Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Born Awkward - How "The New Girl" Fails At Its Premis

I would like to preface this by saying that I really enjoy The New Girl. It's not always the best comedy on television, but it makes me laugh consistently enough that I really can't fault it. Nick's recent "I stab and I stab" speech, read off the papers of one of Deschanel's students from creative writing, had me rolling. Where I feel the show has really dropped the ball, though, is in its presentation of awkwardness. In the show, Zooey is presented as this individual whose social awkwardness and lack of grace makes life for her more socially adjusted roommates a difficulty. This is paired against the individual awkward attributes of others like Winston, who finds it difficult to talk to women and strips naked when he panics. Still, it never feels genuine, and it's something that bothers me on just about every episode. 
Perhaps one of the problems I have with the show is the use of physical attributes to pen off certain individuals. For the record, these are her roommates on the show.

And while you may have individual opinions on each one of these characters' sexual and physical appeal, the fact is that from Zooey to Lamorne Morris, the African American character of the show, all have a certain height, weight and physical fitness level. Schmiedt, portrayed by Max Greenfield in the middle of the boys lineup, is often portrayed as the most physically fit. However none of them could be considered overweight. The men have jobs as bartenders, models and basketball players. Zooey herself, despite her awkwardness and role as a elementary school teacher at the beginning of the show, goes on to have a role in modeling, dates a handsome doctor, and is physically usually dressed cute and lovely. She's presented as awkward only in the most obvious fashion, made to be buffoonish in public situations in order for the scream to show "She's awkward!"
Meanwhile, this is Robby, a boyfriend of the a character on the show who comes across as truly different from the rest of the cast.

NEW GIRL:   Cece (Hannah Simone, R) and Robby (guest star Nelson Franklin, L) talk about their relationship in the
I want to draw a line right now and say that being physically distinct or heavier doesn't, by its nature, make a person overweight. However, when placed alongside a bartender, basketball player and model, Robby is not only physically distinct by occupationally as well. I'm willing to bet at least half of America's men look closer to Robby's body type than Schmidt's type. He's slightly oblivious to Schmidt's ongoing sexual desires for Cece, he's deaf in one ear, he's a really bad dancer. It's not just these traits that mark him aside, and it's not his physical differences that do, it's that combination set alongside his general nature and style of acting. He's not mean or bitter, the way Schmidt and Nick come across. And yet he's the one who gets underused, underplayed and cut out of the show three fourths of the way into season two, so that Cece can reunite with Schmidt, the other model.
It's almost a meta statement. So genuinely unappealing is Robby that the producers of the show couldn't use him. The prettier people deserved more camera time. Robby's generally good nature wasn't intriguing enough. He wasn't a social boor. It also reminds me of how Lamorne Morris is underplayed on the show. Of the three roommates, he's probably the most genuinely 'nice' individual. He's not bitter like Nick and not a jerk like Schmidt. He's more often soft spoken, and the ways in which he is awkward, although buffoonish like everything else in the show, are truly offputting. Who else strips their clothes off when panicking? Both have the commonality of being nice guys though, who have trouble with women.

In no element of New Girl's universe does Zooey, Nick or Schmidt have trouble with the opposite sex. It's verbally played that Zooey does, but she lands a successful doctor shortly into season two, has Nick secretly desiring her and even at her worst, when the writers are portraying her with clownish behavior, is dressed so enticingly the visual never matches the portrayal we're supposed to receive.

I guess I keep comparing her against what comes across as a truly awkward character, Liz Lemon.

I'm not saying Liz Lemon doesn't have buffoonish moments, that's obviously played for laughs many times. However, how Tina Fey acts, portrays the character, comes across distinctly different from Zooey. Fey really does seem genuinely awkward in most of her scenes. When she tries to dress sexy, it's often a failure, and when it's successful it's an ongoing problem for her throughout the night because she'd rather be wearing her sweatpants. Her failures with men range from dating her cousin, to dating a successful snob who lives in an impenetrable bubble of ignorance, in an ongoing process of failure. She doesn't reek of the indie pretty that Zooey has, even if I do think Tina Fey is gorgeous. She tries to prove she's not racist even when she doesn't have to, against African American characters that inadvertently come off as reverse racists themselves. There are so many socially awkward and difficult situations in which Lemon seems to barely survive that Zooey's character would emerge out of, somehow that much more beautiful and attractive. 
I just find it easier to identify with people like Robby and Liz. They don't look like the model people, not that there's anything wrong with looking like that, but I think the struggle with self appearance, weight, and conformity to a norm all play a role in why people find themselves awkward in social situations. In reality, Tina Fey has a scar over her eye that has dictated how she wears her hair and faces the camera. That's awkward. I remember quite well what it was to be the guy wearing a jacket in ninety degree weather because I wanted to cover up my weight. I remember wearing glasses and having a bad haircut, and thinking I had to overcompensate. It didn't come across as endearing, and had an ongoing effect on what people thought of me, only increasing my social anxiety and awkwardness. I didn't find inadvertent success in romance because of it. I ended up more like Robby and Liz, with relationships that went sour, that I had to battle through and that left ongoing impressions on me that affected future relationships.

At the beginning of The New Girl's first episode, Zooey finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her. The two girls basically stare each other down at near nude levels. Zooey was just as easily as pretty and styled as the other girl. There's no contrast. And none of Zooey's behaviors in the show genuinely mark her as being truly awkward. Being socially awkward isn't a matter of acting buffonish. It's a feeling of being located at the social periphery and having little to no chance of finding one's way to the interior. Zooey's character never seems to genuinely feel that. I think Liz, though, can better understand.

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