Why Brooklyn Nine-Nine Has Forever Changed the Sitcom Game

After FOX announced it wasn’t going to renew Brooklyn Nine-Nine for a sixth season, it felt like almost everyone on Twitter rioted for 24 hours straight.

And then, a miracle: NBC picked up the show for another season.

We were beside ourselves with excitement — seriously, practically crying from gratitude. B99 means so much to us, but perhaps more importantly, it’s changing the field for sitcoms.

1. It’s diverse without diversity being the main point.

B99 heavily features people of color and people of varying sexual orientations. While being a gay black man is a part of Captain Holt’s character — there are entire scenes dedicated to his experiences with NYPD’s homophobia and racism — it’s not the only thing about him. In fact, Holt’s most defining characteristic is his deadpan delivery. The running jokes about Holt have nothing to do with his identity; they’re all about his dry humor.

It’s refreshing to see a show where people’s diverse identities are not the only thing to talk about. While exploring those experiences is important and meaningful, B99 gracefully addresses the characters’ diverse identities while treating them casually enough to indicate that they’re just a part of everyday life. Talking about identity is important, but someone’s race or sexual orientation isn’t the be-all-end-all of their personhood or a reason to tokenize them.

2. The show is incredibly sensitive and respectful to the actors.

When the writers revealed that they wanted to make the character Rosa Diaz bisexual, the actress who portrays her, Stephanie Beatriz, contributed to her characters’ scenes. Beatriz herself identifies as bisexual, so her real-life experiences supported Rosa’s coming-out storyline. This proves that B99 respects its actors, characters, and its audience immensely.

3. The characters frequently defy stereotypes.

Terry, the hugely muscular sergeant portrayed by Terry Crews, is a character who subverts every expectation for someone who appears so hyper-masculine. He adores yogurt and farmers markets. He wears a beaded necklace to hold his reading glasses. Terry frequently announces that he loves love.

But none of these qualities are ever played for laughs. The stereotypes that Terry defies are just part of his complexity.

4. Every character’s development is amazing.

The characters of B99 have memorable identities that are common on other sitcoms: Jake Peralta is a class clown, Amy Santiago is a nerd, and Gina Linetti is self-absorbed. As the series continues, these characters evolve into something more complex.

We learn that Jake, seemingly carefree, aches for a father figure in his life. He craves approval from men like Captain Holt and Terry and appreciates the guidance they provide in response to his anxieties about being a good cop, a good partner, and a good person. Amy is a woman with ambition. Her nerdiness is her asset, and the show illustrates her success as she climbs the ranks in the precinct. Gina, once apathetic to everyone else’s problems, is changed by motherhood and cares deeply about others.

5. It strikes the right tone.

Even when it tackles challenging material, B99 consistently strikes the right tone. In a recent episode, Rosa responds to an active shooter alert while the rest of the squad fears for her safety and is reminded of their own mortality. The serious subject matter means that there are fewer jokes in this episode than usual, but there’s still room for love — the episode shows the team leaning on each other for comfort and support.

The show discusses racial profiling too; Holt and Terry have meaningful conversations about the reality of being targeted. While we’re encouraged to find other parts of the episode funny, the act of racial profiling is never humorous.

When there are jokes, they’re wacky, absurdist, and clever rather than stale, off-color, and offensive. Sitcoms can often mask offensive humor with a laugh track, which seems to insist that audiences take it “as a joke.” But there’s no laugh track in B99, and there’s no need for one.

So… why the cancellation?

You might be asking: if B99 is so phenomenal, why was it canceled? Partly, it’s because FOX changed the show’s airtime, which made its live-viewing ratings decrease. Additionally, many watch the show by streaming it on Hulu. Since NBC has a 20 percent share in Hulu, renewing B99 was a savvy move for the studio.

Now that B99 has a sixth season, here’s why we think it’s changed the sitcom game. No longer will shows with primarily all-white and/or all-male casts appeal to audiences. No longer will shows that make sexist, homophobic, racist, or otherwise ignorant and offensive jokes be tolerated.

B99 was preceded by a few diverse sitcoms, such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, The George Lopez Show, and Ugly Betty, so it owes a lot to those crucial shows. However, many sitcoms featuring primarily people of color were terminated after just a few episodes in the 90s and 2000s. Recall other successful, long-running sitcoms from then: Friends, Full House, That 70s Show. They have almost no diverse representation in their casts, and the jokes often rely upon outdated models of stereotypes.

B99 started in 2013, and since then, we’ve seen a flux of equally amazing sitcoms. Black-ish and Jane the Virgin both began in 2014. Fresh Off the Boat started its run in 2015. One Day at a Time got a reboot with a Cuban-American family on Netflix in 2017. There’s a Latinx reboot of a Charmed airing in fall 2018 on the CW.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the harbinger of a new breed of sitcoms taking over entertainment. The humor in the show is relevant, timely, and sensitive. This show proves that jokes can be funny without relying on stereotypes, tropes, or dated concepts. It’s making the rules for the modern sitcom game.