The Televangelist: The New Girl and the Challenge of Maturity
Each Friday in The Televangelist, Richard Clark examines the met and missed potential of television.
The quest to become a mature adult is something we all grapple with. Some of us diligently pursue it, some of us move in and out of concern for the end goal, and others eschew the concept entirely, until some outside force causes them to take notice of what adult immaturity costs them. Either way, it’s almost impossible to figure out exactly what maturity looks like. Maturity takes on different forms in different cultures – though we may all agree on the need to “grow up”, not all of us agree with what that means. For instance, I believe it is perfectly reasonable for a mature, grown adult to watch television and play videogames in his spare time. I am willing to bet not all of you do.
But that’s okay, because maturity is a personal journey we embark on, aided by Scripture, input from our friends, and our own honest and unflinching priorities. The essence of maturity is personal honesty – the ability to keep from lying to ourselves about our health, our relationships, our level of personal success, and what we are doing to change those things.
Were the writers of The New Girl lying to themselves when they wrote the first three or so episodes? The immature first few episodes seems to imply so – perhaps they were banking on the previous unimpeachable charm of Zooey Deschanel. Perhaps they simply thought that a comedy starring a quirky female protagonist would fill a niche and that 20-something women would rush to watch it no matter how unique or original it was. Maybe they simply told themselves they were doing a pretty good job and didn’t need to do anything interesting to change it up.
Whatever the case, it became clear pretty quick that these things were simply not true. If they really wanted The New Girl to become a success, they would have to step up their game. The show would have to mature – and in order for that to happen, so would the characters.
This maturation happened in community, as the world broadened outside of the apartment and as the roommates began to warm to and collide with one another. The friction between the roommates provided an opportunity for each of them to show care and concern for one another, but it also forced them each to grow up a little bit. Jess has been forced to acknowledge that her rose-colored glasses through which she views the world can often be distorted. Schmidt is in the midst of a full-on crisis when it comes to his view of the purpose and value of relationships. Winston is becoming more and more aware of the inevitability of like, having a job.
Meanwhile, Nick experiences the most acute growing pains. He’s gun-shy and bitter because of past experiences, and finds himself simply riding out life for the most part. Still, he finds value in friendships, in family, and in aspirations. He has yet to come anywhere close to success, even though he often tries. In my mind, he’s the hero of the series right now – desperately grasping for maturity despite his inclinations and his past experiences which tell him it never pays off. Nick knows what we should all know: the isolated, self-centered life happens sometimes, and it’s hard work not to stay there. But it’s worth it.
The unique opportunity that a series like this affords us is watching characters mature before our eyes, not in a montage like we might see in a film, or after some transition that signified the changing of the seasons. Instead, we see the hard work of maturity every week, something that ought to resonate with people like me who are just now truly coming to terms with concepts like “health” and “success”. If The New Girl keeps itself on this trajectory, it may very well be the show that matured along with us, and helped us to think through our on growth process.