Friday, June 26, 2015

Strong Female Character Friday: Gina Linetti (Brooklyn 99)


It's been kind of an intense week on the blog so far. And, to be honest, it's been kind of an intense few months for me. So instead of getting all sad and mopey this Friday, I think it's time we celebrate and have a fabulous time. Why? Because we're here to talk about Ms. Gina Linetti, and she would definitely not want us to be sad. Mostly because she doesn't want us bringing her down.

No, seriously, I've actually been planning to talk about Gina for a while now, because as Brooklyn 99 goes one, she's become a really complex and interesting character. We've talked before about Rosa and Amy, but now is the time to talk about Gina. Because Gina really doesn't seem like she should be line to be lauded as a great female character. Right? She's kind of the worst, actually. She's shallow and vain and proud of her flaws. She is the stereotype most women in the workplace are trying desperately to avoid. She's a slacker who doesn't care about her job, mocks others mercilessly, and carries a hairdryer in her purse.

And for all of those reasons, she's actually an amazing character.

As a quick backup, Brooklyn 99 is a half-hour "workplace" comedy on FOX that follows the lives of a bunch of detectives and admins in the Brooklyn 99th precinct. Gina (played with such skill by Chelsea Peretti) is the precinct's civilian administrator and is eventually promoted to being Captain Holt's assistant. While the rest of the characters are generally interested in solving their cases and dealing with crime, Gina doesn't care at all. She takes long naps, refuses to answer her phone, and makes paper airplanes out of official documents.

This is the Gina we know and love or loathe for most of the show. An unrepentant narcissist with enough personality problems to keep a house party full of psychiatrists enthralled for hours, Gina is pretty much a standup of the standard annoying coworker who somehow never gets fired despite doing absolutely nothing productive.

What makes her an amazing character is that she is definitely all of these things, but as the series progresses we see she's also a bunch more.

For example, when Gina's apartment is robbed in season one, Amy and Rosa laugh it off, figuring that Gina is the kind of insensitive where nothing like this should ever bother her. But it did bother her - she's not a robot, she has real feelings. And while she goes about expressing them in a particularly juvenile way, that doesn't make them invalid.

Later in the season we discover that Gina and our protagonist, Jake, have been friends since childhood. She's weird but she's still totally able to keep a friendship going that long. Furthermore, we find out in that episode that Gina has close to half a million dollars in savings, because she's been living in a tiny shoebox apartment since she first moved out and has saved all her money. That's right, Gina Linetti is shallow and self-centered, but also incredibly fiscally responsible. And she's even really giving, offering to buy Jake's apartment and then rent it back to him. He turns her down (rightly) and lets her buy it herself.

Heck, for all that Gina is absolutely definitely a narcissist, she's also a pretty good friend. She asks about Terry's kids when no one else will. She's the only person from their precinct to successfully befriend Holt's husband, Kevin. She has a level of emotional awareness that puts everyone else to shame and is frequently the only one to figure out when a coworker is distressed.

And it's made clear that she's still a growing and changing person. When the series starts she really doesn't care about anyone at work, but over time she becomes really close with Captain Holt and Terry. They believe in her and as a result of their trust, she starts to actually go places with her life. She goes back to school. She gets serious about her (admittedly awful) dance troupe. When she finds out that Captain Holt didn't go to one of her performances, she's devastated.

She even manages to befriend Amy, after having spent years mocking her, by showing her how to get out of her own head and have some fun. Gina's not a bad person, is the thing. She's a complex one. She has her good and bad moments. She can be a bitch or she can be the person you most need to hear. And that's pretty realistic.

I guess part of the reason I like Gina is because I see in her a truth that we often forget. The people we interact with on a day to day basis are much more complex than we tend to acknowledge. We go through life barely paying attention, but every once in a while it's important to stop and remember: the people around you have lives when you're not around. They do things. They cry and snore and wonder if anyone likes them. They have whole worlds of personality that you haven't seen, and just because you haven't seen it doesn't make it invalid.

People are people whether you're looking or not. It's easy to forget when you see the outward sass and ridiculousness of Gina that she's a breathing, feeling human, but she is. And that's the beauty of her character.

It's also a huge part of why I love and respect Brooklyn 99 so much. They're not afraid to make Gina a person even when it would be easier, from a narrative standpoint, to let her stay the same. It's hard to write realistic growth and depth, but they've done it anyway and I really appreciate that.

This past season saw a number of plotlines revolving around Gina that gave us whole new insights into her personality. First there was her fling with Boyle. At first it felt like just another throwaway joke where she was ashamed of having sex with him because he's not super hot, but it turned into a rather complex look at both of their characters. In the end, when the revelation that their parents were dating made them immediately break up, Gina handled it all with a lot of grace and dignity.

Granted, it's a special kind of dignity that involves standing on a chair in the bullpen and loudly proclaiming her sexual history, but she's a special kind of girl.

Next we saw a touching storyline about Gina's relationship with her mother and all the many reasons why she was worried about her mom getting together with Boyle's dad. We got to see how protective she is, and also where a huge chunk of her personality comes from.

There was the scene where we find out how much she respects Kevin and what he and Captain Holt mean to her. There was the entire episode about her attempts to become better friends with Amy (through alcohol). And there was all this character growth about her coming to view her job not just as a place to nap in between dance rehearsals, but as a place full of people who will support her. Still not a place to do actual work, but we're getting there.

Gina Linetti is a great character because she's not a simple one. She takes the negative stereotypes about women in the workforce and fleshes them out, builds them up - makes them into a person. Like we talked about last week with Karen Page in Daredevil, it's not the attributes themselves that I object to, it's how they're usually used to create a female character with no real depth or agency. Gina has both depth and agency. The writers have taken little scraps of character and sewn them into the Lycra bodysuit that is Gina Linetti.

It's been a long week, and sometimes all you really want is to just kick back and let your worst self take over. That's who Gina is. But that's not all she is, and that's why we love her.


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