By Abby Schneider '21
As a lonely kid, I constantly searched for fictional characters to identify with. Off the bat, I had it easier than most: I’m a cis, white girl with freckles, curly hair, and big blue eyes, so most characters in early 2000s media were made to look like me. When I did find a piece of myself within the pages of a treasured book or on screen in a Disney movie, I’d try for weeks to model my behavior on that character’s strengths, weaknesses, and every personality quirk in between.
First it was Hermione Granger, an obvious choice for an insecure, nerdy kid like me, followed by various others: Katniss Everdeen (I spent weeks hiding in the woods behind my house without a coat during winter to simulate living in District 12), Peter Parker (I tried to save spiders from around my house), and Louis Robinson (Meet the Robinsons is still my favorite Disney movie). However, none of these identities stuck. My personality shifted in all sorts of ways as a kid, and I was easily swayed by whichever new fictional character struck my fancy.
Flash forward a few years: I’m a graduating senior in high school on my way to Wellesley College with a naïve brightness in my eyes and a whole lotta childlike wonder. Throughout high school, I limited my media consumption to reading books for classes, falling asleep watching movies on my laptop at 2 a.m., and occasional binging of The Office when I’d had a particularly bad week. Consumed by the stress of high school and the college application process, I spent less time worrying about how to act and more time writing a Common App essay that screamed “me,” but didn’t make me seem “too silly” or like “I wasn’t taking the college process seriously enough.”
Following my acceptance to Wellesley and the arrival of summer, I suddenly had more time on my hands than I knew what to do with. However, instead of going out and pursuing a “useful” hobby or spending my time doing anything worthwhile, I decided I might as well catch up on all the TV I’d missed while I’d been locked away with my nose in a textbook over the past four years. An active user of the shithole that is Tumblr, I’d seen GIFs of various shows that seemed funny (I can only watch comedies; my life is dramatic enough without the addition of television soaps), so I decided I’d try out Brooklyn Nine-Nine and see what all the fuss was about. Needless to say, I was immediately spellbound.
For y'all unaware of the greatest television show of all time, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a sitcom about the shenanigans that the police detectives get up to in a fictionalized version of Brooklyn's 99th precinct. The show first aired in 2013 and has been wildly successful amongst twenty-somethings and college students ever since. Created by Michael Schur (The Office, Parks and Recreation, The Good Place) and Dan Goor (Parks and Recreation, The Daily Show, Conan), the show seamlessly incorporates pop culture, millennial humor, and even addresses current, culturally relevant issues without morphing into a drama.
However, in my very honest and obviously inarguable opinion, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s best quality is its diverse, multicultural cast. Rather than half-heartedly adding side characters of color and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community to “appease those damn millennials,” the show’s main cast is naturally made up of 60% people of color and queer characters, all of whom hold important positions within the precinct. The two most senior officials are black: Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher) and Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews). Although both men are “tough guys,” neither one exhibits toxic masculinity, as Captain Holt is an openly gay man in a loving relationship and Terry is the ripped, yet sensitive father of three baby girls, whom he never ceases to rave about. The other male characters in the show, Detectives Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), represent everything that can be good about cis, white men. Like Jeffords, both are sensitive and hilarious, but not at the expense of the precinct’s women or people of color.
Let’s not forget the badass ladies of the Nine-Nine: Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), and Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti). Detectives Santiago and Diaz, both vocal Latinas, share the screen and build each other up rather than constantly compete to tear the other down (the storyline often forced upon strong, beautiful female characters in the media).
For those of us searching for our lovely gay lady representation, Diaz comes out as bisexual in Season 5 while interrupted during a call with her girlfriend and spends the next few episodes navigating the challenges of coming out to her family.
(SPOILERS OVER.) What Brooklyn Nine-Nine does so well, unlike many other sitcoms depicting a quirky gang of friends or co-workers (I’m looking at you, Friends and How I Met Your Mother), is give voice to historically underrepresented peoples without making it feel as though you’re watching a bunch of stereotypes interact with each other in the workplace. The characters are fully-fledged, with complex lives and relationships, so much so that the setting often fades into the background and the viewer’s sole focus is on the developing relationship dynamics.
This is especially clear in the case of everyone’s favorite on-screen couple, Jake and Amy (or Peraltiago). Jake and Amy’s relationship can only be summed up in one way: a two-hundred thousand word enemies-to-friends-to-lovers fanfic that you always hoped would be canon and now it is and you’re so happy and value every moment they’re featured on screen together. Their relationship, however, is not without its own complexities; very often it seems as if the odds are stacked against them because of their dissimilar upbringings and contrasting personalities. Nevertheless, Jake and Amy handle their conflicts with love and appreciation for one another, and make a conscious effort to understand more about the other’s background. Rather than avoid the topic altogether, Brooklyn Nine-Nine highlights the reality and beauty of interracial relationships, allowing its characters to live rich lives and experience the depth of human experience, all within a twenty minute time slot.
I’d like to think the much younger and more naïve version of me could be proud of who I’ve turned out to be, although I’ve still got so much left to improve upon. But watching Jake Peralta thrive on screen in all his ridiculous glory, and seeing so much of myself in him, gives me hope that I too can continue to grow as I age, rather than remain stagnant in the face of change. Although he matures as the show progresses, Jake never sacrifices his silly sarcasm and absurd sense of wonder at the state of the world. His desire to learn, to accept, and to discover more about this crazy planet we call home allows Jake to expand his horizons from his cis white male perspective; rather, he learns to empathize, fall in love, and respect those around him, providing him the unconventional workplace family he so needs.
Jake and the outstanding Brooklyn Nine-Nine ensemble fill my heart and spread warm laughter throughout my entire being. Watching characters of all backgrounds who are so relatable, behaving and experiencing life just like you and me, inspires me to surround myself with people who make my daily life more fun and who encourage each other to be better versions of themselves. If the Nine-Nine has taught me anything, it’s that life is so much more fulfilling when it’s filled with variation and appreciation for others around you. As I go through my time at Wellesley and beyond, my hope is that like Jake Peralta, I’ll mature while learning, experiencing, and goofing around with the people who mean the most to me.
From February 2018 issue