It is often quite easy to relegate sitcoms to the realm of silly TV shows, purely there for our mindless enjoyment. Often, that is what they are on the surface. In part because of this very role, they are able to take advantage of their platform to counter our expectations and examine society with directness and insight. The usually lighthearted tone of most sitcoms lends any serious topics even further heft by virtue of contrast. We can be reminded that even in spaces that bring us the most enjoyment, the world is not perfect, and we should not assume that it always will be.
On this week’s episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “He Said, She Said,” written by Lang Fisher, the popular sitcom does exactly that as detective Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) and Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) take on a case of sexual assault in the workplace. Even with the show’s generally progressive stance, this one is particularly pointed. Beyond the episode’s content, with the directorial debut of Stephanie Beatriz, who also portrays Rosa Diaz on the show, this installment of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a statement made by women in an industry dominated by men.
Show business gave birth to the Me Too movement with accusations made against film producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017, and with an episode written by, directed by and starring women, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is enacting the change that it preaches.
As a show that focuses on detectives in the New York Police Department (NYPD), it has created a platform in which the creators can easily integrate topical issues into their episodes, something they have not shied away from. In an earlier episode, “Moo Moo,” police sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews) is confronted by a fellow officer due to his race. This week’s episode demonstrates the show’s continued interest in exploring sensitive subjects.
In this episode, a man has been violently assaulted by a female co-worker, who claims it was merely in self-defense because he was making unwelcome advances; however, she has no evidence to support her story, so it comes to her word against his. Instead of taking her company’s hush-money, the accuser chooses to pursue criminal charges at Detective Santiago’s advice, despite the possibility that she could lose everything. When Peralta asks Santiago why she cares about the case so much, she confessed that she once had an old boss of hers that attempted to leverage his power over her and that she never followed up. Luckily, everything turns out okay in the end, and someone comes forward with evidence that the accuser was telling the truth.
While this conclusion satisfies the show’s comfortable formula of justice always prevailing, it is certain to leave some audience members thinking, “Hey wait a second, that seemed pretty easy.” And it’s true, the solution does seemingly come out of nowhere and feels inauthentic. Yet the accuser does not get to the other side unaffected. She ends up needing to quit her job because she feels her coworkers no longer feel comfortable around her, even though she was proven to be the victim. Additionally, the show explores the consequences of not pursuing such a case without any evidence. It acknowledges that the process of sexual assault allegations take a toll on the accuser and only seldom yield results. It fails to offer solutions, effectively saying: This is a problem that we haven’t figured out how to solve, but here’s a nice neat bow at the end because this is a TV show.
But for what it is, “He Said, She Said” offers a thought provoking and nuanced view of the state of today’s policies and the progress that still needs to be made. While we see headlines with similar stories all too often, it is another thing to watch a case like this unfold. It is not the job of sitcoms to solve the great injustices facing our society. But they can remind us of the work that must be done and perhaps help us laugh along the way.