It can be hard for an ongoing show to get buzz in a crowded TV market, but there's still one time-tested way to get headlines: cast a showy guest star! And what better pretext to bring in a big name for a role with recurring potential than to cast him or her as a relative to a series regular?
Brooklyn Nine-Nine deserves credit for all of its guest casting, but the actors who've popped in to play the moms, dads, siblings, and nephews to the squad members we know and love are really on another level. With tonight's new episode bringing back Bradley Whitford as Jake's dad (and introducing Martin Mull as his grandfather), we thought we'd take the opportunity to count down our very favorite guest stars to play members of the extended Nine-Nine family:
Marcus was introduced midway through Season 2, when he temporarily moved in with Holt (Andre Braugher) and almost immediately began dating Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz). There's some early awkwardness when Holt sees Rosa sneaking out in the morning after a sexy encounter with Marcus, and much more to follow when she can't match Marcus's vulnerability and general shmoopiness. Cannon is obviously very charismatic (we all saw Drumline), but his comic talents weren't quite up to the level of the rest of the cast. (It's a pity that Langston Kerman, now recurring on Bless This Mess, hadn't yet broken through in 2014-15; his energy would have been perfect.)
For a particular kind of viewer, this may have been the stuntiest of all the stunt casting on this list:. Miranda is, of course, the creator and original star of the smash hit musical Hamilton. Here, he plays a NYPD detective and the only one of Amy's five brothers that we've met (so far). We all know Amy (Melissa Fumero) as a high-achieving perfectionist, but apparently she's never been able to outshine David in her parents' eyes; even his arrest on a drug charge (which turns out to be a frame job by dirty cops at his precinct) barely dulls his lustre. Miranda has good comic chemistry with both Fumero and Andy Samberg, but he comes from the theatre, and it shows in some of his bigger acting choices.
As the child of divorce, Jake's feelings for his parents are, uh, complicated: he hates Roger, yet craves his approval so much he seeks it from all male authority figures. At the same time he reveres his mother but has a hard time seeing her as a person with an identity other than as his mother. Thus, it's hard on Jake when Roger and Karen reunite later in life. Sagal does a good job with the role, but Karen's character — a tough single mom who raised Jake alone but is also susceptible to junk-science articles on things like "super-water" — has felt inconsistent in her two appearances, especially relative (as it were) to Roger, who's much better-defined.
Retired police officer Victor passed on his love of precision, research, binders, and showing up Jake to his daughter Amy, which is why it's extremely important to Jake that he win Victor over at their first meeting. Setting their differences aside to do some good police work is as effective for the two of them as it was for Jake and Amy back in their pre-couple days. Pitting Victor's rectitude against Roger's rakishness over Thanksgiving in "Two Turkeys" is a comic setup that serves both their characters hilariously.
This was one of those casting announcements that was so right and true that all I could say when I read it was "Yes, of course Sandra Bernhard is playing Chelsea Peretti character's mother, because literally who else could?" Darlene is basically a Gina who's mellowed with age, but who still has the same beliefs and interests, up to and including sex with Boyle men. Gina may officially be "Regina," but Darlene is a queen.
Lynn is not quite the sad sack Root's Milton was in Office Space, but he's only a few degrees more functional, as one would expect of a man who raised someone as fearlessly confident in his singular weirdness as Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio). Lynn has really only been used in storylines involving his now-former wife Darlene, and while I realize Root is working all the time, it's a travesty that the show hasn't used him more. For starters, Lynn must be a supremely weird grandfather to Nikolaj (Antonio Raul Corbo), and we should get to see that.
One of Jake's three half-sisters floozy Roger fathered in his various commuter-piloting escapades, Kate is the only one, thus far, who had any interest in getting to know Jake — and, one hopes, the most chaotic: one of the first things she tells Jake upon meeting him is that she struck a flight attendant on her trip from Dallas. She runs short cons, impulsively decides to move to New York, and even more impulsively hooks up with a silver-painted street performer. It can be tough to sell a character who seems to have been conceived as a bucket of weird attributes, but we put Pedrad in the same category as Jason "Adrian Pimento" Mantzoukas: even when she's behaving like a live-action cartoon character, it works.
Anyone who's seen her Emmy-nominated performances in Getting On and When They See Us knows Niecy Nash has range. Holt warns Gina and Terry (Terry Crews) before she arrives for her visit that she's very "dramatic," and though they doubt his definition of the word, she does seem to be in a constant monologue of grandiose complaints about minor offenses that may or may not have been visited upon her. When Debbie simply cannot shut up, Gina advises Holt to get rid of her by being even more dramatic than she is, inventing problems in his marriage, and Debbie backs off, saying she only came because her own husband left her. Holt responds by making a blanket fort in his office, like he did when they were kids, and inviting her in to talk. It's sweet. These two should have had more chances to play off each other by now, too.
Rosa doesn't love coming out as bisexual to her friends and colleagues. But she is absolutely paralyzed at the thought of doing so to her stern, traditional, very Catholic parents. Tricking Jake into joining her for dinner with her parents, but not telling him why, is a bad start. Then her parents wrongly assume she's so jittery because she knows her father can't stand Jake and she doesn't want to tell them that she and Jake are dating. She pretends that's true because it seems less scary than the truth. Sadly, Rosa's parents do have a hard time with the news when she does finally manage to tell them, though we learn over a long timeline that, offscreen, they gradually come to be more accepting. But come on: Rosa is the most intimidating person on the squad, and casting arguably the most intimidating person in the world to play her dad is brilliant.
Not since devious business weasel Eric in Billy Madison has Whitford played such a scumbag. Roger is an airline pilot whose philandering ruined his marriage to Jake's mother and who learned absolutely nothing in the process. Though he seems sincere (or, at least, as sincere as he is capable of being) in his belated wish to mend his relationship with Jake, his jerk streak runs deep. To be fair, some of his worst on-screen misadventures are not entirely his fault, as when Jake and Amy get him drunk in "Two Turkeys" so he'll get along with Victor, and his lack of motor control causes him to cut his thumb off while carving one of the two titular birds. Only this show would bring him back two seasons later to cut off the other one. Whitford clearly loves playing this absolute sleaze, and the fun he's having is as infectious as the STDs with which Roger is undoubtedly riddled.
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Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.