We Need to Talk About New Girl

new girl disappointed

Nick and Jess broke up. It’s been over a week, and I’m still having trouble writing about it.

Before you think that this is just a case of impassioned fangirl angst, let me remind you that I am no stranger to TV breakups. I live with the emotional scars of being an Alias fan; I had to watch my favorite character deal with the fact that the love of her life married someone else and stayed married to her for a whole season. I’m not one to get apoplectic over a TV breakup.

But do you know what I do get apoplectic over? Contrivances, poor characterization, and shoddy writing choices. If my favorite couple on a given TV show calls it quits in a way that feels believable and organic to their characters, I’ll be sad, but I’ll understand. I don’t understand Nick and Jess breaking up, but maybe that’s because I don’t really feel like I understand New Girl very well anymore.

I wasn’t someone who immediately jumped on the Nick/Jess train—or even the New Girl train, if I’m being honest. It took until Season One’s “Injured” for me to really open my heart to the show, and that was because I cared about the people in that episode; I wanted good things to happen for them, and I could see that they wanted good things to happen for each other. I don’t enjoy TV shows that let the plot influence how the characters are written; I want the characters to drive the plot. In order for that to happen, those characters need to be written consistently. By New Girl’s second season, I was blown away by the consistent and surprisingly complex characterizations that were guiding the show.

When Nick and Jess kissed, I think everyone was surprised by the impact of the moment—including the writers. These were people who had said that both Nick and Jess had a lot of growing up to do before they could be with one another romantically; they even hinted that a relationship would be bad for both characters. But as Season Two entered its incredible final stretch, it seemed as if they were proving themselves wrong on a weekly basis. Nick and Jess didn’t just work together; their relationship was good for both characters. It showed sides of them that enriched their characterizations while still keeping the show as funny as it ever was.

Season Two was the Season of Nick. We learned about his past, we saw that he was capable of being responsible and romantic, and we watched him develop into a person who was willing to grow. Nick Miller was a revelation in Season Two of New Girl, and the whole show benefitted as a result of the deft handling of his character.

And then came Season Three…

There have been many times this season where I have loved Nick and Jess’s relationship. I’m the kind of person who enjoys watching the Moonlighting Curse get debunked time and again by good writing (see Castle and Parks and Recreation for two of my favorite examples). Heck, my favorite couple on Once Upon a Time is the happily-married duo of Snow White and Prince Charming. I’m about as far away from the “happy couples make boring TV” mindset as you can get. So when Nick and Jess were allowed to simply be happy, I was happy. From a storytelling perspective, Nick and Jess seemed like a couple who still had some growing and maturing to do, but they were growing and maturing together.

But then there were the “conflict” episodes….

I wasn’t shy about my intense dislike for “The Box,” and I think it represented everything that has felt wrong about long stretches of this season. Nick Miller—a character who was once more nuanced than most TV comedy characters—has been turned into a plot device. Need a reason to create conflict between Nick and Jess? Let’s make Nick act so absurdly nonsensical that he wouldn’t actually be able to function in the real world! Yes, Nick has always been a strange mixture of grumpy old man and adolescent boy, but Season Two (and parts of Season Three) revealed a thoughtful adult hidden somewhere between those two personalities as well. It makes me sad when all that character development disappears in the name of comedy.

I’ll admit; I’m not a fan of extended uses of broad comedy, and that’s always been a struggle for me when watching New Girl. I like when the comedy comes from the characters acting believably, not when the characters are altered to make a joke work. That’s why I’ve been having trouble with Schmidt all season. The sincerity that always lurked under his “douchebag exterior” has been missing all for the sake of furthering his plots or his laughs. The same thing has been happening with Nick. We’ve seen what he can be as a character, but too many times this season he has become a caricature of an irresponsible man-child just to prove that he and Jess might not be right for one another.

The two episodes where this offense was at its most egregious were “The Box” and “Mars Landing.” In the former, I always thought Jess gave in too easily after Nick acted like a jerk. But in the latter, I think they both gave up too easily in the face of odds that seemed in no way insurmountable and didn’t feel right for who I thought I knew these characters to be.

