At first blush, Andre Braugher cut a similar figure to Raymond Holt, the NYPD captain he spent eight seasons playing on the Fox-turned-NBC sitcom “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Both were imposing figures who carried a sense of gravitas: Braugher as a Juilliard-trained, Emmy-winning dramatic actor; Holt as a gay, Black police officer who’d overcome prejudice to climb his agency’s ranks. Both found themselves in a working environment with a zaniness that was superficially at odds with their well-earned reputations, whether a joke-filled network comedy or the precinct it was named for.
But just like his character, Braugher’s last major leading role in a television series before his death on Monday at just 61, the performer took naturally to this new environment. The straight man is a classic archetype in an ensemble comedy, and Captain Holt is initially introduced as a somber foil to Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), a “Die Hard”-obsessed detective desperate to impress his new boss. Yet Braugher so thoroughly exploited the gap between Holt’s stoic demeanor and sly silliness — a hula-hooping hobby; a corgi named Cheddar; a reference to “thick, weighty breasts” — that he elevated this straight man into a comic masterpiece of its own. He made Raymond Holt the kind of role any actor deserves to be remembered for.
To many millennials like myself, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was our first prolonged exposure to Braugher’s talent. “Homicide: Life on the Street” never got a second life on streaming, though it certainly should; per its title, the TNT dramedy “Men of a Certain Age” wasn’t aimed at our demographic. From 2013 to 2021, though, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” offered a showcase for Braugher’s comic timing and emotional depth alike. Holt was never as attention-grabbing as Samberg’s hyperactive Jake, or Chelsea Peretti’s daffy secretary Gina, or Terry Crews’ muscled family man Sergeant Terry. He also never had to be: His stillness and patience let the laughs come to him.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” also made use of Braugher’s previously better-known serious side. Like all the best sitcoms, and especially those in the extended family tree of co-creator Mike Schur (“Parks and Recreation,” “The Good Place”), “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” cultivated pathos over time — 153 episodes in all — spent with its characters. Detective Peralta wasn’t just a class clown, or even a dedicated cop; he was also a man-child lacking a father figure, which Holt begrudgingly yet convincingly became. Peralta’s colleague, friendly rival and eventual wife Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) was a rule-bound goodie two- shoes who, in Holt, found a mentor who appreciated her fastidious drive. With his distinctive baritone, Braugher could easily play the stern authority figure Holt appeared to be, and often was. He also unlocked new dimensions, both to his character and his own persona.
Through undercover operations and Halloween Heists, Braugher served as a steadying force who could take part in hijinks when he wanted to. It’s a common, attention-grabbing move for career comedians to surprise audiences with a turn into drama. Less heralded are dramatic heavyweights like Braugher who, decades into a decorated career, successfully pivot into pure comedy. Braugher continued to traverse genres in his final years, playing a dead-serious Dean Baquet in the journalism drama “She Said” and dawning pair after pair of fabulous eyewear for a recurring role in the delirious legal procedural “The Good Fight.” Yet it’s hardly a disservice to his legacy if many know Braugher best as Raymond Holt. As the captain’s coworkers would know, it’s no small feat to make someone crack a smile.
From Variety US