Feb 21, 2013

'New Girl' Explores The Various Ways We Hurt And Heal The People We Love

By Josh Oakley

We, as human beings, can never run out of ways to hurt each other. Sometimes the blame falls on the victim, for being too sensitive. But often we cause pain by failing to understand one another. We can forget that our actions, and our words, have consequences. If this sounds like an easy, trite, universal truth, that’s because it is. But just because it’s simple to understand doesn’t mean the follow through is implied. Most of the pain we inflict upon others isn’t done so out of malice. It normally stems from losing sight of the fact that all of us are miserably fucked up people that care far too much about the other fucked up people in our lives.

On the most recent New Girl, there’s a beautifully executed sequence that occurs after Schmidt discovers that Nick and Jess have kissed. The three sit in a parking spot, none wanting to surrender it to another, and the emotions come out. Schmidt reveals a “No Nail” policy that the roommates had signed upon Jess’ arrival at the apartment. The contract itself is offensive enough. What’s worse is Nick’s inability to stick up for Jess when Schmidt continues to knock her down. He blames her for having a womanly response to the matter, and Nick does nothing but find garbage with chocolate on it. Soon after this, Nick tells Jess that he wishes he had never kissed her, and she storms off, fed up with her roommates’ childish behavior.

After a commercial break, Nick and Jess make up, and the rest of the episode is largely played for comic relief. But this sequence in the parking garage speaks a very specific truth that sitcoms often touch, if real people rarely do. The initial kiss messed up the dynamic of Nick and Jess’ friendship. Nick’s actions (and, to be fair, Jess’ actions as well) continued to drive a wedge between the two. She unfairly attempted to seduce him early in the episode. But then he was unable to defend her, or speak to the larger feelings that string the two together.

Odds are, over time, Nick and Jess will break the “No Nail” policy. Odds are they will begin to date and one problem or another will arise. Odds are there will be a threat made by Jess to move out once the relationship turns sour. Then again, I wouldn’t count on New Girl to go the obvious route. Or, even if it does, the common plot devices will likely be dealt with more textures and honesty than many other shows are capable of. Because, even though “accidently hurting someone” has become a trope in the sitcom genre, few programs handle it as astutely as this episode managed to.

Schmidt’s words stung, Jess was strong in her defense, but obviously hurt, and Nick knew not how to stick up for Jess or himself. These are all just human people (especially Nick and Jess) that are struggling through a rough patch. And, as human people, they’re going to say things they don’t mean. Or things they do mean, but shouldn’t say. While Nick and Jess made up in the short term, everything is not fixed. Who knows who will be the next to lob a remark that becomes an unwarranted bomb?

When someone you cared about stops calling you, when a new friend seems to replace you in the eyes of old friends, when you take a statement or action the wrong way, it can be incredibly painful. The people we let into our lives, the people we open up to, are the ones who can harm us the most. That’s why Schmidt’s attacks on Jess sting, but Nick’s burn. We allow ourselves honesty with the people we love, but that leaves us open to be harmed when the honesty isn’t present, or even more so when that honesty comes in a way we couldn’t have imagined. Perhaps if we thought before we spoke we could spare some hurt feelings, but perhaps not.

New Girl has turned yet another “will-they-won’t-they” story arc into a frank discussion of relationships, and the ways we open up to others. Jess and Nick are two wounded people that have a lot of work to do on themselves, their careers and their love lives. Maybe they’ll be able to help one another, become a unit (even a unit of friendship) and prevail through rough times. Or maybe Nick will say something stupid again and ruin things. Either way would be incredibly human. Because while we are capable or inflicting great emotional pain on the ones we love, there’s also a reason we love them. There’s something inside all of us, even sitcom characters that knows when enough is enough. Nick apologizes to Jess and they almost kiss for a second time. Who knows what that second kiss would have led to? Any number of arguments, fights, broken hearts. Or maybe a slight respite from the suffering that merely being alive inflicts. “Hope for the best, but expect the worst” isn’t just a cliché: it’s a thesis statement on sitcom characters. And who are we if not Nick and Jess, yanked around by our own pain, the pain of those around us, and the hope that one kiss could erase all of that pain, if only for a second.

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