The center of Nick and Jess’s fight was Nick telling Jess he will never be a person who puts toys together for his kids—he’s not someone who can be a responsible adult, not even for the people he loves. That seems like such a huge step backwards for the guy who built Jess’s dresser for her just because he wanted to, long before they were ever romantically involved. I understood the basic premise of their argument—needing to plan the future vs. not having a plan at all—and it initially seemed like a discussion these characters needed to have. But Nick’s argument devolved into yelling about living on Mars, and it became so absurd that I almost tuned it out completely. I didn’t know if I was supposed to see this fight as just another “Nick is so dumb! Ha ha!” moment or an actual moment of conflict. It turns out it was the latter, but the drama got lost in the attempt at broad comedy.

When it actually hit me that Nick and Jess were really going to break up, I found myself moved by Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson’s performances but unable to get past my frustration to feel real sadness for the dissolution of what was once (not too long ago) one of my favorite couples on television.

We were told the characters have nothing in common besides loving each other, but they wanted to go back to being friends. If they really don’t have anything else in common, then why would a friendship even sound appealing at this point? And if Nick, as we’ve been led to believe, has really been in love with Jess from the beginning of their friendship, why would he ever think they could really just be friends?

I wanted to cry when Nick and Jess re-created their first kiss from “Cooler” (from the blocking to the colors of their clothes)—except with a hug to end their romantic relationship instead of a kiss to ignite it. But I couldn’t stop thinking that this wouldn’t be happening if these characters were allowed to act like real people—or at least the people they’ve evolved into within the show itself. Nick and Jess are passionate people; it felt wrong for them to have such a lack of passion for keeping their relationship together.

I don’t need TV characters to be realistic all the time, but I do need them to be relatable on some basic level. I know TV comedies need to be filled with exaggerated character traits, but New Girl seems to have become just a series of those instead of interactions between characters I understand and can relate to. I’m close to the same age and at the same stage in life as these characters, and I’m finding them less and less relatable as the episodes go on. There is comedy to be mined from young adults finding their way and screwing up, but there is also comedy to be mined from young adults being allowed to grow. What happened with Nick and Jess wasn’t growth. It was regression to their least mature and compelling versions of themselves. (A meat bucket?! Seriously? How is this version of Nick Miller alive, let alone a man who passed the bar exam?)

I want to love New Girl again; I really do. The end of last season was so much fun to watch as a fan of great TV. But I’d be lying if I said I was having fun right now. I’m still trying to be hopeful that this breakup will ignite some consistent writing, so consider this post written with crossed fingers. I miss the New Girl I fell in love with, and I hope I’ll see it again someday soon.

25 thoughts on “We Need to Talk About New Girl

  1. I completely agree. Season two was fantastic, but season three (with the exception of the Super Bowl/Prince episode) has been downright disappointing. Nick and Jess’s relationship has never quite felt right this season, despite the fact that it was rather promising at the end of season two (although I did enjoy when they admitted to each other that they both believe that horses are “aliens from outer space”).

    • Thanks for the comment, and I agree that something just hasn’t clicked with this season for me. I’m glad to know I’m not alone in feeling this way, and I can only hope that the show rekindles the spark that made Season Two such a fun ride for all of us as fans.

  2. I agree with 99% of this article, EXCEPT where you talk about the center of their fight..which I think you misinterpreted just a bit. I don’t think Nick was saying that he’s not the kind of guy that would put toys together for his kids. Or that he’s not going to put in effort for people he loves. What he was saying, was that he’s not the kind of guy who is going take a gift out of the box, and pre-assemble it for the person two weeks in advance. That is the type of perfectionist, go-the-extra-EXTRA-mile personality that Jess has and Nick will never have.

    • And just to add, I sided with Nick in that particular argument. I thought it was a bit ridiculous that Jess was calling it lazy and irresponsible to give someone a gift still in the box when that’s something that MOST people do. His whole line where he said “what if they wanna return it? What if they wanna put it together as a family? That’s not my business!” was probably the most reasonable thing he’s said in a long time. Jess has a lot of reasons to call Nick irresponsible but that wasn’t a good one. lol

      • I actually had the same reaction to the particulars of this argument! I usually side with Jess, but I didn’t understand why the toy had to be assembled by them. No one does that (except parents and even then they usually leave the toys in the box). It was a bit of a plot contrivance just to kickstart the fight, and I was also annoyed that they never actually went to the party they were supposed to have already been at. Jessica Day, it’s more important for you to show up at your godchild’s party than it is to have the gift fully assembled!

