Tuesday night’s episode of New Girl, a special Valentine’s Day episode in fact, in some ways felt like finding out your little sister smokes weed – a compelling yet unsurprising discovery that, depending on your lifestyle, may be the most impressive or unsettling thing you learn about someone you pretty much had pegged. Because New Girl, if you’ve been watching, is undoubtedly your little sister. She’s young and precocious and wide-eyed and in constant need of begrudged protection from the meanies and jerks of the world. And she’s not just Zooey Deschanel and her prominently adorable yet archetypal manic pixie dream girl theatrics. New Girl showcases a full-fledged family of funny folk whether we acknowledge it or not – several moving parts and components that, while they may perturb your core principles (Schmidt), can earnestly solicit compassion and charm you into submission (Schmidt again for the most part) the way a good, manipulatively cute little sibling should.
So when we walked in on New Girl this week packing a bowl of sexual liberation and agency, ready to inhale, we were rightfully shocked, forgetting that little girls grow up fast these days and realizing that despite the good intentions, she might not need a big bro as much as we may wish she did. (In fact, even the analogy may be diminishing and sexist, but the series and it’s critics has always seen fit to provoke some third wave social politics.)
Not only had our Girl decided she needed a certain gratification we hadn’t previously ascribed to her, she brazenly went about attaining it. They all did. And in so doing, we see guys growing to respect the women of their sex lives. We witness sincere reflection on career and life alignment without romance simply providing an answer, as is the temptation in a Valentine’s Day themed outing, but rather pleasantly complimenting an adult life. We see the playfully immature games of crushes and teases turn into the more adult sport of flirting, then again becoming plainly adult. We see sex, not really, but a close sitcom facsimile to how it could really occur or humorously not occur amongst young adults who clamor for some autonomy. New Girl, like many shows that share a metaphysical space, is the little sister to a host of older situation comedies highlighting the lives of young adults.
Nick, played by Jake M. Johnson, isn’t Ray Barone or Just Shoot Me’s Elliot or Eddie Crane the sharp as a whip Jack Russell Terrier of Frasier (some pretty solid comedic comparisons.) Nick from New Girl is simply going to be Nick. He’s the intangible quality of our sister that we don’t always appreciate, but when we see him in his attrition of maturity and all his endearingly coupled glory, we’ll realize that he’s as much our sister as nerdy glasses and quirky floral patterns. Surely, we have much to learn about our lil’ sis but it’s nice, if not somewhat jarring, to be reminded of that fact. The series too often leaves us unprepared to truly see it as anything more than an elaborate experiment focused on viewers’ tolerances of aggressively cute yet meek brunettes of the hipster persuasion. This episode got away from that and startled those that wrongly accepted the experiment at face value, questioning, in essence, if Jess should have given some warning or asked for our help if she wanted an uncommitted, no-strings-attached romp? (Yup, there goes that tinge of misogyny, and now it’s a bit incestuous too!)
The novelty of the episode relies simply on giving its main female protagonist a vagina and setting it loose on the world, armed clumsily with desire and innuendo. A variation of this trick was attempted earlier this season, when Jess first intended to make love to her boyfriend at the time, played by Justin Long. But since it’s possible to accept a little sister’s wholly unthreatening boyfriend, albeit reluctantly, without acknowledging her as a woman, we narrowly were able to hold on to our Jess, at the expense of Mr. Long’s contribution to the show. But this week, she sort of became her own Jess. Sort of because nothing actually happened, no vagina was either confirmed or denied. But the possibility was provocative. In a linear, object-oriented economy, the pressing possibility of Jess going from innocuous sibling to sexpot, has to be good television, if not horrible for everything else. But a line is there.
We do something wholly dissimilar to the televised visage of Zooey Deschanel than a majority of our other Hollywood starlets. The sexualization, while still present, isn’t as straightforward. She evokes a richer vocabulary than just “hot”. We locate her somewhere unique on the line we have our women walk on television, often in sexy heals or in smart pantsuits. Nothing actually happening in this episode might be the best way to continue drawing attention to the line, putting pressure on it. Sitcoms have long tired of pushing the envelope, they’ve probably misplaced the thing long ago, but what New Girl does pretty well is surprisingly funny little dances on the line of social discourses. That’s pretty cool of my little sis, huh?
Next week: The Best Black Sitcom in a long time is Winston’s side stories in New Girl