Pretty much since its inception, Brooklyn Nine-Nine was one of those shows that trusted friends and TV critics had been urging me to watch. So, with a family Netflix account freshly activated, I decided to make it my first official binge (not to be confused with my 2014 House of Cards free-trial binge)—a decision I would not come to regret.
In a world where the quality of network TV is more questionable than ever, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a FOX offering that most definitely deserves to be praised. It’s sharp, creative, consistent, and selectively outlandish. Above all though, the detectives of the 99th precinct are just straight up fun to watch. They’re thoughtfully written, complementing each other in all kinds of beautiful and unlikely ways to produce an oddly charming group dynamic.
While burning through the show, I couldn’t help but liken their idiosyncratic comradery to that of the main characters in another of my favourite network comedies (well, once upon a time at least, before Yahoo! Screen had to come in and pick up the pieces): Community. In fact, the more I took in, the more I started to see Greendale’s most iconic study group reflected in Commander Holt’s (Andre Braugher) crew. Except, these weren’t clear-cut reflections; they were—mostly—spliced, mutated reflections in which the Brooklyn Nine-Nine main characters revealed themselves to be hybrids of the Greendale Seven plus Chang. If that sounds confusing/unlikely/dumb, allow me to try and explain.
Jake = Jeff + Troy
If you break down Andy Samberg’s superb character, you get two principal traits: natural leadership and juvenile inclinations. The former quality represents the Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) in him. Whether he felt like assuming the mantle or not, Jeff was always the obvious alpha dog in the study group. Everyone responded to his snarky charisma and no group conflict ever felt truly resolved until Jeff had wrapped things up with a tidy speech. Although Holt is the true authority figure in the team, Jake is the people’s champion, the one all the regular detectives tend to end up rallying around. As we saw during the Inter-Agency Anti-Terrorism drill when he got everyone to help turn the tables on the federal agencies (Season 2, Episode 15), Jake’s got major influence. Plus, both Jeff and Jake are the way they are because of deeply-rooted daddy issues.
Jeff Winger, however, is a former defense attorney. And as we know, despite dating one in Season 2, Jake despises defense attorneys. It’s that side of him which overlaps so heavily with Troy. The two of them are honest and loyal, not to mention exceedingly childish. While Troy is a blanket fort-building kid in an adult’s body, Jake’s juvenility shines through in more of a class clown type of way. But they both share the same vivacious, immature spark that brings a welcome energy and silliness to their respective groups.
Captain Holt = Abed + Shirley
This is another pairing where its easy to isolate the key qualities of each Community star in the Brooklyn Nine-Nine character. Holt is firm, demanding, and more than a little condescending. As the most mature member of the study group (sorry Pierce) and a devout Christian, Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) often takes it upon herself to come down hard on everyone with veiled assertions of her own righteousness. She’s fiercely proud and won’t take shit from anyone. Having overcome institutional inequality to work his way up the NYPD ranks, Holt is equally determined to not have anyone ever bring him down.
When it comes to how he actually expresses these characteristics though, Holt is much more akin to Abed (Danny Pudi). Unlike Shirley, you won’t ever hear Holt yapping about his personal life or gossiping in the workplace. He and Abed are unapologetically robotic and inscrutable. The guy at Flannahan’s Hole who unsuccessfully hit on Abed for an hour (Season 2, Episode 10) knows exactly how the 99th precinct feels when they try to gauge their captain’s mood from his stony visage.
Amy = Annie
I started looking for a complementary piece to balance out the Annie Edison (Alison Brie) in Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), but there simply wasn’t one out there. Amy is Annie. Aside from being stunningly attractive, the two of them are best distinguished for being well-behaved perfectionists and eager suck-ups with hearts of gold. They get teased within their groups for inordinately caring about professional/educational matters, but that’s outweighted by how highly respected and appreciated they are. Still, they both make conscious efforts every once in a while to try and loosen their screws a bit, which, like most sit-com plotlines, are quickly forgotten by the next episode.
Boyle = Chang + Troy
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: yes, Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) has some Ben Chang (Ken Jeong) in him. However, it’s not the unbalanced side of the Spanish professor-turned-quasi-study group member, it’s just his general weirdness and overwhelming desire to be accepted. Just as Chang found himself popping and locking to the point of severe exhaustion so that he could officially join the group (Season 2, Episode 2), Boyle goes all out when it comes to securing companionship, as evidenced by his backfiring over-the-top romantic gestures and willingness to don out high fives and props—even when they come at his own expense (which they do, because he’s an odd dude and a very easy target). Gina’s (Chelsea Peretti) reaction upon discovering she had drunkenly slept with Boyle wasn’t quite on the same regretfulness level as Shirley finding out about her night with Chang (even when you factor out the pregnancy), but she was pretty rattled about how the perception of him would reflect back on her.
