Raymond Holt

Written by David Smith
Guest article

When cop-comedy 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' got cancelled by Fox, it was repeatedly praised for its diverse casting. Whilst the show absolutely has that, with the core cast including several black and Latinx actors, what’s refreshing is they’re not treated as the usual TV window-dressing. For instance, Captain Raymond Holt, my favourite character, is a gay, black cop. And though his race and sexual orientation definitely inform who he is (particularly given when he arrived on the force) the show discards usual lazy TV tropes in defining him. Rather his main attribute is wanting to make the best precinct he can.

Spoilers Ahead
Rather than the flamboyant, gay boss stereotype, Andre Braugher (who picked the role to see if he could do comedy) plays him with a dead pan face and booming voice. And he’s hilarious. There’s gravitas given to his every word (“call me velvet thunder”) or mannerism (his entering the office on Halloween with a brass-band playing Rise of the Valkyries). Even when he yells “bone!” at the top of lungs. More often than not, early episodes put him in conflict with the carefree Peralta and his chirpy sidekick Boyle, with the expected comical results. But along with being the perfect foil to the buddy-cop horseplay, Holt is also the kind of wise, warm figure you’d want as your dad.
Why is no one having a good time? I specifically requested it.
He was a great partner. Smart, loyal, homophobic. But not racist. In those days that was pretty good.
From his structured mentorship of Santiago, spread across multiple ring binders, to telling Jake the fable of why his husband bought Gertie, Holt’s the show’s beating heart as much as its stick up the ass. Much of his sage advice is played for laughs (“Do not trust any adult who chews gum at all”), though if there is a lesson to the episode it almost always comes from him. His marriage to Kevin is also inspiring, with their dispassionate deliveries well contrasted against their obvious love for one another. Holt always means well, even if it doesn’t always come across that way. Such as telling a pregnant Sharon, “you’re so big, like a mighty truck”, or organising the worst staff morale-boosting party ever. Thus much of the pathos comes from him realising his own emotional stupidity. Bits like him realising the staff don’t want to “josh” around with him, because he’s a killjoy, so joining them in sending himself up is a surprisingly touching moment. More dramatically, his turn around in the brilliant episode on racial profiling is played with sensitivity and very in character – an arc Braugher came up with himself.

Yet none of this is to say he’s predictable. Hence why much of the show revolves around others not knowing what he’s thinking. In the hands of lesser writers, he would be a one note character – luckily these ones have nuance. Flashbacks to the 70s show he was once a total badass (or in his words, “a brash, young detective”). The scene of him arresting the Freestyle Killer in the swimming pool is a particular stand out. Moreover, numerous idiosyncrasies are sprinkled through the scripts, like his passions for hula hooping, balloon arches, and mocking contestants on dog shows. Or his sheer delight at tasting a marshmallow for the first time - seriously, how many other characters could make a “marshed mallow” tasting scene funny?
Sergeant Jeffords: "I am feeling trepidation at the prospect of a parent-less existence"... No kid talks like that.
Captain Holt: Those lines were lifted verbatim from my childhood diary.
Given the strength of the cast, it’d be hyperbolic to say Holt steals every scene he’s in. Yet there isn’t one that doesn’t benefit from his presence. When I first saw the show it was by walking in on someone else seeing it. The other characters got me interested, though it was the bits with Holt that made me stay. And that's why, with 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' being back for another year, I’ll be saying O Captain My Captain again.
David S. Smith is a writer for HorrorCultFilms. He also lectures psychology. You can find him on Twitter @HorrorInATweet
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Published on 22 September 2018

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