Friday, January 24, 2014

Strong Female Character Friday: Rosa Diaz (Brooklyn 99)

I have quite honestly been shocked this year by how much I enjoy Brooklyn 99. I was not overly fond on the first viewing - Andy Samberg's character annoyed me and I just wasn't sure that they would be able to pull this off. It looked to me like the whole show was going to be brought down by some annoying white guy jokes, while everyone else looked on and cringed.

As it turns out, I was wrong. And I am 100% okay with that, because that means we get this show. This wonderful, weird, amazing little show. I'm honestly quite grateful for that. Allow me to tell you why.

Brooklyn 99 is a show with a concept so incredibly simple that I am genuinely shocked no one did it before: it's a workplace comedy about cops. That's it. How the hell is this the first major show like that? I mean, The Unusuals tapped some of the same points, and was awesome btw, but since it had a stronger affinity for drama, it got lumped into the already over-saturated cop drama pool. Brooklyn 99 is a comedy, and I don't know if I've ever seen a straight up sitcom about cops before. Have I? I feel like I would remember that.

The real strength of the show, though, is in its characters, and for me, the strength of those characters is in the way that every single one of them, down to the weird terrible ones, is a developed, interesting person. It's like Christmas and magic all at the same time.

I mean, yes, you've got Andy Samberg playing Detective Jake Peralta (actually, they're all detectives, so I'm not going to use that as a modifier, because it'll take too long), and he is kind of really annoying, but get this. That's the point. Jake Peralta is supposed to irritate you. You're supposed to be exasperated with him most of the time. And yeah, you kind of like him, because the show manages to delve ever so slightly into the psychology of a man-child working as a detective who has so, so many unresolved issues and needs a therapist more than pretty much any tv character since House, and I should hate Jake. But I don't.

The thing is, if Jake were the only character with real development on this show, or even the main character, which he seems to be but he really isn't, I would hate Brooklyn 99 with the fire of a thousand suns. I don't hate it because he isn't the main character, and because everyone else on the show is just as developed and just as interesting. You have Andre Braugher glowering in the corner while Chelsea Peretti yucks it up on center stage, and Melissa Fumero tries desperately to brown nose with no success, and Terry Crews is a big old manly man terrified that he's going to get hurt and be unable to provide for his adorable baby daughters. Guh. I love this cast and this story so dang much.

Especially one Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz).

The reason I singled Rosa out for SFC Friday (and that's not to say that we won't talk about the two other women on this show at some point in the future, because I'm sure we will) is because out of all the female characters I've seen, Rosa is probably the closest to the "strong female character" ideal, the one that everyone talks about and critiques and complains about. And I mean that in a good way. Rosa is the strong female character in a comedy, and it works. It works so dang well. It works because everyone takes it completely seriously.

When I say that Rosa is the "traditional" strong female character, what I mean is this: Rosa is scary. Terrifying, actually. She's got the kind of stare that makes you want to hide behind a desk, she almost never smiles, she hates everyone (openly), and she is very, very happy to use physical force to get what she wants. She's not a woman in a man's world, she's a Rosa in Rosa's world and all of you are unlicensed trespassers. She has a gun. She will shoot.

But she's also got depth. Because even though Rosa is a stone-cold badass, she's also a person, and this show is awesome enough to want to highlight that. 

So we find out that Rosa went to Catholic school for a while, and left, not because she was kicked out, but because she got accepted into ballet school. Of course, she did get kicked out of ballet school for punching ballerinas, but still. We find out that she hides weapons all over her apartment, but that she also believes that people should be treated honestly and well, and that she hates having to lie. Not that she won't, but that she really doesn't like it.

She's loyal - her friendship with Jake has gotten them through a lot of scrapes, and it sustained them both through the police academy - but she's also comfortable with her boundaries - when Jake betrays her trust, Rosa does not hesitate to get her revenge (and oh is it sweet). In short, we love Rosa because as much as she is kind of totally a stone cold bitch, and she would feature very easily in one of Kate Beaton's "Strong Female Characters" comics, she's also a person, and a dang cool one at that.

Plus? She's got female friends, strong female relationships, and doesn't feel threatened by other women. She's not one of those, "No, I don't like women, I like men better," people. She doesn't like anyone, not really. But it's not about her being such a cool woman, and therefore being the exception to the rule that women suck. Rosa is a woman who is cool, and she has women friends and man friends, and she sees no reason why that would be a problem.

However. As much as I love Rosa, sometimes I get the feeling that the show doesn't feel the same. Or rather, that the show doesn't understand why I love Rosa. I love Rosa because she is hilarious and terrifying and utterly unapologetic. But the show seems to think that I love Rosa because she's funny, and I'll love her more if she ends up dating this schlubby white guy with whom she has nothing in common and whose pursuit of her is reaching terrifying levels.

Um, what?