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and for bringing up a very good point. I haven’t seen the episode since it aired, so I think the specifics of their fight might have gotten confused in my brain (or just clouded by my reaction to it). You’re right; Nick didn’t come off as someone who would put in no effort at all—just someone who wouldn’t exactly put in the extra effort. That still seems somewhat out of character for the man who coordinated Jess’s whole birthday surprise and built her dresser just because he wanted to, but it is a more positive take on his character than I initially thought came out of that scene.

  3. I think the main problem with New girl was that the sexual tension between Nick and Jess was the driving force of the entire series. (sad to say I called this early on) Nick’s “quirks” were funny. the “No phone” thing, the “broken down car thing” the “no wallet thing”, the “no health insurance thing”. But all of that was forgiven because of how much Nick cared for Jess. All of that was ignored by the viewer effectively. But now that Nick has finally gotten the girl, those things turned from being funny to pathetic. This whole Winston thing is really what bugs me. Because he basically has been ignored the whole series. For the most part. He has no real character arc, just weird personality “Quirks” to make the audience laugh..And now that Coach is back, he’s become even more irrelevant. I even dare say that Coach leaving and coming back was a good thing. Because if he had left, he would have been the useless token black guy that Winston has become. How is it that Coach as only been back for half a season and already we know more about him in this relative short period of time, then we know of Winston in an entire series.

    • Thank you for the comment, and I am so happy you brought up that point about Winston. I really thought that this would be the season where he would get some real character development, but I’m sad to see how wrong I was. Of course, Lamorne Morris makes every moment he’s on screen count, but Winston is often just a comedic device who is written to reflect the whims of whoever has the story’s reins that week. I still don’t have a real understanding of who he is, which is disappointing because, as you said, I feel like I have a better understanding of Coach.

  4. I don’t think I’m in a minority, and I still love the show. But maybe that’s in part because nothing has come closer to matching late Season 2 New Girl than Season 3 New Girl. I guess I never expected it to reach that rare and specific level of brilliant consistency again. I mean, in my mind it’s been years since any other show has, either.

    Not to say some of the points here aren’t valid. ‘The Box’ is an episode I honestly don’t even count. To me they got he characters so wrong it’s like it never happened. It’s no surprise, come to find out, it was written by a writer from Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a very funny show that is about as far from New Girl as you can get on the ‘heart’ scale. And I also agree that the way the break up went down was off. Beautifully filmed and performed, but it nearly seems to wipe out everything we learned about the characters this year, and perhaps the most consistent thing in the history of the show: that these two are nuts about each other. That said, there is time to remedy that. These are two people that run from their problems, and I can allow for just a moment that in the midst of a hangover and their most legitimate fight to date, the needle got to empty and they both just quit. Now, if they show somehow tries to neatly repackage them as ‘best pals’ with no struggle whatsoever, and the end was ‘just that simple’, that would be a huge problem. It would be a betrayal of who these characters are. Or at least who we thought they were. But we have 3 episodes left to see how they really feel, and I have to think we will.

    And I never though Nick and Jess were a problem. I feel that they’ve remained the strong center of the show, though they were perhaps leaned on a little too frequently. And in general, that’s my only issue with the season. They tried to do too much. They pushed Schmidt too far in his villainy. They added a whole new lead, and it took time for EVERYTHING to adjust to that. And while I understand why they use Winston the way they have do (I mean, Morris is really, really good at it), it’s still disappointing, and I can’t help but think if Coach weren’t around it wouldn’t have been this way. And that’s partly why I wouldn’t mind if Coach weren’t around next season. And I get the point about the broad humor. But that has always been a part of the show. New Girl has often put a simple laugh over realism. (I mean, Nick would literally be dead, right? That fall from Edgar’s garage in Pepperwood was a doozy.) The problem is there haven’t been the sincere, quiet moments to balance all the silly. Or at least not as many as there should’ve been. Nick and Schmidt in Keaton. Nick and Jess’ post script in The Captain. Jess’ oversized glasses “Welp. I love you.” Season 4 needs to, more than anything, calm down and give us more ‘quiet moments’ between characters. Something that used to seem so effortless between Nick and Jess.

