New Girl’s Schmidt, played by Max Greenfield, is the kind of guy who desperately tries to be cool, which usually makes him seem anything but. But beneath his jerky surface, Schmidt is actually incredibly genuine. He cares about everything—some would say too much. We also learn that his need to be seen as cool comes from growing up painfully uncool. And knowing who he is and where he came from gives him the confidence he needs to be unapologetically Schmidt. Here’s our Take on how Schmidt is defined by his lack of cool, and how his uncool past is both a blessing and a curse.
New Girl’s Schmidt: The Upsides of Being Uncool
Among one of TV’s best ensembles, New Girl’s Schmidt can’t help but stand out. For countless viewers, his quirky charms made him the best part of the show. This is even more remarkable considering Schmidt is, well, a douchebag. He’s the kind of guy who spends his whole life desperately trying to be cool, which usually makes him seem anything but. But beneath his jerky surface, Schmidt is actually incredibly genuine. He cares about everything — some would say too much. We also learn that his need to be cool comes from growing up painfully uncool. Schmidt’s douchey persona masks some deep-seated insecurities, and his emotional immaturity makes it difficult for him to move on. But knowing who he is and where he came from also gives him the confidence he needs to be unapologetically Schmidt. Here’s our take on how Schmidt is defined by his lack of cool, and how his uncool past is both a blessing and a curse.
Jess: “You’re a good guy, you know. If you ignore everything that you do on purpose and concentrate on all of the things that you do by accident.” – New Girl, 1x05
Growing Up Schmidt
Schmidt prides himself on keeping up with trends — often before anyone else has heard of them.
Schmidt: “It’s after Labor Day. I’m wearing whales.” – New Girl, 2x03
But chasing fads is relatively new for Schmidt. The glimpses we see of his earlier years paint a very different picture. Being raised by his mom, Schmidt is used to, and comfortable with, displaying a more feminine energy. Being repeatedly abandoned by his father makes Schmidt want to be a better, more feeling man. Young Schmidt is characterized by his sweet (albeit dorky) disposition and eagerness to please. But by the time we meet him, Schmidt has changed. He’s insensitive, inappropriate, and far too eager to take off his shirt. It doesn’t take long for us to realize that Schmidt is overcompensating. In his formative years, Schmidt’s weight was an excuse for his peers to isolate him from important social inclusion — mocking him under the guise of ‘friendship’ or ignoring him altogether.
Benjamin: “We used to make him sing that because he was fat.”
[Jess stares in shock]
Benjamin: “You know I’m just playing at you.”
Schmidt: “Yeah, hilarity, my man. Hilarity!” – New Girl, 1x10
There’s a long history of turning a character’s weight into a joke on-screen. Using fat suits is a common visual punchline. And we often see them deployed to mark an out-of-control chapter in a character’s life — Monica Geller, Barney Stinson, James Van Der Beek in Don’t Trust the B——in Apartment 23, Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her, and Adama in Battlestar Galactica, to name a few. Putting Schmidt in a fat suit certainly earned its own share of criticism, yet it’s notable that Schmidt’s experiences go beyond a throwaway joke. Being overweight informs his internal life. Studies show that weight-bias can foster higher levels of loneliness or anxiety. It’s difficult for Schmidt to see the value in himself, after so many years of being mocked and excluded.
By the time he loses weight, the damage has been done — Schmidt learns that changing your image won’t necessarily fix how you feel. In hopes of fitting in with a world that hasn’t been kind to him, Schmidt adapts by becoming an arguably worse person. But rather than improving his life, putting all his focus into his new ‘baller’ lifestyle only seems to make him more insecure. As actor Max Greenfield puts it, “[h]e thinks he’s a different person now, but he’s not. I think he was far more lovable and likeable when he was a little bit bigger. Now that he’s lost the weight… he thinks he has to act a certain way.”
Elizabeth: “You were the greatest boyfriend. I loved Big Guy. But then you lost weight, and you got mean.” – New Girl, 2x22
Schmidt’s new lifestyle creates the trendy narcissist we meet in New Girl’s pilot. But his high self-esteem remains colored by self-doubt. For every great friend like Nick, he keeps a fellow douche like Benjamin around, reinforcing his negative feelings about himself. He even flexes on his real friends, fabricating a rivalry with Winston over this compulsive need to prove himself. The more we learn about him, the more obvious it becomes: Schmidt is obsessed with his image, and it seems to explain almost everything he does. He regularly brags about his success at work, but in reality, his job is far from fulfilling, or even very healthy. His pursuit of status feels endless, because he wants it to fill the much bigger hole within himself. Instead of looking for what will actually make him happy, he sets his sights on everything he couldn’t have before. And being so unable to move on from the pain of his past ends up ruining the things that matter most.
Schmidt: “And I got caught up in this thing, and I used to be so fat… And now I’m not, and girls like me, and I don’t know how to do this.” – New Girl, 3x03
Schmidt In Love
The area where Schmidt’s life changes the most is female attention — from his socially awkward college years to the unrepentant womanizer we meet as the series begins. When his romantic life picks up, Schmidt’s experience with women is still fairly limited. He regards them as an ‘other,’ not as equals or even real people, and some of his attitudes toward them are borderline offensive.
Jess: “Oh, my God. You slept with the same girl twice in a row? Was it a mistake? Was she wearing some kind of disguise?” – New Girl, 1x14
But Schmidt wants to be there for the people that need him. By including Jess in his inner circle, he demonstrates that, despite some of his behavior, he doesn’t really think of women solely as conquests.
