Why You Should Pay Attention To This (Angry) Face

Behind the Leos and Jennifers and Chewitels are thousands of supporting players: Your Alisons and Chrises and Judys, delivering performances and work just as worthy of recognition, certainly a gentle backslap for them being them. That’s what “Performance Review” is about: highlighting under-sung or less flashy performances that nevertheless deserve written praise… say here, in a blog post. The goal is recognition and encouragement. Because if I were a pretty successful working actor considering whether to keep it up or move back home to take over the family business, I’d want something like this to help me stay motivated. But the performance worthy of your attention this week? Stephanie Beatriz as Detective Rosa Diaz on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the recent Golden Globe winner for Best Comedy, has one of the strongest overall casts of any sitcom on television. Andy Samberg (the Golden Globe winner for Best Actor) nails the line between man-child and competent professional. Andre Braugher plays a perfect straight (even though he’s gay I’m so sorry) man. You’ve got Terry Crews’ super cop head case, Chelsea Peretti’s impressively unimpressed administrator, Joe Lo Truglio’s eager-to-please sidekick. The show is almost mathematically perfect in its assembly of comedic types.Stefanie Beatriz’s Detective Rosa Diaz could have amounted to "the angry one." And considering the energy levels of the other characters, this might have been enough — she both grounds and elevates Brooklyn’s comedy at the same time. Something as simple as her vote for RoboCop as the best cop movie (“I like… the violence”) just WORKS. But beneath the endless array of scowls, grimaces, and stone-faced looks she throws at everyone in the precinct, there’s this soft hint of humanity that makes her a much richer character.One of the best things Beatriz brings to the character is her intense inscrutability. Like the Mona Lisa, or one of those “Many Moods of… ” t-shirts, it’s borderline impossible to get a read on whether Diaz is happy, sad, angry, hungry… You never quite know what Diaz you’re getting! And for the characters in the 99, her every reaction is something to puzzle over. What makes that puzzle worth solving (sorry) are these glimmers of depth. A quick nod. A barely visible smile. Like any great character out of the Office school of comedy, it’s not in the dialogue but in the candid asides that we begin to really understand who someone really is. Beatriz gives us just enough to understand where the Diaz is at, and makes her that much more compelling to watch.There’s also the fact that Beatriz — and the writers — do such a great job subverting the “brassy Latina” stereotype. (We can talk about it, it’s okay!) Big ensemble comedies like this one have often featured female characters of Hispanic origin who are so boisterous, so larger-than-life, that they feel less like three-dimensional humans than laugh cues. And I’m not saying that Sofia Vergara’s Gloria on Modern Family fits that bill, exactly… but the constant “JAY! JAAAAAAAAYYY!” screams don’t advance the cause, either. In Diaz you’ve got a consummate professional woman who isn’t defined by how loudly she yells, but by how well she does her job. And obviously she’s funny in the process, because this is a comedy!

I was hard-pressed to find clips that articulate the points I'm making above, but for the sake of giving you something to cling to (and a way to break up this unwieldy text beast), here's a scene from a recent episode, "The Pontiac Bandit."

Not a precise encapsulation of all the the things we love about Rosa Diaz, but the clip still illuminates her generally combative disposition... and the way she, every so often, lets someone in. Beatriz has managed to turn what could have been a one-note character (this would never happen with the show's writing pedigree, but hypothetically) into someone intriguing and deep, an integral part of a well-oiled comedic machine. Great character. Great performance.

Image: FOX