The character in question, Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), is Rosa's partner. And that's fine in and of itself. Actually, I really love Boyle's character when you view him on his own. He's the perfect counterpoint to Rosa. While she's all traditionally masculine attributes wrapped up in an attractive lady package, Boyle is a very traditionally feminine character, who still manages to be a very good cop. They really do make a great team. It's really funny watching Boyle go on and on about his foodie preferences, trying to be butch and manly and then putting together a dollhouse, or accidentally spewing honesty all over everyone.

The problem comes in with the way that the writers have made Rosa and Boyle interact. Because Boyle has a crush on Rosa. And the writers seem to believe that if he keeps bothering about her, it'll happen. Which is just wrong.

Look, I'm even okay with having Boyle having a crush on Rosa. She's a BAMF, and totally crush-worthy, and one of my favorite running gags has to do with all the guys she arrests being pretty much in love with her. It's not hard to tell why. Rosa is one of those characters where you know she could have either been a cop or a terrifyingly effective and unrepentant criminal, so, again, it makes sense. And it's funny. It just makes you like her more that she always shuts these guys down, quick and efficient. No flirting or prevaricating, just, "Ew. No."

I'm pretty sure that's an actual quote, too. *Swoon.*

But the thing with Boyle is a problem. Boyle has a crush on Rosa, which is fine, but the way he pursues her is really, really unsettling. Oh sure, parts of it are funny on their own. He's obsessed with her, but she terrifies him (understandably), so when she actually agrees to go to a film festival with him, Boyle freaks out and buys a ticket to every single movie, because he doesn't know what she'll like and he's afraid to ask. On its own, funny. But combined with everything else? Weird.

Because Boyle keeps pursuing Rosa even when it's clear she's not interested. Even when it becomes so clear that he can't take a hint that Rosa straight up tells him she's not interested, and Boyle claims he'll respect that decision. He looks like he's going to move on (which would be healthy and normal), and then he pulls some crap like this: "When you do go out with me, and I know you will..."

Ew. No. Stop. Gross. What the hell, guys? When you do go out with me, and I know you will? That's what a stalker says about three days before the police catch him wearing your skin.

I really respect the way that the writers have written this relationship, up to a point. I really loved that Rosa likes Boyle as a person, and doesn't want to hurt him, but has absolutely no interest in him romantically. That's fine. There's no reason why she really should like him, honestly. Yeah, he took a bullet for her, but it was a cop thing, not a romance thing. They have nothing in common. He's not her type. So, yeah, she's going to let him down. She respects him, so she's going to let him down gently, but it's not her thing. She's going to tell Boyle the truth and then proceed to not date him. Respect.

It's just that Boyle doesn't stop. He doesn't stop going after her, and to this point, at least, the writers haven't made it clear that this behavior is not okay. Dude. You tried, she said no, the thing to do now is accept that gracefully and move on.

All this? It's creepy. No. Stop.

I guess what I'm saying is that I love Rosa Diaz, and I feel protective of her. Not that she really needs my protection in story, but I feel like she might need it from the writers. She's such a cool character. She knows exactly who she is, and she likes it. She's not burdened with an over-amount of guilt, she doesn't really doubt herself, and she's completely comfortable with her own attractiveness, physical competence, everything.

Heck, she even goes so far as to intentionally perpetuate terrifying myths about herself because she thinks it's fun. I love that.

What I don't love is the idea that Rosa should in some way change or bend or lower her standards to date Boyle. Because she is genuinely not interested, and the narrative would have to do a lot of work to explain why the hell she should be. Don't go trying to make me think that Rosa is being a bitch for not dating him. She's not. She's being honest. 

When did that become a crime?

Never change.

8 comments:

  1. back in the day (1975) there was Barney Miller which was a detective sitcom in New York, and brought up a number of issues that were only then beginning to be discussed on television. It was quite forward for the times (75-82).

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    1. Oh hey, thanks! It makes total sense that they've gone here before - it's such a great concept.

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  2. Wow lady you need your head examined. Brooklyn 99 is the least funny, most idiotically boring tv show in the last 10 years.
    It's a total ripoff of a truly smart, funny, sarcastic, silly (in a good way), laugh out loud hilarious moments show called Reno 911. Do you live in a parallel universe of some sort of amazing bad taste?

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    1. Hey, my parallel universe is awesome. Michael Jackson never went weird and Pluto is still a planet.

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    2. Reno was too slapstick, and seemed more of a COPS lampoon. And I don't know that any of the characters went against type. Both shows have gay characters (or was the shorts guy closeted?) and they have multiple female leads, but they were vastly different.

      Please link to any articles outlining the strengths of Reno. I'd love to compare and see which episodes are standout.

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    3. Sorry, meant to mention that the female leads (2 of the 3) seemed to be busty vixens more for male gaze then 3D characterization. But I never made it through more than one episode (bits and pieces here/there) so I could be overlooking/overgeneralizing

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  3. Any follow-up on this article? Since Boyle, in the end, DID accept it and move on?

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  4. This was an amazing article, and I totally agree with you.

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