*Light spoilers for Season 5*
During the Season 5 premiere of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I was delightedly shocked hearing the following exchange between lead character, Jake Peralta, and the prison warden:
“Oh no. No, no, no, no, no. The only people less popular in here than cops are snitches.”
“Well, let’s be honest, it’s not great for trans people in here.”
“That is so true.”
“They have such a hard time.”
“It’s a problem.”
The writers didn’t have to include this conversation, but I’m incredibly glad they did. They could have made a cheap joke about Orange Is The New Black or ended the exchange earlier, but they didn’t. They actively chose to draw attention to trans issues.
And this isn’t even the first time the show has discussed trans struggles. In the Season 4 premiere, Jake tells a tattoo artist about the movie Ace Ventura and its transphobia. It was the first time I’ve ever heard the actual word “transphobic” on a television show before, and even though both of these references were small and casual, they still matter.
The show tackles a myriad of other issues as well. Jake once punched his childhood hero in the face for using “homo” as a slur towards his openly gay captain. (Speaking of which, Captain Holt is such great representation because he is never made fun of for being gay, and considering he is also an older black man, he is an especially rare character.)
An entire episode of Season 4 took on the issue of racism within police departments, an ever-present issue in our world. Vice discussed exactly why this episode was so important, highlighting how well it balances taboo topics with hilarious comedy.
There have been several points in the show where an offensive joke could have been inserted but was avoided. For example, when Jake wants to be funny and fake an accent to imitate his girlfriend’s dad, who is Cuban, he does a British one. When other characters are confused, Jake replies that the Cuban accent wouldn’t have been okay.
This kind of representation is so important; other shows better start taking notes. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is proof that you don’t have to target a group of people in an offensive way in order to get a couple of laughs. Many comedians believe that offensive jokes are vital to comedy, but this delightful little show just proves them wrong. There are enough horrible things in this world, and comedy can provide a way to escape when we are upset. Hurtful jokes send us right back to the painful reality.
Dear Television Writers: please be more like Brooklyn Nine-Nine… you don’t need to attack people to be funny.