CMNS 236 Understanding More Television: Brooklyn Nine-Nine Realness

Carlo Javier // Columnist 

Sometimes Brooklyn Nine-Nine fails to make me laugh. 

The hyper-energetic wit of Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) can border on overbearing and the show’s tendency to overfocus on Samberg can take away from the holistic glory of its tremendous cast. Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher) is one of the best characters in the sitcom landscape, Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) is criminally underrated and Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti) is a ‘state of mind.’  

But Nine-Nine is among the best sitcoms of its time not because it’s the funniest – it doesn’t always hit the mark. It’s among the best because it’s the most human, and thus the most compelling. When Nine-Nine hits the mark, it does so in such an authentic way that really makes you feel things. 

As one of the more important voices in modern cultural studies and criticism, Ien Ang once posited that historically, discourse around television’s place in a society centred around cultural dysfunction and decline. Television was seen as a lowbrow form of entertainment, as opposed to what Ang describes as “a cultural form whose aesthetic, narrative and generic characteristics were worth studying in their own right.” While studying in The Netherlands, Ang grew particularly interested in the global rise of Dallas, especially with regards to the cultural divide it created and how critics like French Minister of Culture Jack Lang, defined it as a “symbol of American imperialism.” 

Dallas is long gone now, but the highbrow vs. lowbrow thinking that Ang presented still very much exists today. Premium cable television like HBO produces a different type of content than major networks like CBS or NBC might produce and the same goes for the arms race happening among streaming platforms. Neglect shows like Nine-Nine and its mainstream appeal at your own cost, just consider this: Nine-Nine, along with the other Michael Schur-led sitcoms are the cultural forms that really might have the pulse on society. And let’s be honest, highbrow television (and art) can get too caught up in concealing its messages in Trojan Horses and other hijinks that we sometimes don’t even bother to decode. 

Since its fourth season, Nine-Nine has produced episodes that eschew the show’s usual bubbly comedy with immature and boyish humour tendencies. “Moo Moo” tackled America’s crisis with racial profiling and racialized policing, episodes “99” and “Game Night” delved into Rosa’s coming out story and “Show Me Go” was a tense exploration on how police respond to an active shooter situation.  

Each of the episodes handles their respective topics with the same level of respect and consistency, more importantly, Nine-Nine handles its social commentary with grace. One of the more finely placed little details in “Moo Moo” happens in the span of three seconds. After Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews) passionately speaks against the racism he endured from another cop, his superior, Captain Holt, responds in one of the best ways possible: with silence. Holt’s non-answer might be unsatisfying to some, but the silence spoke louder than a lot of the words that self-proclaimed allies would regurgitate while again taking space and platform away from someone else. Later in the episode, Holt speaks about the racism and homophobia he faced as a young police officer 1970s. He admits that his advice came from a different perspective and a different era, and ultimately realizes that as captain, he has the platform to speak out and help inspire change – the very things he hoped to achieve in his youth.  

Nine-Nine handles its social commentary with a tenderness that may not always exist in other forms of media. Its explicit form of messaging may not have the same type of aesthetic satisfaction that premium cable television might have, but as Ang said, this type of television “is worth studying in their own right.” No heavy symbolic interactionism? No problem. What it does have is brutal honesty, and sometimes that’s really all we need.  

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