I love The New Girl.
From the economically unrealistic loft apartment they inhabit to Schmidt’s clumsy and unrequited affection for CeCe; from Nick Miller’s intriguingly shaped nose and the way he moonwalks out of rooms to how Winston shouts lines when he is impassioned.
I want to play True American and take a shower in their unisex bathroom. I want to drink beer in the afternoon on their roof and yes, I even love the Deschanel, and I want her to throw me a birthday party when it’s not my birthday because I am sad and she knows it will cheer me up.
I want her to make me a cake and sing me slightly out of tune inappropriate songs about my tangled love life or confusing job situation or how great I would look with bangs, and I want it now.
These feelings are as shocking to me as they are to you.
I didn’t want to love The New Girl.
When the trailers started I publicly mocked it’s lazy premise, the way it used Zooey Deschanel’s quirky persona as a hook and it’s lyrically offensive theme tune. I did not want to see her whimsically yet clumsily come to terms with her new found station in life as a singleton whilst dealing with the hilarity of having three male room mates. I could imagine all the episodes without having even glimpsed one. She would fall down a lot, sing some songs and make cake pops out of banana bread for boys with tank tops who worked in advertising. I had spent years in the “hatred of all things Zooey” camp, a popular choice amongst women, and would dismiss her work out of hand with a “but she is just so annoying,” before moving onto Keira Knightly. I didn’t see my feelings for her changing anytime soon.
I had no real reason for actually disliking her other than finding the way she existed annoying and offensive. I disliked her Bambi-eyed heart-shaped face, her terrible habit of recording average albums with M Ward and found the whole faux little girl thing creepy. Everything about her public persona felt like a parody of the girl at school you loved to hate, the baking do-gooder vegan who (surprise, surprise) wants to sing and act, and had the biggest collection of buttons and rabbits and sundresses, and didn’t all the boys just melt in the face of those pouting lips and that “Little Miss Helpless” act.
Women who act like little girls are unnerving, they project this (conscious or not) manipulative vulnerability as though they are asking everyone else to look after them or protect them, thus vacating responsibility for themselves. This may be projection, but as a self reliant woman etc you are brought up to believe this is not what you do in order to be taken seriously, especially by men.
Zooey has also never been what you would call a diverse actress, meaning she is interchangeable as a person with her film roles, so previous parts like Summer in (500) Days of Summer (the flakiest girl in town) have not done her any favors. She played the girl who broke Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s heart and its hard to come back from that, and before that she was in The Happening.
When The New Girl rocked up it seemed like the perfect vehicle in which to channel my dislike of her and her infinite kitten fondling ways, so I started watching it, but with an ironic and morbid curiosity, laughing at the stupidity of Zooey for playing a character who was a parody of whom we imagined her to be. Did she not know she was falling right into our laps?
BUT something happened.
She totally owned it. She made me laugh. It turned out the show had an excellent writer and showrunner in the form of Elizabeth Meriwether, who took her annoying qualities, the offensive super “girly ness” and love of all things snuggly, acknowledged them and then pushed them up to ten. Suddenly she was funny. The tongue in cheek-ness, one liners and idiocy complemented the sincerity which underlined the show, and there were all these other characters… This was not all about Jess! Her three male roommates got a personality too, and like her, they were also touchingly sweet idiots flailing their way through life, finding each other exceptionally annoying but with some some heartfelt lessons to learn on love, sex and friendship.
I also like it when Zooey expresses sexual desire in the clumsiest of fashions, “Ladies, if we’re being honest it’s all about the gonads right?” and whilst she didn’t write these lines she does says them, and she says them well. Everyone likes a girl who can say the word gonads.
But my major U-turn really arrived in the first season in a season after an episode entitled “Jess and Julia,” were Deschanel falls out with Nick’s new girlfriend, played by Lizzy Caplan, and addresses all the haters with a certain impassioned speech about how she can be both adorable as well as intelligent.
It was possible, DAMMIT.
In the episode Caplan becomes the voice of Zooey naysayers everywhere when she expresses disdain for Jess and her cute way of living, “the big beautiful eyes like a scared baby. I’m sure that gets you a lot of stuff.”
Zooey retorts “I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children, and I find it fundamentally strange that you’re not a dessert person. That’s just weird and it freaks me out. And I’m sorry I don’t talk like Murphy Brown, and I hate your pant suit and I wish it had ribbons on it to make it slightly cute. And that doesn’t mean I’m not smart and tough and strong.”
Suddenly I respected her. I respected her the way I respected Mindy Kaling after she wrote an article about how it’s okay to be a hilarious women AND love pink, and how embracing feminine stereotypes does not mean you have the mindset of a 1950’s repressed housewife and are simply submitting to patriarchal views of what is to be a woman. You might just like pink. The song at the beginning which made me want to stab myself in the thighs suddenly seemed self aware.
The fact that Zooey owned who she was felt more empowering to me then hating her for being far too quirky to exist. I could find her annoying but also respect her. It is far easier to dislike a successful attractive women then admire her ambition and self confidence, even if her way of expressing her femininity is not the same as yours. In fact, take the term femininity out of the equation, her way of expressing who she is. And it was time for me to stop with the girl on girl loathing.
There is also the counter argument about how women in popular culture are more frequently displaying strength with traditionally masculine traits. From Katniss in The Hunger Games to Lizbeth Salander, the heroine has now become almost autistic in her range of emotions, protecting those she loves with violence, physical strength and undiluted rage. Quite the opposite example to The New Girl example of what is it to be a smart strong women, but hey it’s nice to have variety.
I think Zooey knows what we think of her and she uses it to her advantage. She chooses the right roles. She was perfect for Summer because she is the beautiful girl who breaks the heart of the naive man boy.
Haters are gonna hate no matter what, so you might as well embrace who you are.