I used to fucking love New Girl.
I loved it’s manic-pixie-dream-ness, even though I knew I should know better. I loved it’s offbeat humour. I loved Nick Miller.
Actually, I stand by that one. What a guy.
But on a rewatch, I’ve realised just how much of a sausage-fest this supposedly female-led comedy is. Whilst it’s created by a woman (Elizabeth Meriwether), starring a woman (Zooey Deschanel) and even has ‘Girl’ in the title, it couldn’t be further from what we want when it comes to a sitcom that ticks feminist boxes.
For a start, the protagonist may be female but the whole premise is about her moving in with three dudes, and the chemistry and calamities that causes. Yes, sure, Jess does give the guys a new perspective on things at times, but a lot of the laughs actually come from Jess doing something her way, and finding out that it’s the wrong way – that she should have listened to the men all along. In the whole of season one’s twenty four instalments, there’s only three episodes I could count that (barely) passed the frickin’ Bechdel Test.
Schmidt is the fool of the piece, the formerly fat try-hard who shortens words unnecessarily and flashes his abs at any chance he can get. He’s an odd concoction; a bachelor bro that treats women like pieces of shit so he can sleep with them, and yet he has hyperbolised behaviour when it comes to cooking, cleaning and beauty products that is stereotypically associated with the feminine (and that earns him a roasting on many occasion).
He’s served up to us as the likeable douche – as Jess says, he’s fine as long as you ignore everything he does on purpose, and focus on the stuff he does by accident. And when this show came out, I fell for his act hook, line and sinker.
Plus, Schmidt is just one of New Girls avenues into fat-shaming. Much like Fat Monica in Friends, flashbacks to Schmidt’s youth show actor Max Greenfield in a vastly exaggerated fatsuit; he becomes a loser with a theme song about Tootsie Rolls, and a liability at dating and sex.
As the secret is spilled that Schmidt and Cece are sleeping together, Schmidt tells the guys how he’s essentially paid his dues by having sex with increasingly hotter women to work his way up to bagging the model. This is accompanied by a memory of a time where we see a fat girl making out with fat Schmidt as Nick and Winston look on in horror. I guess I should be grateful to this show for informing me that for any man I (or any other fat women) sleep with, I am considered a mere milestone to be passed begrudgingly so as to ascend to the levels of supermodel-hot girlfriends.
The best part? In the episode ‘The 23rd’, we see Cece posing as the ‘after’ in a before-and-after photoshoot for some diet pill, whilst a fat version of her with an equally boss fringe gets to play the ‘before’. The show is literally telling us how diet culture is bullshit one scene before perpetuating it in another.
I know this was back in 2011, before weight stigma had made global conversation in the miniscule way it has now, but is it so wrong to have expected them to try just a little bit harder?
I’m only 20 episodes into my rewatch of New Girl, just nearing the end of season one. From vague memory, I suspect that things improve. Schmidt marries Cece. Nick talks about his feelings more. Everyone grows up a little. And there’s still a tonne that I love about this show, even amongst the many eye-rolls I’ve endured whilst rewatching it so far. The gag-rate is second to none, the creativity in most of the jokes is to be applauded and the characters do end up as extremely three dimensional, lived-in people. Plus, it gave us Nick Miller and That Kiss in the hallway and no amount of fatphobia and toxic masculinity can take that moment away from me, damnit!
It’s just always a shame to revisit an old favourite, watch it through a feminist lens, and find that it lets you down. You can’t help but unpick it, descend into all the ways it disappoints you. Here’s hoping that as film and television continue to evolve and diversify, it happens less and less.
As a balm to all that is wrong in the world, here is a clip of Said Kiss. You’re welcome.