It's hard to imagine now, but when FOX's New Girl premiered two seasons ago, critics weren't sure if it'd be any good. Zooey Deschanel's oft-mentioned "adorkability" was beginning to tire on people, and it took awhile to be convinced Deschanel wouldn't be totally annoying. But as the show entered season 2 and gained fans, the suits at FOX were "skeptical" of something else: whether it was feasible that Jess hook up with a dude and nothing more. A strictly sexual relationship. Friends With Benefits. Whatever label you prefer.
In an interview with The A.V. Club about planning the first part of season 2, the showrunners of New Girl explain their decision to take Deschanel's character Jess (who has just lost her job) in a new direction, by dating Sam, played by the very handsome David Walton (note his handsomeness. It becomes important later):
"We were looking at the firing as a way to kind of crack Jess open a little bit and have her do something she wouldn’t normally do which is what that episode was about. She tries to go off the grid, or she tries to juggle men and is terrible at it. Then it leads into this unhealthy sex-only relationship with Sam—we were excited to do something completely different than Justin Long or Dermot Mulroney."
But the network didn't see it quite that way. Executive producer Brett Baer explains:
"So that was an interesting change in thought for us, which was to go, 'Can we do that with this character? What would that look like?' There was a lot of discussion, the network had some questions about it, but they were very supportive. They just wanted to know if we knew what we were doing, to make sure we were coming out of it with a purpose, which ultimately was to have Jess’ heart broken, which we all thought would be interesting for her to have to do."
Ah, so it's been clarified now: there needed to be a narrative purpose to Jess' casual humping. And that purpose was...David Walton's hotness. Explains show creator Elizabeth Meriwether:
"The network was a little bit skeptical about the Jess character agreeing to go into this sex-only relationship, and I said, 'Just trust me, just trust me. We’ll shoot it, and you’ll see.' Then Walton came in and we shot that scene, and after that there were no more questions. [Laughs.] Obviously, that would happen."
At first, it seems like the big problem for FOX was that a) they didn't believe that Deschanel's character that would engage in such a relationship – which makes sense, given that she starts the show off as a woman who is broken because she's been cheated on by her serious boyfriend – and b) they didn't like the idea of her getting hurt. But executive producer David Finkel explains that duh, people change:
"One of the things we wanted to do this season—and we started it last season with Dermot—was to 'adult' Jess up and make her make adult decisions, and one of those decisions was that women, sometimes when they’re 30, have sex."
And Baer adds that, "One of the fun things about it was that last year was all about trying love and having her want to have fun was a good color on her—and that’s what Sam brought to the table."
New Girl has played a lot with the dynamics of having sex in and outside of a relationship: in episode 9 of this season, everyone's favorite character Schmidt realizes that the sex he's having with his dominatrix-y boss Emma isn't that great. He comes to the epiphany that he has "to have feelings to have good sex," adding, "I thought I'd be dead before that happened."
Jess' epiphany is just the opposite: she realizes that she can have good sex with someone she doesn't know. (Spoiler: It ends badly for her, but later she wins Sam over with her charm and they date for awhile. Whether this plot is realistic is debatable, but hey, it's probably happened to some woman, somewhere.) FOX comes to the realization that it's possible for Jess to want sex like this, probably because they knew female viewers would respond well to Walton and the plotline didn't get too dark. No such concern – that we know of, at least – has been expressed about Schmidt's equally sudden change of heart. There was, however, automatic hesitation (and perhaps nervousness) about depicting a female character in the opposite light.
Maybe this is news to the people at FOX, but as Elizabeth Meriwether explains, "Sometimes women make not-adult decisions." Or maybe, even more controversially, they are making adult decisions and sometimes the adult decision is to do what you want to do if you what you want to do feels like this:
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