom "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" resumed with the episode “Safe House,” receiving its highest ratings in a year, but the show’s future remains quite murky. Despite having an inclusive ensemble and unadulterated genuineness, the show is painfully under appreciated for its humor and heart. I am going to attempt to rectify that. 

Created by Michael Schur — who is known for his creation of "Parks and Recreation" and "The Good Place" — "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" centers around a precinct of New York Police Department (NYPD) detectives who are devoted to being “the good guys.” On paper, the show seems like nothing more than an inane workplace comedy with shenanigans — this time with cops — but it delivers so much more. 

It is easy to dismiss "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" as a show that romanticizes cops, but the show never defends the tarnished image of American policing, tackling the issue head-on. For example, in the episode “Boyle’s Hunch,” Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher) tackles the negative PR image of the NYPD with a new ad campaign noting, “We know we can do better. Tell us how.” The show recognizes that even with its positive portrayal of police work, the real world’s image of cops is damaged for warranted reasons. The show never shies away from acknowledging the ugly history of the NYPD, littered with homophobia, racism and corruption. 

But beyond just its generally progressive plot lines, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" strives to subvert stereotypes that sitcoms normally thrive on and stops any character from becoming merely a love interest or sidekick. No character is one-dimensional, and as the show develops, it becomes obvious that all of the characters simply refuse to remain one-note sitcom gags. 

First, it dismantles gender stereotypes with grace. In a workplace where toxic masculinity thrives, the show features detectives Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) and Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) and secretary Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti) as multilayered female characters who are polar opposites but still contribute individual unique value to the success of the squad. Pushing forward, each male character has untraditionally male characteristics, such as Terry Jeffords’s (Terry Crews) overwhelming love for his twin daughters or Charles Boyle’s (Joe Lo Truglio) obsession with fine dining. 

Second, the sitcom moves past the typical tumultuous and oftentimes toxic nature of television relationships and focuses on platonic, supportive friendships. While it seems like painfully obvious foreshadowing to set up a will-they-won’t-they relationship immediately, Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Santiago easily fall into that trope with their snappy chemistry and cohesively conflicting personalities. The rising action of their relationship is complex but healthy, and once resolved, their relationship develops into a supportive and respectful partnership between two people who push each other to be better, professionally and personally. Still, their relationship hardly steals the scene, as the show remains committed to showing fruitful bonds between friends, colleagues and mentors. 

Third (and most importantly), "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is inclusive and does it right. Even as Hollywood becomes more critical of its lack of diversity, diversity hardly matters if the representation is stereotypical. The show’s main cast consists of two Black men (both in positions of power) and two Latinas, both of whom are part of the LGBTQ community, and none of their castings seem like pandering. Each character is treated as their individual person and never engulfed by their particular minority identity or a lazy stereotype. 

In fact, Beatriz’s interview recounting the story of how she got cast on the show is incredibly telling: “Melissa got cast before me. And I read that she had been cast, and I was like, I cried, because I thought, 'I’m so happy for her, but I also know that there’s no way that a network is gonna cast two Latinas' ... There’s only one of us ever.” Now, she is not only a Latina main character but her character’s coming out is a watershed moment in bisexual representation on TV. 

The show never self-celebrates its diversity because that is exactly what representation should be: not outright or contrived expressions of ethnicity or sexuality, but rather telling real-world stories with real-world identities. 

"Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is a funny sitcom. But it is also so important. It is symbolic of a new era of comedy that does not need to be offensive in order to elicit laughter. It can be feminist and critical of the current social and political climate without shoving its progressiveness down your throat. It can be uplifting when the real world misses the mark. 

Watch "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" this Sunday at 8:30 p.m. on Fox. 

Anjali Shah is a Rutgers Business School first-year, double majoring in finance and political science. Her column, “Wait, Was That Racist?”, runs on alternate Fridays.


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