Yet, the fact that Gina kept sleeping with Boyle anyways (for a while, at least) is a testament to his attractive qualities that often lurk under the surface and make him a bit more like Troy. They’re both loyal, capable, and wear their emotions on their sleeve. Troy’s bromance with Abed is pretty central to his identity on Community, just as the Boyle-Peralta bromance is big on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Although it’s tempting to see Boyle as the Abed to Jake’s Troy, the parallel isn’t really grounded in anything other than them being the nerdier of the pairs. But, after a number of unhappy years being a ‘cool jock,’ it was embracing his inner nerd with Abed that allowed Troy to finally find peace at Greendale, so Troy is clearly the better comparison anyways.
Rosa = Abed + Britta
It’s easy to see the Abed-esque characteristics in Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz). Much like him and Holt, she generally sticks to one facial setting throughout the series, which can probably best be described as ‘resting anger face.’ Rosa hates making herself vulnerable in any way and has trouble articulating romantic feelings just as Abed does. Additionally, she struggles just like Abed to empathize with the rest of the team, even though they like and respect her very much.
But Rosa isn’t full-on Abed, and some of her distinguishing qualities are ones that Britta (Gillian Jacobs) possesses as well. For instance, they both have a certain badass mentality and attitude that often distances them from others. The main difference is that Britta is more vocal—and goofier—about hers. Plus, she’s a self-proclaimed therapist, which is probably the last profession Rosa would ever aspire to. Most importantly though, they’re fierce women who are willing to stand up passionately for what they believe in. With Britta it’s usually a cause-based defiance, but law enforcement is sort of a cause in itself, so you could maybe argue that Rosa shares that saviour mindset with her.
Terry = Shirley + Chang
This one feels pretty strange when you first see it, but then again, Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews) is a pretty strange character. Physically, neither of them resemble his perfectly chiseled physique in the slightest. But in terms of his disposition, he could’ve been the Chang-baby they almost had.
Boyle represents the weird/validation-seeking part of Chang, which leaves the mentally unhinged part all to Terry. He’s not quite perma-crazy like Chang is, but his infamous panic attack and frequent displays of nervous excitement make it clear that this guy is always liable to go off the rails at any given moment. He also likes referring to himself in the third person, which is a trademark/super-annoying Chang move.
From Shirley, Terry inherits his tremendous devotion to his kids, as well as his snappiness. They both share that ability to switch from being lovey-dovey parents and gushing about their children to irritated and fuming in a matter of milliseconds. Terry’s position as the sergeant gives him a senior role within the team, which is reminiscent of how Shirley embraces her maturity most of the time and, as a mother, operates on a bit of a different wavelength from the rest of the study group.
Gina = Jeff + Pierce
Gina is a rude egomaniac who rarely treats anyone in the precinct the way she would want to be treated, but expects their support and sympathy nonetheless. Like Jeff, she tries to project herself as being ‘above’ others. Like Pierce (Chevy Chase), she often chooses to be a jerk for no apparent reason. That’s a dangerous combination for someone who doesn’t want to be completely despised.
Luckily for her sake though, she also carries the Jeff Winger knack for ‘winning over people just enough so that they cast aside grievances from earlier in the episode.’ Sometimes that’s because she uses her surprisingly high intellect to work the situation to her advantage as Jeff would, other times it’s because she becomes a sympathetic figure like Pierce (it’s often just pity in his case). Either way, Gina usually comes out on top.
Scully/Hitchcock = Pierce + Britta
You can’t say the same about Scully and Hitchcock (played by Joel McKinnon Miller and Dirk Blocker, and, for the purposes of this exercise, will be treated as one person because they’re pretty much a package deal in the show). Scull-cock doesn’t fit into Pierce’s antagonist mold but ‘it’ certainly shares his propensity for being lazy and a general detraction from the group dynamic.
‘It’ also gets all the classic Britta goofiness that Rosa most definitely did not receive when she inherited her feistier qualities. “Britta” became known as a verb synonymous with failure in the study group, which is exactly what Scull-cock personifies (unless of course we’re talking about opera singing ability) in its relatively limited screen time.