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Can we please stop with the “on again, off again”?


A couple of weeks ago, New Girl’s Nick and Jess joined an age-old tradition of TV couples in their third season: they broke up .

A million seasons of “on again, off again” (or, more accurately, almost but not quite on-again, off again every time May sweeps come around) seem imminent. And although I liked Nick and Jess, I sincerely hope that they remain “off again.” Permanently.

Nick and Jess’s breakup was framed around the idea that, although they care about each other, they are fundamentally incompatible. Nick’s been developed as a comedic caricature — no drive, useless at pretty much everything, incapable of coping with modern society, and convinced that he’ll soon be a trucker on Mars. Jess, on the other hand, is characterized pretty much like a normal person. She can be naive and quirky and over-optimistic, but only within the constraints of what an actual human being might be like, and so the two characters clash as a potential relationship. Jess is too real for Nick, and Nick is too ridiculous and immature for Jess. And unless the show either makes Jess more ridiculous (please, no), or gives Nick a development arc that pretty much fundamentally changes his character, this incompatibility isn’t going to change. Meaning that, after showing us so clearly how bad they are for each other, if the show attempts to drag on an “on again, off again” relationship, it’ll be trying to make us cheer for a couple that’s fundamentally unhealthy and will make its two lovers incredibly unhappy in the long run.

And I would really like it if the show could just not do that. Just break new ground, and leave a failed pairing of two main characters behind. Friends proved, with Monica and Chandler, that a sitcom can put two main characters together and have them in a healthy relationship, which, surprise surprise, doesn’t mean breaking up and getting back together in an endless cycle. Friends also proved, with Rachel and Ross, how toxic the “on again, off again” trope can be. They break up, in part, because Ross can’t control his jealousy. A good reason! Stick with that! They get back together again and then break up because Ross can’t take responsibility for it and lies about having read a letter that’s really important to her. She tries to interrupt his wedding. He says her name during his vows. They get married in Vegas, and then Ross lies to her and tells her he’s annulled it, when they’re actually still secretly married (hilarious, right?). And on and on and on, with the situations getting more and more unhealthy and ridiculous, until the finale, when they declare their love, she abandons an amazing career opportunity, and they settle down for happily ever after… for the next week or so, at least. It’s presented as the height of TV romance, and it’s an absolute mess. They broke up for a good reason, and that reason is never truly addressed. The scenarios get more and more ridiculous to keep teasing the audience and to keep the audience invested. And the result is a creepily controlling guy taking over a female character’s life because their unhealthy “true love” is all that matters in the end.

I doubt that New Girl is going to make Nick the creepy and controlling ex-boyfriend (and, let’s be fair, Schmidt has already fulfilled that role with CeeCee). But the show has made clear that one of the pair is going to have to fundamentally change their personality and goals if they are to be compatible. And, if past sitcoms from Friends to How I Met Your Mother are anything to go by, it’s always the ambitious and likeable female characters who have to change. They’re the ones who have to minimize themselves to allow the show’s end-game couple to work.

So let’s not do that this time. Let’s allow Nick and Jess to accept this relationship as a failure, and instead spend the time developing the show’s true best relationship: Winston and his feline true love, Ferguson.


Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

7 thoughts on “Can we please stop with the “on again, off again”?

  1. I completely agree. Sometimes certain characters are forced to have relationships that they are either not meant to have or that they do not need to have. The latter, in this case.

    I haven’t seen many of the newer episodes of New Girl, but I’ve never really liked Nick and Jess together in the first place. I think it was just something the writers added so that two of the show’s main characters were in a relationship, and the audience could see both sides of the story.

    I sincerely hope that Jess doesn’t change who she is to be with Nick, I’m tired of seeing the woman conform in a relationship. Maybe they will end up together, and maybe they won’t and it’ll be ambiguous, like in the finale of Gilmore Girls. I guess we’ll just have to find out.

  2. I agree, I like both characters and I’d love for them to develop them further, not go back and forth. Great blog, by the way!

  3. Yes to all of this! And also from a narrative standpoint, the show has gone downhill ever since they got together because every episode is centered around a conflict between them. I hope the show goes back to being an ensemble cast show.

  4. Ugh, yes. I think there could be a lot of fun/ny stuff to explore with how they deal with the break-up and how they maintain their friendship, but it is totally possible to handle that stuff without making a joke of behavior that is actually creepy. Like I actually thought the “Cruise” episode had a funny premise (although I don’t think it quite delivered). The idea that they would want to still go on this cruise and get what they paid for with the romance package or whatever is slightly believable for a pair of young, not wealthy people who are still being friends.

    On a similar note, though, how have you felt about Danny and Mindy on The Mindy Project? They did a sort of on again off again situation with them in the last few episodes, but I thought it was believable, sort of. I think Danny and Mindy are, while superficially a sort of odd couple, fundamentally compatible and have something really deep that has grown organically over time and changed them both. My fear for the next season of the show, however, is that they will write them into an on again off again situation, even though there could be a lot of humor in watching them navigate coupledom.

    1. I actually don’t watch The Mindy Project, so my only knowledge of Danny and Mindy is from tumblr gifsets, haha. It is on my list of things to watch, though! Something for the summer hiatus.

      I do think shows are often too afraid of keeping a couple together, though. I think there can be comedy and tension and drama in a relationship that *isn’t* unhealthy, and if they have to break them up, there can be comedy and tension without resorting to “they should get back together.” And yet so few shows seem capable of actually DOING it.

  5. What do you think about how the show has developed recently?
    CeeCee and Schmidt´s relationship has reached levels beyond irrational for me at this point, even though the show really recovered from last season´s poor writing.

    1. I haven’t watched any of the show since the start of the year, actually… I kind of lost my motivation to keep up with it, so I don’t know what’s been going on. I will probably catch up at some point over the summer, though.

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