Here’s an easy question for fans of TV series, Brooklyn Nine-Nine: how many adults are there in the ensemble cast? Eight or nine people would be an acceptable answer, depending on the season. A more contentious question would be, how many well-adjusted adults are there?
In a show featuring an immature detective, an uber-competitive detective, an eccentric commanding officer and an assistant who claims to be the human form of the 100 emoji, there is only one well-adjusted adult in the 99th police precinct. And that is Sergeant/Lieutenant Terry Jeffords, played by former NFL player turned actor, Terry Crews.
In theory, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a comedy series featuring police detectives. But just like most of creator Michael Schur’s series (The Office, Parks & Recreation), it is a family dramedy masquerading as a workplace comedy. And Jeffords is their parental figure.
When we first meet Jeffords, he has been taken off the field. After his twin girls were born, he developed an intense fear of leaving his girls without a father, which led him to becoming overwhelmed in the line of duty. He struggled to discharge his firearm and became a danger to himself and the community. So, he is desk-bound for a while.
This is already an unusual way to introduce a Black, male police character: fatherhood over professional success, acknowledgement of fear, willingness to avoid heroism, rejection of machoism. It also subverts the viewer’s perception of Terry Jeffords. Did we assume this towering former line-backer with a muscled physique was going to be the tough guy or the dumb jock? Brooklyn Nine-Nine has no time for these stereotypes and the writers never resort to tired masculine clichés to portray him.
Jeffords’ identities are primarily cop, husband and father. Although he has a wife and three daughters, he never refers to himself as ‘outnumbered’. He loves being a husband and father but more importantly, he is not the hapless, daggy dad we have come to expect of sitcoms. He is a hands-on father, takes part in tea parties with the girls, braids their hair and boasts that they prefer it to their mother’s handiwork.
He extends this father-figure in the workplace, by both supporting and pushing the detectives on his team. “I feel like a proud mama hen whose baby chicks have learned to fly!”, he tells his crew in one episode.
Jeffords’ backstory, varied interests and “loves” are what makes him layered and wholesome. He is excitable, in touch with his emotions and talks about himself in the third person. He’s nerdy, exercises profusely, goes to therapy, writes Madam Secretary fan-fiction and picks Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless as his favourite cop movie when everyone else picks Die Hard and Training Day. He loves things that would be traditionally considered feminine: yogurt, lavender and love itself.
Because of this, Jeffords is unlike any other Black, male cop on TV. He is not like the playboy Will Smith or the luckless family man Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys. He’s not like the fast talking Chris Tucker in Rush Hour or the comedic Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop. In fact, Jeffords is just ordinary and that itself is quite radical.
As a police TV show though, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is guilty of pushing the propaganda that cops are good while everyone else is a questionable character. This became particularly jarring during the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, amidst overwhelming evidence that the police were killing unarmed Black people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
On Twitter, fans asked if “Brooklyn 99 could just suddenly and without explanation switch to being about a post office”. Given that the eighth and final season is now out, this might be a tad too dramatic.
Still, it is understandable why fans pitched this idea. As Black cops, Jeffords and Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher) are part of the establishment, but they can also be victims of racism. Captain Holt’s experience as an openly gay Black man is a recurring theme in the show, but it is often a way to show how much things have changed for the better since the 1970s. There is very little acknowledgement of present-day bias and racism until season four. In that episode, Jeffords is racially profiled when a police officer nearly arrests him for wandering near his house at night. The experience leaves him shaken and it is one of the heavier episodes of the series.
Crews’ real life inspired a few details for Jeffords’ character, such as the backstory on playing college football and the love for yogurt. When the writers saw that he consumed a lot of it on set, they wrote it into his character. He also inspired the “Nine Nine” chant that the team often yell in the show. Crews used it as a cheer to pump up the cast and it made its way into the series’ cannon.
We will have to farewell the series and the cast in 2021. But GIFs of Sergeant/Lieutenant Terry Jeffords dancing will continue to bless our timelines for a few more years.
The eighth and final season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is being fast-tracked to SBS and SBS On Demand, with new double episodes airing and streaming weekly.
They won’t be at SBS On Demand for long, so be quick! Here is episode 1 (available till 3 September):