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How American TV Show New Girl Has Broken Sitcom Stereotypes

How American TV Show New Girl Has Broken Sitcom Stereotypes

Fresh from the winter break with a brand new time slot (Tuesday, 8 pm, ET), New Girl continues to rack up the glowing reviews; this is a rare achievement for such a longstanding sitcom. The show is now in its sixth season and shows no signs of slowing down!

A key to the long-lasting popularity of New Girl has been the show’s unwillingness to bow to typical sitcom stereotypes. Whether binging on Netflix or catching rerun blocks on cable, the show’s legion of fans has always appreciated their beloved gang of characters’ refusal to fall prey to the mapped-out rules that seem to govern the characters of most other shows.

Breaking from accepted societal norms in this way has worked to the show’s advantage. Hopefully, other sitcoms will take notice and be more inclined to follow New Girl’s lead by going against the grain. 

Redefining Masculinity

In the hands of lesser writers, New Girl’s basic premise would be a nearly intolerable parade of masculine vs. feminine clichés. We have Jess, the kooky teacher with the lovably messed-up life, rooming with three males, Nick, Schmidt, and Wilson. And they’re in a massive Los Angeles apartment. I know – like what could go wrong, right?

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Those unfamiliar with the show might most likely envision Jess having to struggle with your run of the mill stereotypical guy behavior.

Pick your poison: uncleanliness, sports marathons on the television, and a steady stream of disgusting male antics. However, in a clever twist, the writer—Elizabeth Meriwether—and the entire cast turn these outdated ideas on their head, subverting stock pitfalls and embracing a more hip, modern outlook that connects with younger viewers.

So, what we have with New Girl is a trio of sensitive, hip urban males who are more inclined to give Jess dating advice than to try to climb into bed with her at the closest opportunity. Hence, instead of the typical “girl living with a bunch of guys” easy punchlines and slapstick gags, the comedy revolves around the day-to-day lives of the four main characters and their banter around the apartment.

In essence, New Girl is a modern character staging where men and women are on equal footing. As such, they can hang out on the same level without the clashing interests or sexual undertones that may have been incorporated into a “girl tossed in with a bunch of guys” show just ten years, or even five years, previous.

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Portraying Race on Prime Time

Although the show got off to a bit of a rocky start on the race angle, suffering much criticism for switching out Damon Wayans Jr. with Lamorne Morris’s Winston as the “token” black roommate early on. However, the show quickly rebounded and began portraying race in ways that knocked the doors off your standard sitcom narrative.

First, there was the notorious, and hilarious, episode where Schmidt takes Winston’s joke about smoking ‘crack’ seriously and ventures into the projects to score some. The misunderstanding sets up a series of hijinks which include mistaking a kind stranger offering directions for a robber, a wallet for a gun, and a turn-of-the-tables accusation on Schmidt himself.

Granted, it was risky territory to venture into, and Schmidt’s scolding of his wayward character was done with a tongue-in-cheek élan that stood in direct contrast to the politically correct dogma that could have easily been written for the situation in most other modern sitcoms. Nonetheless, they managed to pull it off.

As a matter of fact, Winston manages to buck racial stereotypes right from the introduction of his character. Here is a black man who isn’t that good at sports, who wins over a woman’s affection by hanging with her at a girl’s night, and who turns out to be a trustworthy and skilled babysitter. He never cheats on his girlfriends, and loves cats. Think back to the sitcoms you watched as a child, or even to any other sitcom currently running. Has there ever been a less stereotypical black character than Winston?

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The real kicker here is when Wayans came back to the cast. Unlike what shows would have done in the past, i.e. “replace one black guy with another one,” New Girl boldly broke the mold and took on two prominent black characters. This breach of the “only one member of an ethical group allowed per white sitcom” code further pushed New Girl into unchartered territory as far as racial identity is concerned.

A Brave New World

It isn’t often that a cable sitcom comes around and challenges age-old formulas and unwritten rules that most writers and directors would just assume their audiences want.

In fact, shows that cannot fit into any category are often left by the wayside, dying quick one-season deaths, or never even making it beyond the pilot phase. New Girl managed to dodge this fate through strong writing, a likable cast, and an immediate following that has remained loyal to the show for the duration of its run.

Hopefully, other sitcom writers, directors, and producers can take up this charge and step forward with smart, challenging, and non-stereotypical fare for the TV viewing public. As a rapidly changing society fueled by recent leaps in ethnic advances and LGBT awareness, the viewing public no longer needs to the stale, formulaic fare win.

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The message is simple: To win the hearts of today’s viewers, shows must be willing to push the envelope.

Featured photo credit: Caitlyn Wilson via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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