    Now sadly, given where the two currently stand, I’m a little worried about how that’s going to believably be the case next season. I was fine swallowing the ease at which Schmidt and Cece returned to being ‘just friends’, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to buy into that with these two. But I guess as long as the two leads of this show do their thing, I have faith that this will continue to be among the best and most unique comedies on television.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and for articulating your thoughts so well. I think you’re right about the idea that no stretch of a show should be expected to reach the level of consistent excellence the end of New Girl’s second season reached. I think I set my expectations a little too high and am experiencing the fallout from that now.

      The point that stuck with me the most in this comment is the one you made about needing quieter moments to balance out the silly ones. I could not agree more. New Girl did that better than any other show, but now that seems to be happening with less and less frequency. My only hope is that the summer hiatus gives the writers time to think about the tone of the show and strike a better balance next season. There’s still time to fix things this season, but I think it’s going to be next season when we start seeing (hopefully) positive changes on a larger scale because there’s enough time to think about what was good and bad about this season and to write with that in mind.

  5. I agree with you about the inconsistencies with the characters. First Winston was good enough to play professional basketball now all of a sudden he’s clumsy and uncoordinated? Schmidt goes from a lovable douchebag to all around horrible person(trying to break up his best friends relationship seriously?!?) We got a little of mature season 2 Nick in the Clavado Un bar episode, where it was revealed he passed the bar, so I was excited for him to knock it out of the park so to speak when he went to represent Schmidt in his case. But we got stupid immature Nick just to get a laugh… Not to mention a former lawyer who doesn’t appreciate/understand the importance of paying his bills (The Box).

    • Thank you for the comment, and I think you make excellent points about where the characterization has really felt off this season. I especially agree with your disappointment with the writing of Nick when he represented Schmidt. That was a real chance for the writers to show how this man passed the bar, and it could have said a lot about the depth of his character—like “Chicago” did in Season Two. But they went for laughs instead, and to do that they felt Nick had to be incompetent. I’m still disappointed about that.

  6. Oh wow! I’m so glad I found this! So many of your points are exactly what I’ve been saying for 2 weeks (and really all season). Nick and Jess haven’t been the problem this season—even though they’ve had their moments. I think most of it goes directly to whatever idiot writer decided to make Schmidt nearly completely unlikeable. He CHEATED on two great girls…played both of them…and really the only thing he was sorry about was that he got busted and was made to feel bad about himself! His actions even prompted Cece to physically assault Nick in an effort to protect her friend because he put his sins on Nick! He wasn’t even man enough to tell her himself when he knew the gig was up! Schmidt is an important part of the success of New Girl because the writers took the time to develop his character in season 1. Selfish cheaters suck. The writers made a HUGE mistake with that storyline because it’s difficult to redeem and takes time.

    The Box was horrible. Honestly, who really cares if Nick has a checking account or believes in banks? This is part of his “character” and isn’t a flaw even if it’s a little on the crazy side. However, refusing to pay his bills? As an adult? That was the ridiculous part. Pay your damn bills. Even if you have to use cashier’s checks because you don’t have a bank account! Then when Jess used his money to pay his bills for him and wrote a check back to him for the amount she spent on HIS bills because he got mad, he actually CASHED it to start his bank account! He let her pay HIS bills. His responsibility. Grow the heck up, Nick! I would have much rather have him realize that he can pay his bills and still not have to trust banks.

    In ML they turned Nick into a clown. We all know that Nick is goofy with weird ideas about stuff but MARS? Come on. Nick is goofy but not dumb.

    Basically, they can fix NG without needing to break up Nick and Jess. Fix Schmidt. Let us get to know Winston better without using him as comic relief and a plot device. Chill on the guest stars (we don’t need them every few episodes for goodness sake!) and focus on the core group and their relationships with one another.

    • I love this comment—thank you so much for posting it! You are 100% right about what New Girl needs to get itself back on track—consistently write Nick’s character as quirky and goofy but not unbelievably stupid and absurdly irresponsible; develop Winston as a real character; and bring back the Schmidt that made Season One (and many parts of Season Two) so enjoyable. The destruction of Schmidt as a character is something I could write a whole separate post about because it has bothered me from Day One of this season. The fact that he cheated on both Cece and Elizabeth was bad, the fact that he was most upset about getting caught was worse, and the fact that Cece is back to being his friend after being treated so terribly is the worst of all.

