When Jessica Day first moved into the loft with three men she met on Craigslist on New Girl (2011 - ), one thing was clear: she was the titular new girl in their lives and always would be. Until now. Actress Zooey Deschanel's pregnancy necessitated her taking leave from the show during Season 5, but rather than have her room in the loft be empty – and girl-less – show writers and producers decided to sublet the room to another character, another new girl in town: Reagan, played by Megan Fox. While the premise is the same, new girls Jess and Reagan are very different characters.
Jess is described by the show’s advertising as “simply adorkable” – she is a sweet, naïve, artistic, bubbly schoolteacher-turned-vice-principal who likes dressing up, acting silly and singing to herself. In “Pepperwood” (S2E14) she says her one rule is “Don’t steal my yarn,” and in the pilot Nick says people like Jess “live on a sparkly rainbow, and drive a unicorn around, and just sing all the time.”
The adorkable Jessica Day
Reagan is a strong, confident, athletic, private, bisexual professional who travels a lot for her job and keeps a wad of Canadian bills on her because she doesn’t trust banks. In “Wig” (S5E7), Nick describes her as “a goddess who’s descended from the heavens,” and in “Heat Wave” (S5E9) he tells her “you’re beautiful, and you’re smart, and you’re mean but in a hot way.”
The athletic and confident Reagan
The characters also have different moral codes. Despite the potential to advance her career, Jess is unable to lie to get out of Jury Duty, even though doing so would result in her being acting principal at the school where she works. Reagan, however, has no trouble lying using multiple fake IDs to get into hospitals which do not want to meet with a pharmaceutical representative, and she is surprised in “Wig” to find out that “telling the truth works!”
Likewise, the two have markedly different views on the value of friends. Shortly after moving into the loft, Jess is ready to be fast friends with her roommates, telling her ex-boyfriend in "Kryptonite" (S1:E2), "I’m living with three guys I met on the internet…but I love these guys. I barely know them, and I just met him, but I love them." Meanwhile, within hours of meeting the same guys, Reagan tells the roommates she has no interest in being friends with them, saying, "I don’t want this anyways, some weird friend group shenanigans" and "I actually like being a loner" in the episode “Reagan” (S5:E6).
But the two characters also have some things in common. Both find in the friendship group a solid community that will support them through relationship ups-and-downs. In “Kryptonite” (S1:E2) when Jess has a stand-off with her ex-boyfriend at his home, the roommates and Cece come to her aid and help her retrieve her things. Similarly, in “Wig” (S5:E7) Reagan has a stand-off with a girl she is dumping, and the roommates and Cece back up Reagan’s claim that she’s a criminal, telling the ex that they are all members of a Japanese crime family.
“You guys are awesome. I’m going to make you so much jam.” (S1:E2)
“You guys could have bailed on me but you didn’t. You stuck around and you helped me lie to a psychotic woman who is now destroying all of my stuff.” (S5:E7)
Moreover, while Reagan might claim she doesn’t want to become emotionally entangled with her new roommates, she does become involved with their personal lives much in the same way that Jess did. Reagan helps Schmidt and Cece make up after a fight, encourages Winston to ask his partner out, offers the gang access to her air conditioner, and helps Nick fix the apartment’s electricity. She may assert that she likes being a lone wolf, but like Jess she is invested in the friends and sticks by them. To keep the group dynamic it is necessary for Reagan to have the same interest in the group of friends as Jess does, whether she will admit it or not.
The characters of Jess and Reagan also appear to be based in large part on the actresses who portray them. Deschanel is known for her quirky characters, her singing in the band She & Him, and her co-creating the positive website for women HelloGiggles.com. What’s more, Deschanel has said that the character of Jess resembles a 13-year-old version of herself. Meanwhile, Fox is seen in the public eye as hot, mean and cool, due to the kinds of characters she's played and media reports on her life (although Fox herself has claimed this public image is inaccurate). Letting the characters reflect the actresses (or at least how we view the actresses) draws on the characteristics that viewers already love about both women. Likewise, allowing Reagan to be a different character from Jess gives the writers, directors and actors the opportunity to explore new directions for the group of friends. It also lets Fox give the character life, rather than being a cheap facsimile of Deschanel’s character.
There is still some question as to whether Fox’s character will leave the show permanently when Deschanel returns from maternity leave. Since Reagan and Jess each have had romantic involvements with Nick, there is a potential for a volatile relationship between the two female characters. However, series creator Liz Meriwether told TV Line, "I didn’t want to write a story with two women at each other’s throats. So we went the other direction with it. We kept all of the drama inside [Nick’s] head." Meriwether's comments indicate that, if Reagan remains on the show, New Girl may find more inventive and interesting ways to explore both "new girls" together without resorting to tired love-triangle storylines.