This post is long overdue by quite a few months. It’s loosely about last night’s episode of New Girl, but more about the entire second season.
I didn’t like the first six or so episodes of New Girl. I thought the storylines were contrived and the characters felt flat. My biggest concern was the overwhelming quirkiness of Jess: each male roommate acted as a straight man to her goofy, adorkable (gag me) protagonist.
Last October, I was planning my schedule for the following semester, my last at USC. I decided to dangle my toes in the shark-infested waters of writing comedy for television and sign up for a comedy spec class. In anticipation of this class, I tried to acquaint myself with more of the current, non-Two and a Half Men-type comedies on the air (what can I say? 2.5 Assholes will always have a special place in my heart as my litmus test for true television mediocrity.). In this spirit of open-mindedness, and on the recommendation of several writer friends, I gave New Girl a second chance. I caught up with the remainder of the first season, and started paying attention to the second.
And you know what? I was really delighted to discover the ways in which this show has changed. As Season 1 progresses, all the male roommates develop their own idiosyncrasies, quickly becoming as quirky as Jess. Meanwhile, Jess’s particular brand of crazy is toned down significantly. The characters become fully-realized, and when they do engage in oddball pursuits, we can see how their behavior is motivated by who they are as people. I do think Winston continues to take on the role of straight man for most of the Season 1 episodes, but that’s been changing quite a bit in Season 2, and to great comedic effect.
So let’s talk about Season 2 and what New Girl is doing right. The humor on this show has become quite surreal. It’s not exactly 30 Rock, but New Girl has found a way to extract humor from bizarre scenarios, while maintaining genuine relationships between characters. On a recent episode, the roommates attend the funeral of Nick’s father. At the end, there is an emotionally-charged scene between Nick and Jess, but our route to that brief moment is circuitous: at one point, Jess replaces a local drunk as the Elvis impersonator at the funeral since naturally Nick’s dad was a huge fan of The King. This episode exemplifies how a comedy can depict authentic, meaningful connections between its characters. Nothing is more fulfilling than when the humorous parts of a sitcom episode culminate in an display of honest emotion. Sure, the characters say and do funny things, but only so that they, and we, can arrive at some deeper understanding of our relationships with other people, and sometimes with ourselves.
Speaking of relationships, how about Nick and Jess? Or as I’ve been informed in my spec class, the “Sam and Diane” of our time. (I have a funny Hollywood story about that–ask me in meatspace.) I can’t say that New Girl is my favorite sitcom while I’m writing a Parks & Recreation spec, but I LOVE how the writers are building romantic tension between Nick and Jess. So far, in a moment that has been widely GIF’ed by rabid teenage girls everywhere, Nick and Jess have shared a passionate kiss and makeout sesh. Then, in last night’s episode, Nick awkwardly groped Jess’s chest, claiming to be an “upper boob” man. In reality, he was pretty far from her tits, but viewers got the message. (Holy shit, confidential to the writers: way to get it past Standards. Seriously. Good job, guys.).
So why am I into dimly-lit hallway kisses and fumbling upper boob grasps? There’s something about Nick and Jess’s relationship that feels very much in line with my generation’s approach to relationships (and, in all fairness, probably every generation ever, but since we’re young and hot, we’re the ones you see on TV. I give us another ten years.). I hesitate to call it the couple of a generation since I think Hannah and Adam have that weird shit covered, but Nick and Jess feels right. Not in a destined-to-be-together sense, but in a wider zeitgeist-y sense.
We know Nick and Jess are gonna end up together. There are absolutely no surprises coming there. But the way in which we’re watching them deal with this early stage of their relationship feels very true to the young adult experience. The way they talk around their desires and try to avoid getting overly invested in each other is often hilariously real. Then when we do have moments of emotional pay-off, usually at the end of the episode, we can see how these flickers of honesty have emerged out of the awkwardness and natural humor of navigating a new romantic relationship. The longer New Girl holds off on the boyfriend-girlfriend labels that will surely arise in Season 3, the closer it captures the tenderness and confusion of an evolving relationship that has not yet been categorized.
I also have lots to say about New Girl‘s explicit use of Los Angeles as the world of its story, especially in relation to Modern Family‘s bland suburban denial of its clear Los Angeles location, but that’s another post. Stay tuned!