  7. I just wanted to say what a great review and subsequent comments by everyone so far! I really enjoyed the first two seasons of New Girl, for a variety of reasons, one of which included some very witty observations about the subtleties of human behaviour and quirks. But it was so much fun with just the right amount of drama thrown in.
    Nicks character has unfortunately degenerated into an unbelievable blob of random ridiculousness and avoidance issues. I personally would like to see the character actually acknowledge that perhaps this is due to the fact that he is incredibly insecure with Jess. I do believe this can be turned around. The idea that Nick hides behind this facade in attempts to placate or please Jess I think is a very probable storyline. Nick needs to grow up. The moments when he does reveal his wisdom are the moments he feels stressed and against the wall. These too are the moments that Jess seems to let loose on him. Both in my view have been disingenuous with each other and honestly…they need to break up, suffer and have a good hard think about how they choose to relate and acknowledge their almost complete lack of ‘true intimacy’. Jess doesn’t get away with it either. Her own avoidance issues with Nick only serve to encourage his insecurity, and really just propels them to live in denial about who they are and how they feel. To me, they’ve been living in fear. Early days in relationships can be like that. I get it. But when you’re in your 30’s?? I think there needs to be some soul searching going on. And as far as being friends afterwards…what on earth is that about? I’m telling you guys, it’s about INTIMACY- fear and loss. Perhaps the writers of the show are not in touch with their own intimacy issues and are having a hard time expressing it on the show. Who knows? But one thing is for sure….the writing CAN be dramatic and still be funny. That was the beauty of the first two seasons. There seemed to be genuine emotions expressed with genuine intimacy issues. It’s not easy completely revealing oneself to another, but the goofing off and running away all the time, with a heap of sex thrown in, is not going to get anyone far.and is getting really boring. I for one want to grow as a person. Who knows what the future holds for anyone? I had hoped that I would have 6 kids, a white picket fence and a dog and cat.and a happy marriage. Nope, that didn’t work out. But I’m happy. So really…I’m not sold on this season at all. But Jess talking about the future was more an indication that she was not in the present, and for that I think Nick was the mature one. Again, his wisdom shines thru when Jess is acting from fear. I was almost recoiling at parts in episodes throughout this season, as they writers/producers have lost touch with reality. It is salvageable, but only if it makes sense. Otherwise it may be a black hole that ruins the show, or a hole they narrowly avoided. Either way I hope something evolves.

    On another note…
    I do have to say that I don’t completely agree with the negativity surrounding Schmidt s cheating. I feel that the guy seriously struggled with who to choose. He was confused, and basically stuffed up. Big time. I feel that regardless of the morality of the issue, he knew he had to deal with it and time was running out, but the opportunity was taken away from him. I felt he was bullied in that episode, and I know I’m opening myself up here for criticism, but he had already stuffed up. And fixing it without the least amount of damage as possible, was what he ultimately wanted. Sure being found out hurried that along, but I did feel sorry for the guy just a little bit…..

    • Thank you so much for the nice words and the very articulate comment. You bring up some great points about emotional intimacy and its place (or lack thereof) on the show. There’s definitely a fear between Nick and Jess of ruining a good thing by getting too “serious” in their discussions, which is why I think this discussion about their future and their differences immediately devolved into a breakup. But, as you said, they need to confront the real issues here that lie with both of these characters and use this breakup to develop them as characters individually and not just to cause angst for the sake of causing angst. If handled correctly, this could be a good thing for the show and these characters, but I’ve felt such a disconnect between the genuine character beats of the show’s earlier days and what’s been happening this season that I’m not as hopeful as I’d like to be.

      You also bring up good points about Schmidt. I actually agree with you for the most part; I believed he was genuinely torn between Cece and Elizabeth and didn’t know how to handle the situation. But the fact that he later confessed to liking being with two girls at once seemed to indicate a serious regression in his character (but that did happen in “The Box,” which is the low point of the whole series in terms of poor characterization, in my opinion). I actually found him more sympathetic while he was cheating than I found him afterwards, which I think speaks to the inconsistency of the writing for his character as the season progressed. A lot of the depth that made him such an interesting character has seemed to disappear after the beginning of this season, and I miss it.

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  12. I’m just watching the show now and I’m just at the point where they break up. You are exactly right! This breakup makes no sense! If they really love each other and are so upset about the thought of breaking up…then they should work on things! I’m upset with the writers. This was a stupid plot twist.

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