And I’m not even embarrassed to admit it (anymore).
New Girl came into my life not long after it first aired, when my other half started going crosseyed over this new show with Zooey Deschanel. My first thought wasn’t even a thought – more of a major eye roll. Ever sensitive to the manic pixie dream girl trope, and knowing how dark, thick bangs and big googly eyes can make my ordinarily clever boyfriend lose all capacity for critical thought, I was ready to go in, guns blazing, and take this bullshit down. Or, more diplomatically, leave him to watch it alone.
The pilot did contain a lot of doe-eyed over-emoting, awkward singing, and ludicrous dancing of almost Elaine Benes proportions, all designed to make us believe that this clearly conventionally beautiful, size zero actress was just a normal person, too silly and awkward and “quirky” to be an object of lust. Here was a sitcom with a female lead, an opportunity for the media to create a real, actual female character, and they’d blown it on Bambi. Like this guy, I wasn’t buying it:
“…New Girl presents us with a narratively scattered, male fantasy of a show about a cooing woman-child in a polka-dot skirt who literally can’t say the word “penis” without giggling. If this show’s going to succeed, it’s going to have to figure out how to build a slightly more complex inner-life for its protagonist.”
For most of season one, I contented myself to avoid the living room while it was on, or settled begrudgingly into the furthest corner of the couch and tried to keep my scoffing to a minimum. Then, something happened. I wish I could remember the episode, the moment that I realised I was having a great time, but it wasn’t so much a moment as a slowly dawning realisation. As Phillip Maciak suggested above, the show would have to find a more convincing way to characterise its protagonist than random innapropriate singing, and somehow, it did. By midway through the first season, the singing (I know I’m labouring on the singing, but I’m adopting it here as a metaphor for all the problematic things about the MPDG paradigm because who has the time to list all the other ridiculous conventions this trope deploys?) has been somewhat toned down, and what begins to develop is a complex network of friendships between Jess and her three flatmates.
They may be, to some degree, just sitcom character tropes themselves – the disfunctional, emotionally stunted man-child, the metrosexual, the (cringe) black former athlete, Jess’ ridiculously hot model bestie – but Jess and her male cohort are equal in cliche and disfunction, and what brings them to life is their chemistry, and their believably affectionate and problematic relationships with each other. Over time, Jess finds a place for herself in this murky soup of male friendship, with hilarious and touching results. And, critically, with results that don’t depend on her being a zany charicature of girlhood in order to play out the fantasies of her male supporting cast.
Whether or not the show advances or sets back the feminist cause has been debated in a zillion places (for example, here, here, here and here), so I’m not going to dig further into that. What I do want to say is that contrary to my curmudgeonly expectations, I love it. Some days, I look forward to nothing as much as curling up on the sofa with Jess and her charmingly idiotic sidekicks.
The will-they-won’t-they thing has been done half to death, but I’m prepared to buy (and indeed, unapologetically cheer for) Jess and Nick because the friendship seems real, and blossoming romance is gracefully written. I dare you to watch Jess’ Elvis impersonation at Nick’s father’s funeral without a chuckle and a tear in your eye. It simply can’t be done. Also, can we take a minute to appreciate a show that contains a funeral scene with a cross-dressing Elvis impersonation? Not to mention the episode in which Schmidt encourages Winston to embrace his blackness, and Winston manages to call out both Schmidt’s misguided racism and the show’s own use of the black friend trope by convincing Schmidt that all he wants is to go out and buy some crack cocaine (there are really no words to describe what happens next, suffice it to say I cried and maybe peed a little with laughter). The scene where Nick announces that his father has died to his flatmates, who have spent the preceding scene huffing helium and so have to offer their condolences at a ridiculous pitch had me, like the Elvis funeral, both choking on the gravity of the situation and weeping from laughter. It’s a delicate balance, and New Girl nails it.
If that’s not enough for you, how about this?
A dear friend recently told me that there’s a little Schmidt in all of us. I think he’s right.