Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Doing Humor Right
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a show that has been praised by both critics and fans as one that is not only hilarious, but progressive as well. It starts out with a squad of detectives who have to adjust to a new Captain named Raymond Holt, who just so happens to be a gay black man. Jake Peralta—the Jewish protagonist whose only unsolvable mystery is how to grow up—butts heads with him almost immediately. The show goes through its classical sitcom scenarios as well as crime shenanigans and often surprising season finales as they find themselves in dangerous situations.
What’s so remarkable and surprising about this is show is how they deal with humor with such a diverse cast. When any of the characters joke about their ethnicity or their sexuality, it isn’t aimed at the white and straight viewers and that makes a huge difference. For example, in one episode Holt talks about how he made a bad impression on his husband’s parents by mistaking two different compositions for each other. When asked by Jake if that’s really all it took for them not to have approved of the two of them, Holt clarifies that “they’re huge homophobes that think I made Kevin gay with my magic genitalia.”
This, like many lines, are meant to pander to those in the same demographic as the character who spoke it. Often times on TV and in movies, queer and POC characters are played off as jokes that the privileged are supposed to laugh at. “See, they’re not like us, isn’t that so bizarre and funny?” However, Brooklyn Nine-Nine understands that queer and non-white characters also watch television like everyone else. They make a major effort to be inclusive and inoffensive with their humor while still being hilarious. Even those who don’t watch the show probably know the gag with Jake playing a guitar loudly and screaming in an attempt to annoy someone into confessing, or the scene where Jake accidentally calls Holt “dad” and then tells him he sees him as a “bother figure ‘cause you’re always bothering me” rather than a father figure.
Not only that, the show also turns many tropes on its head and does its best to make characters as fleshed out as possible. None of them even come close to being stereotypes. Jake seems like the typical male protagonist who thinks he’s better than he actually is and belittles his coworkers, then turns out to be a genuinely caring goofball who learns to work as a team and punches a homophobe in the face. Amy Santiago seems uptight and too dedicated to her work to have any fun, yet even while she’s driven she also participates and leads in most of the team hijinks.
It has garnered critical as well as public acclaim and hopefully its success can set an example for future shows and they way they deal with diverse casts.
It’s not perfect–sometimes the fat jokes can be rather excessive and uncomfortable to sit through. There was a particular scene where Gina calls Amy an “asexual nerd who can only be friends with service animals” that I found rather tasteless. It takes a while at first to find its rhythm, yet upon rewatching the first season I found it picks it up quicker than I remembered. Nothing can be absolutely flawless, yet the cast show they genuinely care about those who watch it and that says a lot.
Even besides all that, it’s a genuinely fun show and one of my favorite sitcoms. Its happy, light-hearted tone is a blessing and it’s often like visual comfort food. As the premiere of fifth season is about to begin, now is as good as any time to binge it. I fully recommend Brooklyn Nine-Nine regardless of who you are.