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.