Ask anyone about good representation on television and I can almost guarantee you the name Brooklyn 99 will follow.
And today, Fox dropped the axe on the long-running police procedural/ensemble comedy.
Running for five seasons, Brooklyn 99 follows the exploits of the NYPD detectives of the fictional 99th precinct after they gained a new captain in the series premiere. Over the last five years, fans (including this one) have watched Detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and his partner Detective Charles Boyle (Joe LoTruglio), Detective (now Sergeant) Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews), Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher), civilian office manager Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti), Detective Michael Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker) and Detective Norman Scully (Joel McKinnon Miller) as they protected and served the people of Brooklyn, solving crimes while getting into hilarious hijinks along the way.
But what made Brooklyn 99 truly special for me was the fact that we had a show full of positive representation that tackled important issues in a respectful way, while still remaining true to itself.
So let’s break that down, shall we?
Brooklyn 99 featured a varied and talented cast full of POC and LGBT characters that were smartly written and well-acted, and at no time were their cultures, sexual orientations, gender identities, religions, etc. treated with anything but respect. Brooklyn 99 is a show that doesn’t mock communities or treat them like the butt of the joke like other comedies.
What impressed me the most about Brooklyn 99 was that they presented us with well-rounded, fully-realized characters, written as people instead of stereotypes. They weren’t just gay, or black, or bi, or Latina, or straight, or Jewish or anything. These certainly influenced the characters’ decisions in the show, but it wasn’t all they were. Too often in media, we see “token representation,” as in the cast is diverse for the sake of being diverse, rather than the diversity positively influencing the heart and soul of the show. Brooklyn 99‘s representation was real and showed that diverse casting can be done well and add a richness to the characters and story when you embrace it.
There’s no concept of the “other” in Brooklyn 99 because the characters are not written one-dimensionally. Amy is not just female, she is an intelligent, socially-awkward, driven person who wants to achieve and holds herself to high expectations. Jake is not just white, he is a funny, big-hearted, die-hard Die Hard fan and goofball who loves solving puzzles and looks out for his friends. Terry is not just black, he is a kind, immensely talented, caring, and yes, buff artist who wants to be someone his daughters can be proud of. Rosa is not just Latina, she is a serious badass who will do anything for her friends and loved ones and wants a little bit of happiness for herself regardless of what people think. Holt is not just gay, he is a principled, stoic, witty leader and pragmatist who wants his squad to achieve their potential. Charles is not just male, he is a highly decorated, highly intelligent, and often awkwardly inappropriate food connoisseur who is the biggest cheerleader for his friends and loves with his entire heart. Each principle character in this show is more than just one thing, which I appreciate both as a viewer and as a writer.
Characters shouldn’t be flat stereotypes, they should be dynamic, fully-realized people, especially in a character-driven show like Brooklyn 99, and the writers and producers and actors and directors of B99 know and recognize that.
This show dealt with important issues such as homophobia, biphobia, transgender issues, racial profiling by police, sexism, racism, the prison system and more. One episode in particular stands out to me as a stellar example of how to handle a polarizing issue well: season 4’s “Moo Moo.” That episode tackled racial profiling by police head-on when Terry was stopped by a white cop in his own neighborhood while looking for his daughters’ blanket. For a show that is relatively lighthearted, the tone for “Moo Moo” was decidedly more solemn, fitting the subject matter, but still stayed true to the heart of Brooklyn 99. It placed the issue of racial profiling in the hands of the two black male characters (Terry and Holt), both representing a different side of how to handle the issue: Terry wanting to file a complaint against the white male officer and Holt wanting Terry to “rise through the ranks” in order to affect widespread change instead, a choice that I applaud the writers for making. In that same episode, Amy and Jake, while watching Terry’s daughters Cagney and Lacey, touched on two other important topics: sexism towards woman and being transgender, and also how uncomfortable adults can feel having these conversations with children. The fact that they looped Cagney and Lacey into the conversation was so important. The next generation understands a lot more than we give them credit, and often we as adults can overthink and conflate an issue, while a child can see through to the base questions.
This season’s storyline of Rosa’s coming out as bisexual also stands out, dealing with the nerve-wracking nature of coming out to one’s family and friends as LGBT and dealing with their misconceptions about what bisexuality actually means. The two episodes centered around her bisexuality still make me cry every time I rewatch them, and I appreciate how the story handled her sexual orientation with sensitivity and made sure to address things like bisexual erasure (meaning that someone isn’t bisexual if their partner is X, they’re actually straight or gay). But I also appreciated that her being bi didn’t change a damn thing about her. She was still Rosa, the same Rosa she had been since the pilot, and the fact that she had this label now didn’t change that.
B99‘s a show that normalizes what are considered “differences,” making it just a part of who they are. Holt is an excellent example of this as an openly gay black man in a committed relationship with his husband Kevin. The fact that he is gay is just that, a fact. He does use his sexual orientation as a strength at times, but it doesn’t dominate his personality. His relationship with Kevin is not treated with scorn or inappropriate curiosity. It’s presented as a loving, committed relationship that happens to be between two men. It’s also inspiring to have a character like Holt who is openly LGBT be in a leadership position, despite blatant homophobia. He also fights for true representation, as seen when he fights for his opponent’s ability to be a true contender for the police commissioner’s position.
Also, while Brooklyn 99 is tackling all these issues, it is, at its heart, a workplace comedy. One of the things that I look forward to every year with B99 is their annual Halloween heist episode, where the detectives all compete against each other to try and be declared the ultimate detective(human)/genius. It’s hilarious to watch everyone try to one-up each other in the competition and it’s a nice break from the casework and heavier episodes. This season’s Halloween heist took a sweet and romantic turn with Jake’s proposal to Amy, and while being a competition, it still promotes camaraderie and teamwork among the squad.
This show is so well-loved for all the right reasons. It’s a show that celebrates true representation and diversity and has since the beginning. It’s a show that tugs at your heartstrings and brings tears of laughter and emotion to your eyes. It’s a show about love, acceptance, inclusivity, friendship and family. It’s a show that is well-crafted and made with love.
So I ask you, Fox.
Do you really want to let an amazing show like this slip through your fingers? Do you really want to anger fans like this and take an important piece of art away from them? Do you really want another Firefly debacle on your hands? Do you really want to cancel one of the few shows that is doing representation and diverse casting right on network television?
If the answer to any of those questions is no, please give me back my squad and uncancel Brooklyn 99.