Through Jess, he meets Cece: the most frequent target of his douchebag behavior, but also the best catalyst for him to finally start growing up. Over the course of the show, it becomes clear that Schmidt and Cece truly belong together, but it takes time to get there. From season to season, Schmidt’s hang-ups continue to sabotage their relationship. Schmidt doesn’t consider himself worthy of Cece, so he accepts that she doesn’t want to be seen with him. Their secret fling eventually does blossom into something more equal, but even then, Schmidt can’t make peace with their imbalance. He can’t help feeling inadequate, especially when comparing himself to the men in Cece’s world.
Schmidt: You know, she’s a good egg. She’s never gonna be happy with somebody like me, Jess. - New Girl, 1x24
We see that relatively early in their connection, Cece actually does like Schmidt. But he just can’t seem to accept that someone like her could be fulfilled with him. Schmidt’s low self-esteem and the trauma of his past makes him naturally more prone to feelings of rejection. Eventually, he realizes he’d rather end things with Cece than risk getting hurt. And he frames the break-up as him doing her a favor — that he loves her enough to think she deserves someone better. Schmidt only becomes ready to be with Cece by dating other people, which allows him to outgrow his old bad habits. When he reconnects with his college girlfriend Elizabeth, his reasoning is just as immature and selfish as ever.
Schmidt: “I want you to pretend to be my girlfriend, so she gets very sad, and then breaks off the wedding, and then runs away with me.” – New Girl, 2x22
But it proves to be an important step in his self-improvement: for the first time, he revisits his uncool past willingly. He deliberately brings someone into his life who reminds him of a time before his personality was all cardigan collections and celebrity trivia. And while at first, he acts embarrassed of Elizabeth, just like Cece did with him, unlike Schmidt, Elizabeth is happy with herself. Dating her for a second time helps Schmidt access the side of himself that doesn’t care so much about what others think. While he and Elizabeth end pretty terribly, even that experience teaches Schmidt something about himself: When he cheats on her and gets caught, Schmidt sees that he’s important enough to hurt Elizabeth — he can’t play the victim forever.
His next significant relationship is the other side of the same coin. For a while, Schmidt likes being arm candy to Fawn, an ambitious politician — and at least at first, he doesn’t mind being used as a tool in her campaign. But eventually, being with Fawn helps Schmidt realize that he deserves more.
Fawn: “You’ll be rich, I’ll be powerful.”
Schmidt: “I’m realizing… just now, that that’s not what I want.” – New Girl, 4x21
Over time, and through much trial and error, Schmidt begins to let go of the insecurities at the root of his relationship problems. He comes out on the other side with none of the baggage and all of the good qualities his true friends always knew were there. And by the time he proposes to Cece, he’s fully his own man.
Why We Love Schmidt
Schmidt is easily one of New Girl’s most popular characters outside the show, even if that sentiment isn’t always shared inside it. We’re used to seeing the jerk-turned-hero on screen — many of them with their own sympathetic back stories, most of them equally well-liked. Yet few seem as easy to love as Schmidt. So, what is it that makes us see past his douch-iest qualities and focus on the sweeter side of Schmidt?
Unlike similar character types, he owns his emotional baggage.
Schmidt: “I think we’re all a little bit crazy. Don’t you think, Jess?” – New Girl, 1x16
Schmidt wears his heart on his sleeve, which makes him sympathetic — even when he doesn’t deserve much sympathy. He also sincerely cares about his friends, in contrast to cynical characters whose inner pain sees them keeping everyone else at a distance. Schmidt’s blossoming friendship with Jess helps us track this good in him. From the beginning, his earnest attempts to help her move on from Spencer prove just how loyal he can be. And his unconditional love for Nick sometimes feels more passionate than any of his romances. While some characters’ scumbag improprieties are impossible to overlook, Schmidt’s willingness to atone allows us to believe he has a good heart, and that he has the capacity to get better, even if it’s a slow process.
Schmidt: “[to Cece] You, I will never give up.” – New Girl, 1x11
Although he has a clear chip on his shoulder, he also doesn’t brood about it like others. He lives with the trauma of his past, but the show also lets us laugh at and with Schmidt, which makes him easier to connect with emotionally. In the end, his ‘redemption’ doesn’t seem like a reversal or a surprise. We already know he’s a lovable jerk, so we root for him, and when he actually improves, we celebrate. As Schmidt marries and settles down with Cece, we watch him grow into the kind of dedicated father he always lacked, one who wants only the best for little Ruth Bader Parekh Schmidt. Schmidt outgrows the behavior that makes him a douche and keeps what makes him Schmidt.
The fact that Schmidt, for all his cool-guy bluster, is inherently uncool only makes us like him more. Caring too deeply about everything might not make him popular with the people he wants to impress, but it does make him relatable — and far more enjoyable for us to spend time with. And when he applies this attitude to helping his friends, we can even see the benefit in having someone like Schmidt around. Being unpopular, especially in our youth, can be detrimental to our self-esteem, but Schmidt shows us how it can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. Our inner dork allows us to remain genuine, to be unusually sensitive, and to find people who like us for who we are. In the long run, embracing just how uncool we are makes us much happier than being cool ever will.
Schmidt: “I’m the cool rebel brother.”
Winston: “You’re the Mom.”
Jess: “Mom.” – New Girl, 1x16