I don’t have time to post an extensive essay this week (Internet life, meet real life), but I wanted to share some thoughts on what one my favourite comedies, New Girl, has been doing this season. In particular, I wanted to talk about what the show has been doing with Nick and Jess, who are currently in the midst of one of the most interesting romantic sitcom subplots in recent memory.

I’m usually not a fan of the will-they/won’t-they trope. It’s often used to keep apart two characters who are clearly meant to be together, and since the eventual outcome is known, there’s no real dramatic tension in the waiting game. That being said, I wouldn’t dismiss the trope entirely. My complaint is about the implementation of the trope, not about anything that inheres in it. In fact, I have previously cautioned that listing tropes is not criticism, fittingly when I was writing about New Girl for the first time.

With Nick and Jess, New Girl has managed to sidestep the pitfalls typically associated with the will-they/won’t-they trope. It’s obvious that Nick and Jess have feelings for each other. It’s obvious that on some level, they want to be together. What isn’t obvious is whether they should be together. All too often, shows fall into the trap of centering a romantic subplot around two people who are meant for each other. Heck, the other characters sometimes even join in as cheerleaders for their coupledom. Here, Cece, Winston, and Schmidt have all voiced concerns about what would happen if Nick and Jess were to date. The show has made sure to demonstrate that Nick and Jess have the potential to bring out the worst in each other and disturb the fragile equilibrium that governs their lives.

In a way, their relationship is reminiscent of that of Robin and Ted’s from the early seasons of How I Met Your Mother. That show subverted the WT/WT trope by revealing from the outset that Robin and Ted wouldn’t end up together. It was always clear that they weren’t right for each other: their most apparent mismatch was the fact that Ted wanted kids and Robin didn’t. In its second season, the show was able to draw tension from their relationship by depicting how it was simultaneously strengthening itself and falling apart. Unfortunately, the show returned to the well of their relationship all too often in later seasons, even when it had run dry, but it always came to the same conclusion: Robin and Ted were never meant to be together.

It may be the case that just like Robin and Ted, Nick and Jess aren’t right for each other. Conversely, it may turn out that they are. But on the way to whatever eventually happens to them, New Girl hasn’t hesitated to mine their relationship for comedy, as demonstrated by this week’s fantastically funny “Quick Hardening Caulk.” (Yes, that was one penis-related pun of many.) Even if the show weren’t interested in depicting a nuanced, complex, messy relationship, it would at least be able to wring some laughs out of the proceedings. The messiness is what makes the jokes seem not just like gags about a bunch of fake characters on a TV screen, but funny incidents that reflect the complexity of the real human relationships in our own lives.

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