The Unicorn Scale: New Girl
Have you ever had a show fit your life like a puzzle? Like something you didn’t realize you were missing? You came across it, or you picked up the recommendation. Maybe it piqued your curiosity, full tilt, through the finale of Season One. And it soothed the ragged edges a bit, made things feel a little closer to whole. This, my friends, is New Girl to me. Of course our faves can’t be perfect, so how did New Girl fare for its queer viewers? Lets find out with New Girl: The Unicorn Scale review.
“Well, my story’s kind of like that.” – Jess, S1E1 “Pilot”
Jessica Day waltzes into every room like she’s taking the stage. She’s frequently in the midst of breaking into song, so maybe she actually thinks she is walking onto a stage? And as I watched her arrive! into the apartment she shared with her cheating boyfriend, “It’s Jess!” echoed through my empty one. I unpacked old stuff into new spots while Nick, Schmidt, and Coach extended their most magnanimous hand (and their lease) to Jess. And while Jessica cried and watched Dirty Dancing over and over, I teared up in solidarity. There we both were, bundled into our respective couches and snacks. I had left my boyfriend, she had left hers. And we both faced reorienting ourselves from where we thought we were, to the expanse that held where we could be.
WHAT I LIKED:
New Girl has always brought me so much joy. Even positive change can be hard, transitions can be challenging. New Girl reminded me to find the humor in the pitfalls that picking yourself back up can bring. And to my pleasant surprise, I didn’t encounter so many of the roadblocks-to-happy that the network comedies often bring, jarring you out of the warm escape bubble we hope they can provide.
Network comedians rarely celebrate feminism and queerness. Instead these identities are often the butt of jokes; queer women become titillation for the female-attracted male gaze. New Girl approaches gender, feminism, and queerness in a refreshing way: it celebrates and embraces these identities. New Girl uses labels – bringing a powerful visibility, normalizing our normal.
“I hope you like feminist rants, cause they’re king of my thing.” Jess, S5E24 “See Ya”
Jessica names her feminism and claims her love of purses in the same breathe; her best friend, former-model Cece, gets to be the same kind of funny as the guys. As New Girl entered its second season, Jess and I both found ourselves on the other side of a workforce reduction. She was an excellent co-pilot in finding meaning in career and power in an internal sense of self worth.
The show has a refreshing approach to expectations for men, as well, confronting toxic masculinity, all the while proving femme can be feminist. New Girl’s queer characters are woven into the fabric of the show, from main to recurring to one-off lines about someone they used-to-know. We’ve met Jessica’s lesbian gynecologist friend and her pregnant partner; we’ve seen Jess’s ex’s two dads.
“You know, that was a big summer for me.” Reagan, S5E6 “Reagan”
And then Season Five happened. New Girl’s 100th episode introduced Cece’s long-ago hook-up, Reagan, a recurring stand-in for lead Jess. Reagan names her bisexuality. She is shown with a girlfriend and, eventually, a new boyfriend. Her premiere episode aired the world “bi” multiple times. And they were all positive references. Winston says he “knows what bi is” and he does. Schmidt’s response to his new fiance’s “sexual fluidity” is couched in an episode where his general feelings of jealousy and insecurity are being challenged. And for recently married me, I got to decompress from wedding planning with a show that helped me feel seen. In a heteronormative society that closests you as soon as you put a ring on it, I watched a non-monosexual woman get engaged and then have her queer identity acknowledged.
“When he has to process a lot of emotions, sometimes he likes to do Nick Cannon’s solo from Drumline.” Cece, S5E6 “Reagan”
Over time we learn that Schmidt is surrounded by queer women. In preparation for his wedding, his mother arrives with her partner. And we see Schmidt struggle with the idea of his mama’s personhood, her queerness being the catalyst.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
A Season Four episode attempts to challenge Jessica’s superficiality. The episode’s premise revolves around the size of a suitor’s genitals. It relies largely on body shaming and toxic masculinity. And it sacrifices a normally queer-friendly platform for unfunny jokes at the expense of trans and intersex folks. It is a lazy choice in a normally thoughtful show.
New Girl, a primetime network program, normalized queerness by weaving it into the fabric of the show. Including bisexuality – explicitly so. Season Seven opens up with a same gender kiss, not for titillation, but for love. And it is a show I’ve traveled safe with, as a bi person, as a woman, and as someone with high expectations for how I spend the time I’d like to be laughing.
Over the years, my will-they became a yes, of course they will. And now my partner and I are raising the next generation in a feminist home not unlike Cece and Schmidt. I’ve got my couch, and my snacks, and my streaming, but just like New Girl, I’ve got to move on. I’d love to give it all the stars, but for want of a better Season Four premise. So, go on now, watch every episode, but one. I’m giving New Girl a delighted thanks and…