Spoiler Alert for those wanting to watch Brooklyn 99!
Brooklyn Nine Nine has been hailed as a diversity friendly show for its strong ethnic and LGBTQ representation. It would be restrictive to call B99 just a comedy show, for its sensitive depiction and unproblematic acknowledgement of contemporary issues makes it stand apart from other shows of comedic genre.
One such incident that depicted the show’s sensitivity and unproblematic queer representation is the episode titled “Game Night” of season 5. The episode deals with Rosa’s coming out to her co-workers, and later to her parents. The fact that the show takes up a sensitive issue of coming out, and portrays it with equal poignancy is in itself commendable. It is unusual for a comedy show to firstly tackle with a delicate topic, and to moreover not trivialise or make light of it to keep up with its genre demands.
In most of the shows, the process of coming out of a queer character and his/her subsequent estrangement with their family is usually complete, and is mostly referred to in flashbacks. The actual problems related to this defining process is thus not depicted in depth and the show is relieved of its responsibility of introducing a queer character, without giving enough time and effort to show the character’s development.
Rosa’s coming out to her co-workers is met with unconditional acceptance and warmth. An immediate parallel is drawn between Captain Raymond Holt’s struggle at his workplace for being an openly gay officer and 99th precinct’s support of Rosa’s sexual orientation. This shift in attitude can be attributed to generational change in perspective. However, since Holt had come across workplace discrimination and differential behaviour due to his sexual orientation in recent times before he was transferred to 99th precinct, it is clear that changing time alone cannot be credited with the reason for the squad’s open-mindedness.
Brooklyn Nine Nine, despite being a cop comedy show, never glorifies the police or the particular characters in the show. Cops in the show are depicted as normal human beings with quirks and tendencies that make them individualistic and unique. The characters, at the same time, are fallible, and are prone to their respective prejudices and habits. The show, thus provides a balanced portrayal of the characters, complete with their shortcomings and humanness.
Rosa’s reservations for coming out to her traditional parents for fear of ruining their recent proximity are not unfounded afterall. Although her father finally comes around to accepting her as a bisexual who still is his daughter, her mother still has her reservations.
This tension between Rosa’s identity and what her family expects of her is a tension between individual and the society, a tension as old as civilization itself. Family is the very first ideological apparatus encountered by a child, thus, making it one of the most formidable social structures to fight against. While addressing this tension between the individual and the family, it also worth noting how Rosa’s family isn’t demonized for not accepting her. Her family is shown struggling with similar social structures that are harder to get rid of due to difference in generation and perspectives.
An alternative to Rosa’s biological family is the family consisting of her co-workers who unconditionally accept her for who she prefers to be. This alternative is presented at the end of the show when all her co-workers gather uninvited at her place for game night, a tradition Rosa had with her family before coming out to them.
While people at his workplace (other cops) were a source of oppression and discrimination for Captain Raymond Holt, Rosa’s co-workers become her unbiological family. It is ironic how the police is one of the most important form of restrictive state apparatus in any given society, but in the show, the detectives of the 99th precinct are kind and loving individuals. It is also important how the usual idea of police as faceless representatives of government is replaced with these detectives who are unique and individualistic. Thus, despite having double the capacity for repression (workplace and as police is RSA), Rosa’s co-workers instead become a loving and accepting family for her and provide her a safe space to be herself.
The sensitivity afforded to Rosa’s coming out as bisexual, thus makes Brooklyn Nine Nine stand out in the league of other comedy shows. It wouldn’t be presumptuous on the part of its fans to believe that Brooklyn Nine Nine is redefining the genre of sitcoms and ushering a new and “woke” series of Comedy on television.