At the beginning of the 2011 pilot episode of Fox’s sitcom New Girl, viewers meet Jessica “Jess” Day, an elementary school teacher and applicant for a roommate spot with three men in Los Angeles. Just minutes into the pilot the central theme at the heart of the episode is revealed when Schmidt takes off his shirt believing that his abs will seduce Jess. Jess reacts with confusion, and the other roommates apologize on Schmidt’s behalf and force him to put money in an overflowing “Douchebag Jar.” According to New Girl, men and women do not know how to talk to each other much less understand what the opposite gender finds attractive or unattractive. These misfires in communication happen not only with Jess but also with her new roommates Nick, Coach, and Schmidt. New Girl posits that both men and women are clueless, speaking with varying levels of confidence as they attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible: what the other gender wants. By the end of the episode, the men seem to understand Jess a little better than they did before, and it seems like they will be able to live together in a harmonious way.
Jess kicks off the episode with a descent into stereotypical “female” behavior post-breakup. “So, um, full disclosure, I’m kind of emotional right now ’cause of the break-up so I’ll probably be watching Dirty Dancing at least six or seven times… a day,” she warns them (New Girl 2011). At the same time, Nick is exhibiting weird behavior of his own in light of his breakup with his girlfriend Caroline six months ago. Nick discusses the pros and cons of living with women to the other guys. “Okay,” Nick says, “Pros: they smell nice. Cons: every once in a while, the mood changes and you’re not sure why. They’ll ruin your life if you let ’em, they’ll break down your will to live. Pros: they’re really good at folding” and then proceeds to devolve into “hooding” or pulling his hoodie sweatshirt over his head (New Girl 2011). Given Nick’s warped view of women, it is not surprising that he puts his hands over his ears and shouts while Caroline tries to break up with him. Nick cannot handle emotional conversations, shuts down, and acts immature when confronted with these situations. He plays right into the emotionally vacant male stereotype.
Coach reinforces this image of men being insensitive to women. He comes to Jess to ask for her help. “Uh, my boss says that I don’t know how to talk to women, which is ridiculous…” he says, and the camera cuts to a shot of him screaming at a woman who is crying while exercising on a spin machine at the gym (New Girl 2011). Jess agrees to help him and says, “Um, well, first of all, maybe think about what women like to talk about, you know, like, use me for practice,” so Coach asks if shopping is fun for “you guys” (New Girl 2011). Jess talks about some clothes she bought, but Coach shouts, “Who cares?” (New Girl 2011). It is encouraging that Coach is trying to make an active effort to understand women better, though it is clear he has a long way to go. Meanwhile, women break down in front of his aggressive behavior, such as earlier when he shouted at Jess to stop crying and she just tried harder. Women are not shown to be as equally commanding a force until we meet Jess’ best friend, the professional model Cece.
When we first meet Cece she is sitting on a chair staring at the male roommates with a bored expression while she waits for Jess to try on some shoes. The men stare at her with outward longing, and Schmidt even takes his shirt off and tries to flirt with her. Cece, with narrowed eyes, says in an intimidating voice, “Please put your shirt back on. Please don’t make me laugh at you” (New Girl 2011). After listening to more of Schmidt’s pathetic attempts to woo her, Cece says, “Listen to me you guys, Jess is by far the best person that I know, so if you guys let anything happen to her, I’m gonna come here, and crazy murder you” (New Girl 2011). Cece completely emasculates these men who are already dumbfounded by her beauty. Her power and authority comes from her good looks. A plot line that runs throughout most of the first season is Schmidt’s conquest to sleep with Cece and her eventual consent to have sex with him. Cece’s dominance and authority come from her strong command over how to manipulate these men and get them to do what she wants. In a sitcom filled with characters who do not know how to talk to the other gender, Cece represents someone who is completely aware of how to use her sexuality and her voice to get the other gender to do exactly what she wants. The men, we see, are completely powerless around her.
In the final scene of the pilot episode, the audience sees how gender is a social construct only as far as the characters want it to be. Earlier in the episode, Jess and Nick talk about Jess’ sunny outlook on life. “I could pretend to be more like you, Jess, and live on a sparkly rainbow and drive a unicorn around and just sing all the time,” Nick says jokingly (New Girl 2011). When Jess asks him why not, Nick says, “Because I have a penis, Jess” to which Jess replies, “My name is Nick. I have a penis and I’m not gonna let any feelings out” (New Girl 2011). Yet in the end, Nick does. Nick, Schmidt, and Coach run over to a restaurant where Jess is being stood up, and all three men break into a chorus of the song “I’ve Had the Time of My Life,” one of Jess’ favorite songs. Nick sheds his curmudgeonly ways and does what he knows will cheer Jess up; he has listened to her and understands her needs as a woman. He shows her and himself that the social construct of the man who is shut off from expressing his feelings can be taken apart and systematically destroyed if he wants to. New Girl makes it harder for Jess to assume an intimidating and emotionally distant approach, and at the end of the episode it is clear she is going to keep being herself. Yet New Girl advocates that “masculinity” is a construct that can be put on and put off. As New Girl shows over the course of four seasons, gender roles are fluid and easily deconstructed when one is willing and motivated.
- Kasdan, Jake. 2011. “Pilot” New Girl Fox. September 20, 2011.