Brooklyn Nine-Nine might be the best network sitcom in America.
No laugh track, an obvious commitment to character over gags and one hell of a cast have collided together in one big happy accident. It’s almost the anti-Big Bang Theory (Boo! Hiss!), which might not be great for bringing in a mass audience, but it does bring us one of the best characters on television: Amy Santiago.
Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) is a detective. In the wacky reality of Brooklyn’s ninety ninth police precinct, she’s the type-A rule obsessed straight woman to protagonist manchild Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg). In the hands of many (mainly male, mainly lazy) writers Amy would have simply been a foil for Jake. A career consumed love interest whose personality is designed to accentuate Jake’s wackiness and be the butt of repetitive jokes.
Somehow, though, Amy is the funniest character on the show. In a sitcom full of great characters realised by a great cast, Amy stands out as the best. Sure, Samberg’s brand of over-the-top antics is perfect for Jake, and Stephanie Beatriz’s Rosa Diaz is the funniest tough nosed cop in a long time. But Melissa Fumero’s performance and Amy Santiago’s character fuse together to deliver the most underrated character on television.
Here’s why Amy rocks. Not only is Amy smart, ambitious and passionate about her job, she’s all these things even while being really funny. And we’re not talking funny in the way Penny from The Big Bang Theory is given gags to drop over a terrible laugh track. Amy likes sticking to the rules, being professional and reading boring documents. She’s genuinely in love with grammar. And the writers of Brooklyn Nine-Nine seem able to find endless new ways to pull comedy from these traits.
“There’s a Binder!”
Let’s take an example of how this works, because that’s half the magic. In the season three episode, Cheddar, Jake offers to house sit for the super serious Captain Holt, bringing along Amy (because – spoilers – they’re now dating). In front of Holt, Amy is on board with the idea, but when she’s alone with Jake it’s full on panic mode. House sitting for Holt is a Level One assignment and she’s “a Level Two at best”. Jake is not even a Level.
By way of explanation, Jake states that if Holt has no one to house sit he won’t be able to visit his husband Kevin in Paris. He says if him and Amy were apart for so long he’d be bummed out. Amy takes this as a sweet gesture, but is won over completely when Jake reveals a vast binder of rules and instructions Holt has left him. “There’s a binder!” Amy gasps with genuine excitement. “Why didn’t you lead with that you idiot!”
It is in these sorts of scenarios Brooklyn Nine-Nine is at its very best. Amy is utterly sincere in her love of detail and order. While Jake might still be the show’s protagonist he’s increasingly used as a foil for Amy in this sort of scene. Crucially, Brooklyn Nine-Nine never feels the urge to be mean spirited about Amy’s foibles. Lots of people are obsessive about details. One of the keys to comedy is taking something real and pushing it to its logical extreme.
The thing that clinches it for Amy though, is that she’s the real deal. Yes, we laugh at her quirks, but we also know she really is that good at her job. Because she catches crooks and kicks ass when necessary, and her colleagues respect her for it. The show’s writers draw humour from her obsessiveness and ambition but it never, ever belittles it. Work hard and be obsessive about your passions and you can be a success. That’s the message we take from Amy, even as we’re invited to chuckle.
Amy is the MVP of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Her moments of character comedy are almost always the highlight of the episode. In a show where Andy Samberg is supposed to be a manchild genius cop getting into wacky situations, it’s always Amy who keeps me coming back. Her love of “old, expensive books” and laminated cruise itineraries makes her the real hero of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
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