Fall TV Spotlight: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

In anticipation of the 2016 fall television season, NHMC will be showcasing shows that excel in portraying and characterizing their Latino stars. Stay tuned these next few weeks as we feature some of this fall’s most diverse programming, and make sure to watch and support Latino talent on TV — we’ve compiled a list of some of this season’s best, available on the NHMC blog.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is, at its simplest and its best, a police workplace comedy. The show is smart, taking its thematic cues both from beloved cop shows like Starsky and Hutch and Miami Vice, and from more recent workplace comedies such as 30 Rock, 2 Broke Girls and Workaholics. But while these earlier sitcoms were commercial and critical successes, they weren’t notable for their authenticity, often failing to showcase the diversity that would naturally be a part of the real-world locations they’re set in.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine — hyping up Andy Samberg as its lead and (with the exception of a few) casting relatively unknown actors for the rest of the ensemble — could have easily fallen into a similarly homogenized trap as its predecessors. But in its last three seasons, B99 has become more confident in itself, and its talented, diverse cast has thrived as a result.

In fact, it’s gotten to the point where the rest of the team often outshines Samberg himself — and this is fantastic for the show. B99’s quality has only gone up since it premiered in 2013 and began to realize and utilize the comedic potential of its cast. By taking the time to give characters besides Samberg backstories, hobbies, and quirks — basically, by taking the time to develop characters besides Samberg’s Det. Jake Peralta — B99 is already way ahead of the game compared to the shows that came before it. Audiences are more invested in storylines, and characters who could have easily become one-note have been elevated by great writing and even better performances.

For example: in the hands of lazy showrunners and a lesser actress than Melissa Fumero, Det. Amy Santiago would have simply been reduced to the main character’s love interest. But small details like the occasional reference to her family or the limitations she’s faced as a career-driven Latina woman have transformed her from a caricature into an actual person.

Stephanie Beatriz as Det. Rosa Diaz (l) and Melissa Fumero as Det. Amy Santiago (r).

Brooklyn Nine-Nine took the time to develop the contradictions and challenges of Santiago’s character, much like they did with Stephanie Beatriz’ Det. Rosa Diaz — Beatriz consistently nails scenes in which the tough, stoic Diaz struggles to connect with her team members or become a leader or resignedly express some kind of emotion, and it’s led to a fascinating, multi-dimensional fan favorite character.

It’s a fine-tuned process of character development takes what made past sitcoms good and makes it better. The fact that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is one of the funniest shows on television is why viewers tune in, but wanting to actually get to know these people is what keeps them watching.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine returns for its fourth season on Tuesday, September 20 on Fox.

Images from here and here.