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Why Didn't Schmidt From 'New Girl' Get To Be Queer?

This post contains minor spoilers of the above TV show. If you wanted to watch it and feel like this would ruin the experience for you, then here is your warning to stop reading this and go and watch it yourself!

This post also briefly discusses queerphobia, though no details are described. If this is something that you are uncomfortable with or unable to cope with, I won't blame you for skipping this post. Take care of yourself.

The cast of New Girl. They are stood on a balcony, looking off at something the distance.
Source: IndieWire

I love sitcoms. Even the bad ones. Even the very heterosexual ones where you know who is going end up with who in the first episode. It can be so hard to get comedy right. It can be so hard to get characters right. And it can be especially hard to do both of these at the same time. So when a show like this exists, I will cling to it, even with its glaring errors. I'm someone who stuck with How I Met Your Mother to the bitter and unsatisfying end. I will endure a lot for some good old fashioned 'we're-a-hot-friend-group-who-eventually-all-end-up-fucking-each-other' fun.

New Girl is elite in this category. I was skeptical at first, as I am with anything that niche groups on the internet obsess over, because I unfortunately cannot seem to let go of the contrarian inside me who wants to hate well-liked things. So when I sat down to watch this show over the past month, I was fully expecting to stop after a couple of episodes into Season 1. Luckily, this show is one of the best sitcoms I've ever watched, excelling in every way from character arcs to running gags, even getting celebrity cameos right. I experienced joy and I'm very mad about it.

The friends on this show feel like real friends. Friends who often speak in non-sequiturs and always seem to know what to say, but friends nonetheless. What's more, it's just nice. Not just in how it makes you feel but in how the characters resolve their conflicts. There are many comedies where I am entertained but it's very obvious that the characters are terrible people, and it's not always clear that the writers are aware of that. 

In place of cheap jokes about race or sexuality are a genuine to desire to look at these issues with kindness, and if not this then a very liberal, post-racial indifference. At times, it does give the vibe that these issues are not worth taking seriously, as it's implied that we already live in a progressive enough world. I'm not saying this is a terrible thing the show does; it's actually very common in an entertainment system predicated on the idea of maintaining the status quo. It's more of a neutral observation on my part, but I will say it's preferable to cheap jokes at the expense of everyone not white and straight.

Schmidt and Cece from New Girl. Both are smiling.
Source: Vulture

With all of this said, let's focus of the disaster child that is Schmidt. From flashbacks and the use of an unacceptable fat suit, we learn that he was an 'ugly duckling' who flowered into a neurotic ladies man with a penchant for kinky sex and mean women. He is also my favourite character if you couldn't tell. What can I say? I love a terrible person who tries very hard at everything all the time, very slowly becoming a better person due to being in the proximity of kind people.

One thing I knew about Schmidt from the first season is that this was a queer character written by straight writers who refused to ever have him come out but continued to make sly hints about the possibility of him being attracted to men. He's always clean, he's very affectionate towards the men in his life and despite his actions in the first couple of seasons, he's a deeply caring person. Of course, these alone aren't signifiers of queerness but despite my high praises before, these do end up becoming his recurring joke. He says inappropriate things to Nick, a quintessential straight man, that make him uncomfortable and whilst gay jokes aren't made explicitly, the existence of these traits with no actual queerness to show for it feels as though it's still mocking the idea that a man would act this way. Whilst there are occasions where it's Nick who is being mocked for not being in touch with his feelings enough to accept Schmidt's love, most of the time it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Whilst watching this, it reminded me of another sitcom character who was clearly ripe for a queerness: Chandler Bing. Now, I'm not the first to say this. In fact, he was originally going to be a gay character, until the writers decided to make him straight. It's been a popular reading for years, and whilst Friends has been off the air for a long time, the tropes from that show have still managed to be supplanted into this one. It seems that the bare bones of comedy, at least in the minds of American sitcom writers, rely on this aversion to queerness, especially when it relates to a male character. New Girl just so happens to be a very modern version of this, giving us breadcrumbs like the recurring lesbian gynecologist, Sadie, and Reagan, a bisexual pharmaceutical rep. Both of these characters are women and neither are in the main cast.

It's frustrating to have to imagine what it would be like to have queer characters in a show you really like, because all of the infrastructure is there for the character. The writers just did none of the work to make this materialise. There is an alternate universe, where queer writers were involved in this TV show and this character was allowed to be out. He may have gotten together with Nick. He may have ended up with Cece. But it would have been explicit. And it would have been a better show.


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