I knew I was going to write about Brooklyn 99 the first time Jake Peralta made the title of your sex tape joke. If you know me, you know that is my kind of humour. For context, the premise of this recurring joke is double entendres: Jake takes something the characters say and turns it into the title of their sex-tape. It is almost exclusively used on Amy Santiago to poke fun at her love life. The first reference was:
Amy: Can you magically make everyone kind, sober and fully dressed?
Jake: Kind, Sober and Fully Dressed. Good news everyone, we found the name of Santiago’s sex tape.
I like the casting of this show. It seems like there was a deliberate attempt to move away from stereotypical portrayal of people, especially people of colour. For example: the big, tall, dark-skinned black man (Terry Crews) is cast as an emotional human being, the white male lead (Andy Samberg) is the one with the daddy issues and the icing on the cake is that middle aged white policemen just sit around and do nothing. In doing this, the show has managed to address poignant issues such as toxic masculinity and queer representation quite effectively.
Brooklyn 99 is a cop sitcom and the pilot is about the members of the team having to adjust to a new captain. Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) comes in and he immediately realizes he has to reign in Jake because even though Jake is a talented detective, his antics have proven costly to the police department. Other than needing Jake to act right, captain Holt has a lot to prove as a gay black man running his first police precinct. As you can imagine, getting to police captain was no easy feat for captain Holt on account of his identity. The beauty of this show however is that Holt’s role in the show isn’t pegged on his identity; his casting isn’t to check some diversity boxes. He is not the threatening black authority figure with no sense of humour. His sense of humour is dry because he is Holt; because of his upbringing. My favourite Holt joke is during some Halloween heist. Jake, in a bid to be crowned best detective replaces Holt’s dog with a look-alike. Holt however takes one look at the look-alike and declares her a basic bitch that would obviously never fool him. That left me in stitches for days. I still chuckle when I think about it.
It is also cool that the top most ranking people in the precinct are two black men. We are introduced to sergeant Terry when he’s still on desk duty because he’s recently had two twins. Terry was so scared to orphan his twins should something happen to him in the line of duty, he had an emotional/mental breakdown on one of his assignments. I like that his breakdown is normalized. More often than not, it’s just something that we know at the back of our minds. His breakdown is not used as some explanation as to why he’s different and more emotional. It is normalized by being presented as something that could happen to any policeman given the nature of the work they do. Terry is also the most openly emotional character in this show. I find this spectacularly beautiful: making the tall, big dark-skinned man, the most emotionally expressive.
We do know that men like him are often portrayed as the poster child for toxic masculinity. This serves to ensure we find these men threatening and it also dehumanizes them as they are not allowed to experience the full range of their humanity. Terry Crews talks about this when he recently explained why he couldn’t defend himself from his abuser. He said he knew that people would automatically assume that he was the attacker. Nobody would have believed he was being victimized on account of his colour and build. But even after he said this, a lot of men still ridiculed him; they simply refuse to acknowledge that sexual violence can happen to a man, let alone a man of his build. Of course this speaks to the rape culture; the warped notion that men can’t be victims of sexual violence. But it is also showed how much men are trapped by harmful ideals on masculinity. Men just couldn’t see why he wouldn’t use violence, something that is sold to them as a marker of manhood, to defend himself. Terry crews who previous to this was the visual embodiment of masculinity was suddenly not a real man.
It is therefore very refreshing to see sergeant Terry do things that are not traditionally masculine like crying and bailing on boy’s night to take care of his children. Because then it normalizes men doing these things, thus unboxing masculinity and its manifestations.
The relationship between the men is also portrayed in heart-warming ways. Male friendships are often showcased as shallow and devoid of emotional involvement. Men rarely perform emotional labour for each other and even when they do it’s rather flimsily and only after a devastating experience. The men of Brooklyn 99 are friends all through the mundane to the life-shifting things. We see it in Jake baby-sitting terry’s twins or Jake offering to spend time with Holt when he’s feeling lonely because his husband is out of the country. And Charles, Jake’s best friend, would do anything for Jake. Anything. Especially if it’s embarrassing.
The inversion of the absent-black father stereotype is perhaps the one I enjoy the most. I high-fived a wall when it was revealed that Jake, the white guy, is the one with abandonment issues because his father left him as a child. This inversion is made even sweeter by Terry being a good father. He is not only a provider, he is also a caregiver and very much emotionally involved. This inversion spares us the tired trope of absent black fathers which is more often than not done without proper context (massive, unfair incarceration of black men.) But more than that, fatherhood is portrayed in a progressive light. Terry’s fatherhood involves caregiving and emotionality which is largely assumed to be women’s work. Overtime, Jake sees Captain Holt and Sergeant Terry as father figures. This further edifies the perception of black fatherhood.
Watch the goddamn show?
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