Monday, October 7, 2013

Returning Shows: New Girl (Jess Done Grown Up)

If you might recall, when this show first came out I wasn’t really its biggest fan. I didn’t hate it or anything, but it was a little grating. Too easily cute. Good, but forced. Also, I didn’t really think the characters had enough depth.

Well, we’re in season three now, and much to my surprise, things have changed. The show has grown and settled, and Jess Day, kindergarten teacher, lover of glitter and sequins, and perennial child, seems to have actually grown up.

I am a big fan of this development.

As I’m sure you know, New Girl is about four roommates living in southern California. The show started when Jess (Zooey Deschanel) moved into an apartment she found on Craigslist after going through a traumatic breakup. Her new roommates (three dudes) were horrified to find that they were now living with a real life girl, which meant the usual sitcom tropes and stupidity. They were horrified by her bras drying in the shower, her need to watch Dirty Dancing and cry, and how girly everything was suddenly becoming. Because girls are gross and bleh and have cooties.


Fortunately, the show did manage to slowly move past this, to the point that now, at the start of the third season, Jess is a fully integrated member of the apartment, and the characters are all relatively well-developed interesting people whose journeys of self-disovery we are privileged to observe.

Note that I said relatively well-developed. But we’ll talk more about Winston later.

So, the second season ended with Cece (Hannah Simone) nearly getting married, but calling it off because she was in love with Schmidt (Max Greenfield) who happened to already be in a relationship with Elizabeth (Merritt Weaver), and Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess deciding to give their burgeoning relationship a shot, and Winston (Lamorne Morris) also being there.

The third season picks up only moments later, as Nick and Jess, having officially christened the Volvo (ew), make the trek back to their apartment and straight into Schmidt’s emotional crisis. Schmidt demands that Nick drop everything and deal with his problems, namely that two different women are in love with him and he doesn’t know what to do. Terrified by the prospect of living with an emotional trainwreck, and also Winston, while they try to navigate their burgeoning relationship, Nick and Jess run to the car and flee to Mexico.

The story comes back in about four days later. Nick and Jess are out of food and money, living in a “poorly constructed shelter” on the beach, and scheming to sneak into the resort next door to be spontaneous and get some free food. Unfortunately, they get caught, and when Nick refuses to go quietly, he’s arrested by the resort staff.

Jess runs back to the gang in America, where Schmidt has been debating his “problem” since they left, and Winston is also there. Schmidt, seemingly now free of any spine he once had, has decided to dump neither woman, and is dating them both simultaneously, because of course he has, and Winston really likes puzzles but is apparently colorblind to the point of it being a neurological condition.

Anyway. Jess and the boys manage to get Nick out of resort prison by bribing the guard with the Volvo, except Nick doesn’t want to leave. He likes being in Mexico where he doesn’t have to confront his problems, where he can be carefree, and where their roommates can’t mess with their relationship. It falls to Jess, then, to be the one standing up to Nick and reminding him that their friends are a huge part of their relationship, and that’s okay.

And then there’s a stupid joke with a shredder and Nick’s passport and Winston’s puzzle skills, and then it’s over.

A couple of things. First, I absolutely loved this episode from the perspective of Jess’ development as a character. It’s not that she’s gotten less quirky or cute or fun, it’s that now we have an understanding of who Jess is in a crisis situation. She’s confident. She’s clear. She’s a woman, and she’s perfectly comfortable being the grownup if she has to. I think it’s a combination of the writing settling down – she’s still eccentric, but not run-in-terror manic – and her character actually growing up. And both of those things are great.

Seriously. What it gives us is a heroine who is still feminine and nice and happy, but in control of her situation. She has agency, and she is the motivating force in her life. She’s not bowled over by her circumstances, she’s able to make the tough call. And yes, she still screws up and runs for Mexico sometimes, but then she admits that she’s made a mistake and tries to rectify it.

I really like Jess. Like, as a person. I like her now. I feel like that’s progress.

Second, the storyline with Schmidt could not have been more offensive if it tried. Schmidt, for all that he is the douchebag of the show, has actually matured a fair amount in the past few seasons, as we learned precisely why he is such a jerk. Well, all of that got wiped clean in the name of having his character caught up in sexy shenanigans.

Like, maybe it would have worked if Schmidt were more self-aware? If his inability to choose between Cece and Elizabeth were related to his fear that at some point one of them will leave him because they realize he’s not worthy of their love, then he would still have someone who loves him. Or if it were actually a case of his loving them both equally but in different ways, and not a case of “well, Cece and I have really spectacular sex, but Elizabeth is nice and I would feel bad dumping her”. Which is what the decision actually seems to be.

It’s degrading because he doesn’t appear to have any strong feelings about either of them. He doesn’t say, “I want to be with Cece because I love her, but I could grow to love Elizabeth, and that relationship is much more healthy, so…” No. He points out that Cece is good in bed, but Elizabeth loves him. That’s it. That’s the choice. And we’re supposed to laugh and sympathize.

Not to mention, of course, that they have juxtaposed Cece, the model, against Elizabeth, the average girl, and given them both really stereotypical traits. Cece, the model, is the one with whom Schmidt can have really disgusting, intense sex. But Elizabeth, the average girl, is the one who loves him and whose heart he just can’t bring himself to break. Literally any way you break that down, it’s super offensive.

And finally, Winston. Poor Winston. It seems like his character is the one the writers know what to do with the least, because he has almost no development whatsoever. Instead of digging deep into his backstory or soul or even his general reactions to the world around him, Winston gets quirks. He gets color-blindness. And he almost never gets his own storylines.

This is kind of problematic, given that Winston is the only man of color on the show (in any significant capacity), and he’s by far the character the writers care about the least. He’s just there to play the straight man to everyone else’s problems, but doesn’t get to have any real stories to himself.

And that’s crap.

So, in conclusion, great job, New Girl, making Jess an intriguing and engaging character. I look forward to you doing that with everyone else on the show.

No. Seriously. Get on that.

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