The new fall television season has begun, and with the premiere of its third season last week, New Girl is poised to make the lineup look a little different. It features a plus-size character, Elizabeth (Merritt Weaver, who just won an Emmy for her work in Nurse Jackie), as a love interest. The only problem? This refreshing portrayal of a different body type involves a love triangle that could end with Elizabeth being written out of the show.
The episode "All In" picked up where the last season left off, with Schmidt (Max Greenfield) choosing between his ex-girlfriend Cece (Hannah Simone), a model, and his plus-sized girlfriend Elizabeth, who knew him when he was a "Big Guy" in college. While Cece and Schmidt have been set up as partners from the beginning of the show, it wasn't until Schmidt was reunited with Elizabeth that he became more developed as a character. Elizabeth has infused the show with a hilarious, body-positive energy.
Since its first episodes, New Girl has teased viewers with Schmidt’s history as a Big Guy. The only notable change between the old Schmidt and the new Schmidt is a number on the scale, and recurring flashbacks to fat Schmidt were rarely funny. It wasn’t until Elizabeth was introduced that fat Schmidt began to develop into a complex person, instead of a cheap gag.
When Schmidt showed up on Elizabeth’s doorstep for the first time in years in the season two episode "Bachelorette Party," Schmidt assumed he had the power in their relationship. He had lost weight since they dated, while Elizabeth remained plus-sized. However, Elizabeth turned the tables, telling him, "No, I can’t take you seriously when you’re wearing such tight pants."
Instead of being insecure about her weight in the way Schmidt always was (and perhaps continues to be), Elizabeth owns her body. While Schmidt was scavenging for a date in this episode, Elizabeth had dates lined up.
The opening scene of "Bachelorette Party" foreshadowed the fat-skinny binary represented by Schmidt’s past and present. Schmidt, desperate to find a date for his model ex-girlfriend Cece’s wedding, startled a woman in a parking lot. The woman — who is quite thin — dropped her bag in fright and ran away, leaving Schmidt shocked to see her purchases from the grocery, "Cream cheese in bulk!"
This insignificant (though hilarious) moment shows that a person's appearance isn't a predictor of one’s personality or preferences — an assumption that most of the fat Schmidt jokes have relied on until this point. This convention is overthrown completely when Elizabeth takes charge of her relationship with Schmidt, instead of giving into insecurity, when society, represented by Schmidt’s coworker, doesn’t believe a plus-sized woman like her deserves a thin man.
"I’m only going to say this once," Elizabeth tells Schmidt, "You were the greatest boyfriend. I loved Big Guy. But then you lost weight and you got mean. You stopped listening to me, you changed completely, you stopped paying for my dinner … You were sitting there eating one basil leaf, looking like an idiot panda bear ... Look, I love Big Guy with all my heart, but I have no interest in helping the guy who’s standing in front of me now. I hate your hair."
Schmidt was stunned by this speech. The idea that losing weight could have brought out the bad in Schmidt runs contrary to Hollywood’s conventions and society’s expectations. Even more amazingly, by the end of the episode, Schmidt begins to see that Elizabeth may be right. Schmidt has become less sensitive and less aware of his actions since he has lost weight, and Elizabeth challenges his privilege. To gain her forgiveness, Elizabeth makes Schmidt eat an entire pizza while she watches. Schmidt’s charming reintroduction to pizza shows that maybe it is possible to be happier, and a more considerate person, as a "Big Guy." New Girl creator Liz Meriwether finds Elizabeth’s character to be, "so funny in such a real, emotional way. I love what she does to Schmidt. She brings out this other side of him. I definitely think she’s going to continue being in his life."
In the second season's finale, "Elaine’s Big Day," Elizabeth continues to hold her own when Cece admits she wants Schmidt. Remarkably, model Cece is jealous of Elizabeth, regardless of her weight. While they wait for Schmidt to make his decision, Cece and Elizabeth show no resentment toward each other. They act logically instead of playing into stereotypes about jealous women. Elizabeth knows that she has just as good of a chance of being Schmidt's choice, and that whatever his choice is, she will be fine.
In the season three premiere, Cece and Elizabeth continue to defy the catfight trope. Instead, each expresses concern for the other's feelings. Unfortunately, Schmidt has not actually made his choice yet, but he will likely be forced to in the next episode. New Girl should take this opportunity to resolve last season's cliffhanger, and put an empowered, body-positive woman on television. It's about time for people to realize that the chubby girl can get the guy.