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'New Girl' and the Problem With Moral Absolutes

By Vivian Kane | TV | October 15, 2014 |

By Vivian Kane | TV | October 15, 2014 |

A common story line on New Girl goes something like:

Step one: Jess makes a blanket moral declaration.
Step two: Circumstances arise which turn said declaration around on Jess.
Step three: Jess is forced to either adhere to her own mandated principle or admit she was wrong*.
Step four: Hijinks.
*Spoiler: She will do the former for approximately 18 minutes before accepting the latter.

Last week it was Jess accusing her friends of being shallow, then fearing to appear shallow for wanting to dump a douche bag of the nth degree who also happened to have a “micropenis.” Last night it was berating Coach for spreading his Little Coach around the school where they both work, before falling head over hormones for a new teacher. Jess lives in a world of binaries: there are the principled, and there are weaklings. Jess is so principle-driven that it might make you wonder if her new job as Vice Principal (It’s just a letter off! I get it!) is a coincidence, or a deliberately representative title. The writers are, after all, not above establishing that kind of hefty set-up to emphasize a single character trait. That new teacher Jess has all the dirty, dirty feelings for is named Ryan Geauxinue, pronounced “goes in you.” (Get it? Like his penis. It goes in her.) And while it may have seemed like there was more than one joke in there, it’s only because they repeated the one innuendo about eighteen times.

Jess, as we’ve explored here before, is a woman looking for an entrance into adulthood. The Wendy Darling of the loft, she’s not above a good game of True American, but ultimately she wants to be a take-charge, get-stuff-done, grown-ass woman; she just has no idea how to actually be that person. So this is her strategy: make a decision, then spend 22 minutes catching up to her words. This could actually be an interesting character development, if only we could be convinced that the writers were aware of the trend. As is, they seem to be taking it only on an episode by episode basis, rather than acknowledging this as an arc. (Or a potential arc— right now it seems to just be a line.) But it IS a relatably flawed approach to growth: thrusting yourself into adulthood, forcing yourself to adhere to some arbitrary, if well-meaning principles, and then sorting out the mess as you go. And nowhere did we see this misguided attempt to appear strong and mature more than in Jess and Nick’s breakup.

Now before you all start yelling at me at once, I am most definitely NOT saying that the breakup was her fault. I AM saying that it is equally both of their faults, for exactly the same reason: because they both adhere strictly to principles with no room for nuance or exceptions. And of course their principles are utter opposites: Jess wants adulthood and stability, or at least the possibility of it, and Nick wants to avoid those things at all costs. Their breakup last season was frustrating because it was hard not to feel that if these two just had a decent conversation, they could have found a middle ground, some compromise. But each was too stubborn, or too stubbornly written, to bend on their ingrained absolutes.

If Jess could let go of her black and white binary, would it make for better TV? Who knows? Maybe not. But if Jess could at least acknowledge that the messes she gets herself into are her own doing, and the fault of her increasingly narrow view of adulthood, we may at least find some room for actual growth in an otherwise stagnant character.

Vivian Kane is sorry she wasn’t able to fit in any talk of the B plot, but wants you to know that THIS also happened: