The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
New Girl, a certifiably bingeable comfort show, has not lost its popularity. The story of a quirky lead character moving into an apartment with her best friends, along with their troubles and adventures, has clearly proven to be a successful plot. But does this storyline sound familiar? That’s because Friends did it first. As I wrapped up the final episodes of New Girl, I couldn’t help but compare the similarities between both shows, ultimately reaching the conclusion that New Girl is a reinterpretation ーbut also the ultimate improvementー to the classic 90’s sitcom.
Love it or hate it, Friends is a decade-defining show. It’s also a show that hasn’t exactly aged well. It’s not necessary to watch all 10 seasons to notice several issues in the show’s writing. In the context of its time period, it shouldn’t come as a surprise how much of Friends’ humor came at the expense of targeted minoritiesーyet it still does. The villainification of confirmed LGBTQ characters (most notoriously, Chandler’s transgender parent and Ross’s ex-wife’s partner, Susan) make it clear that queerness is a stereotypical punchline in the show’s flawed humor. Friends also lacks a diverse cast, with all of its main characters, and most of its supporting ones, being white. Now, the purpose of this comparison is not to criticize how realistic Friends is; however, the lack of representation in the show is definitely not an accurate portrayal of a group of 20-somethings living in New York. Last but not least, the show includes numerous instances of fatphobia, slut-shaming and sexism that contemporary viewers can most certainly perceive as unamusing at best and deeply problematic at worst.
In many ways, New Girl draws inspiration from its 90s precursor but manages to make a conscious attempt at improving some of Friends’ main tropes. Besides a very obvious plot of friends sharing an apartment, and a lot of scenes taking place in either bars or cafés, the similarities between both shows can be appreciated in the characters themselves. For instance, both shows have the loveable oddball characters that just so happens to love cats (Winston and his cat Furguson, and Phoebe with whatever cat she sings of), characters that are constantly changing careers, but who also have experience in the fashion industry (Cece and Rachel), the “funny” womanizer (Coach and Joey) and the metrosexual business grad that seems to be better off than the rest of the group in a financial sense, but struggles with both complicated family issues and his own masculinity (Schmidt and Chandler).
Now, the character of Schmidt can be best analyzed in an entirely separate post, but taking him as a case study for the show’s writing, it becomes clear how the character has evolved for good. At the beginning of New Girl, the character of Schmidt, played by Max Greenfield, is actually pretty terrible: he comes across as a sexist conservative, he tries to sabotage Cece’s possibilities of dating other men (even going so far as to ruin her first wedding), he often drops some seriously racist comments, particularly regarding Cece’s Indian heritage, and even tries to maintain romantic relationships with two characters at the same time in the third seasonーwithout any of them knowing about the other. While these behaviors are simply inexcusable, the show seems to make a constant effort at improving Schmidt, specifically through his approach to a portrayal of masculinity that is neither toxic nor repressed, ultimately turning him into a stay-at-home dad towards the end of New Girl. Do these gradual changes redeem him? Not necessarily, but they do demonstrate better, more responsible and dimensional writing for one of the show’s main characters. On another hand, Friends exemplifies and even celebrates toxic masculinity in the characters of Joey, who disregards any feelings of his romantic partners and consistently objectifies women, and Chandler, who leads women on and partakes in some very questionable behavior when it comes to his on-and-off romantic interest, Janice.
But more importantly than the protagonists themselves, both shows essentially run on friendshipsーthe way that these friendships are portrayed is essential to both New Girl and Friends. Neither of the shows shy away from specific relationships within the group, like deeper friendships and romantic interests between members of each friend group. While the friendships in Friends seem superficial, interest-driven and sometimes, painfully backstabbing, New Girl comes closer to healthy, positive friendships. The show stays faithful to close, long-term bonds between the characters of Schmidt and Nick and Cece and Jess, but also develops some unexpectedly powerful platonic relationships between Winston and Cece, and even Coach and Jess, who become each other’s wingperson after being coworkers. Throughout all of its seven seasons, New Girl demonstrates that friendships are a work in progress: never perfect, but solidified through time; and above all, built with trust. New Girl may not have set out to become the modern day Friends, but it definitely becomes a more current, better, and above all, entertaining, version of it.