Brooklyn 99 is a sitcom about NYPD detectives who tackle professional and personal dilemmas through the seamless bridging of both comical and serious moments. By veering away from the traditional notions of the police force and instead showing the officers in a fresh and humorous light, the show is able to discuss important themes such as racism and gender in a way that is accessible for all audiences.
The humor is rooted in the characters themselves, with each personality being used to convey different perspectives. From Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), a confident and goofy but well-skilled detective, to Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), a mysterious tough-cookie, the show offers a wide range of character-types. Comic relief is also provided through the characters Scully and Hitchcock (Joel McKinnon Miller and Dirk Blocker, respectively), two old, lazy detectives who make attempts to be hip with the younger officers.
Though the show packs in the humor, it also makes sure to cover important topics in an honest and realistic way. In the episode “Game Night,” Rosa comes out to her conservative parents as bisexual. Throughout the episode, Jake is by her side with the occasional comedic comment. In one family dinner scene, Rosa asks Jake to pretend to be her boyfriend as she doesn't feel ready to come out yet. Jake agrees, but tells her to keep her hands off his butt as the, “Jake Peralta boyfriend experience can be quite intoxicating.” In her low, deadpan voice, Rosa informs him that that won’t be a problem, and make sures to remind him that he just sat on a meatball. Later in the episode, when Rosa does come out to her parents, Jake reassures her, saying, “It was great. And don't worry, just because you opened up a little bit doesn't mean everyone's gonna be less afraid of you. We're all still terrified.”
These sprinkles of comedy amidst tough and tense situations brings some lightheartedness to the concrete struggles that the LGBTQ+ community faces, such as resorting to denying their identity and fearing vulnerability. Brooklyn 99 is still able to highlight that, despite the humor, these issues are real and valid.
Another episode, “Moo Moo,” depicts Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews), a black man, being stopped and arrested by a police officer for walking on his own street. The episode discusses the many facets of racism that exist, from the suppression of talking about injustices that occur in the professional world, to the intricacies of explaining racial profiling to children.
As usual, after Terry explains what happened to him, the team offers their sympathy. “So what are you going to do? Slash his tires?” The ever-intimidating Rosa comments, “You shouldn’t do that, but just out of curiosity, what kind of car does he drive and where does he park it?”
In the midst of this tense moment, Scully naively chimes in that he has no idea what is going on, to which Hitchcock replies, “He got stopped for being black! Get woke, Scully.” This use of casual teenage slang was used to keep the side remark light-hearted.
These two episodes hint at Brooklyn 99’s use of characters to provide relief when discussing heavier topics. They stray away from being too politically charged by presenting the issue at hand without directly enforcing an agenda.
However, Brooklyn 99 is not without fault. From subtle things like using the term ‘prostitute’ rather than ‘sex worker,’ to broader issues such as the sexualization of the male characters, some could say that the show has had its own share of problematic moments. Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti), an overconfident and often arrogant character, often sexualizes Terry by telling him to take his shirt off or hitting on him throughout different episodes. The overall situation can come off as workplace harassment. Brooklyn 99 has, however, phased this gimmick out in recent seasons, possibly due to the producers realization of the message it sends.
No show is perfect, but the positive direction that Brooklyn 99 takes in constantly trying to improve is more than other sitcoms attempt to make. Through humor, Brooklyn 99 is able to discuss social issues and sensitive topics, proving to be an essential show in today’s world. At the very least, it serves as an example of how entertainment can be used to discuss important social issues.
Image by Aliza Pelto