Comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, now into its seventh season, has been on the air for long enough that it’s easy to forget how original and well written the characters are. The ensemble cast of the fictional police station includes Jake Peralta, a goofy man-child but competent detective, Det. Charles Boyle who is an enthusiastic curator of gross-sounding food and Det. Rosa Diaz whose idea of dressing up is to wear a ‘formal’ leather jacket. Their leader and handler Capt. Raymond Holt speaks in monotone and loves his husband and the opera.
With each episode involving a different interaction and dynamic among the cast members, it takes a while to notice that the ‘friendship’ among the women is somewhere between supportive and functional, but never ventures into best-friend territory. Most days, Rosa, Det. Amy Santiago and Gina Linetti just orbit around each other. Occasionally they exchange banal or witty conversations which reflect their layered and distinct personalities.
Amy is a nerd who loves rules and binders with strong tabs, Gina is fabulous, aggressively lazy and speaks in emoji. Rosa refuses to give details of her life but we know she rides a motorcycle and owns an axe. With a mixed bag like this, the only thing they have in common is their squad and their individual link with Jake. Kudos to the writers for not force-fitting interactions or friendships just to show ‘a softer side’ of female police officers.
When the three women do interact, hilarity ensues, but so does sarcasm and empathy depending on who is the central character for that story arc. In an episode where the three women have their own sub-plot, Amy and Rosa go to Gina’s aid when she’s robbed. But even in this moment of vulnerability, Gina needs her co-workers to be more professional than concerned. She’s also not going to be lectured by Amy of all people, whose buttoned-up dress sense she often mocks.
Amy: Why do you have so many lycra body suits? And why do you need eight full drawers of underwear?
Gina: Because I’m civilised. Less talky-talk, more solvey-solve.
This is a refreshing take on female interactions in TV because sitcoms often default into showing women as co-dependent beings who tell each other everything (think The Golden Girls, Broad City). While that’s a valid portrayal, sometimes it seems as if female friendships and their associated support, heart-to-heart talks and consumption of ice cream are emotional cushions for the rest of the cast to tackle heavy topics like workplace stress and illness (think Grey’s Anatomy).
Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t bother with this. The women are not expected to shoulder the mental load of maintaining the squad’s spirit. No single person acts as the default host (see, Monica Geller of Friends), organises birthday celebrations (see, Leslie Knope of Parks & Recreation) or vets romantic partners for each other (almost every other sitcom).
In fact, it flips it, with the men shouldering the responsibilities of forwarding story arcs based on their close friendships and emotional attachment. Jake and Charles are best mates but Charles sometimes gets jealous of Jake’s other friends. Detectives Michael Hitchcock and Norm Scully have an even more co-dependent relationship that started when they were hotshot detectives in the ’70s. This frees up the women to seek support from other people or activities but not necessarily each other.
Amy smokes when she’s stressed which is a habit she’s ashamed of while Gina dances or sends video blasts to the G-Hive, her online fan-base. Rosa occasionally turns to Capt. Holt which is amusing because neither has an interest in overt displays of emotion.
There’s still one event that most series struggle to write without venturing into sentimentality and stereotypes – a wedding. In season 5, Amy and Jake plan their wedding and Amy covertly shops for a bridal dress while juggling being a newly promoted Sergeant. She is understandably self-conscious about ‘looking too girly’ while trying to lead in a male-dominated environment.
A different series would have managed Amy’s concern by including a scene where her friends gather at a bridal shop and dab away tears as she tries on multiple dresses until she finds the one where she ‘says yes to the dress’. This series gets us halfway there when Rosa notices Amy’s anxiety and insists she try on wedding dresses on their break. But then, true to Amy’s character, she chases a perpetrator down an alley and jumps off a car to catch him, all while wearing a comically oversized gown.
Back at the precinct, Rosa and Amy have a rare heartfelt moment when Rosa tells Amy that she’s an amazing cop and a great leader and should not let other people’s opinion get in her way. Amy is emboldened by this and admits she’d like a prettier gown with lace, a sweetheart neckline and tulip-freaking-sleeves.
Then they went back to work.
Season 7 episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine air on SBS on Fridays at 8:30pm. You have 30 days to catch each episode at SBS On Demand after it goes to air. Here’s ep 10: