A Love Letter to Hannah Simone and Cecelia Parikh of ‘New Girl’

New Girl” aired it’s final episode this week, ending its seven-season run on FOX. The show edged its way into being one of the more peculiar, sublime comedies on television with every passing season. It overcame some of its own shortcomings, going out almost as strong as it was when it premiered in 2011.

Over the years, every main character overcame the archetypes they were ladled with in the beginning. Zooey Deschanel’s Jessica Day was a polka dot-loving, cutesy cute teacher who gave the word ‘adorkable’ a whole new meaning. She moves into an apartment with three single men: Jake Johnson’s Nick Miller, an oblivious man-child, Max Greenfield’s Schmidt, a good-hearted douche, and Lamorne Morris’s Winston Bishop, a likable oddball. And then there was Cecelia Parikh.

Hannah Simone’s character was initially introduced as Jess’s BFF; a hot and snarky fashion model. On any other show, a role like Cece would be the perfect formulaic approach to prop up the protagonist’s story. On “New Girl,” she turned into an endearing lead herself, pushing boundaries of what it means to be a self-realized Indian-American woman who is willing to grow, to give love a chance, to be real and funny and quirky, to be living that hyphenated identity life.

In theory, any actress could have played Cece, only the last name did not need to be Parikh. By casting Simone in the role, “New Girl” creator Elizabeth Meriweather and the writers blessed us with South Asian-American representation we really needed to see on-screen. They didn’t diminish her to her culture. Instead, they used it to add more value to Cece, to her beautiful relationship with Schmidt, and by default, to the show overall.

Simone emerged as the show’s breakout actress because she was fairly unknown before. She played the role with lots of depth, not holding herself back at all, whether the scenes required physical comedy or emotional outpouring. Her strength lies in her ability to retain humor and wit in her dialogue delivery and facial expressions. The show used this to the fullest.

Plus, Cece wasn’t stereotyped to her ethnicity. She ain’t playing no doctor or engineer or lawyer. She’s a model, she gets her GED and attends community college, she works as a bartender to make money, and in the end, runs her own successful model company. She was grounded in reality and a hard worker but she was also a wild child. In many ways, her character was a breath of fresh air not just for the South Asian audiences watching but also for the American viewers, who were getting a glimpse of the many facets of our life.

For someone who was introduced as a best friend of the lead, Cece wasn’t pigeonholed to that definition alone. Her friendship with Jess always remained one of the best aspects of “New Girl” because the two women relied on each other, fixed each other, and supported each other in many ways. It was an equal partnership.

That’s not to say Cece’s roots weren’t important to several story arcs because they were, especially in her evolving love life. In season 2, she almost gets married to Shivrang (Satya Bhabha) through an arranged marriage after meeting a number of Indian men. She does this because she’s healing a broken heart after her relationship with Schmidt ends. Come season 5, she and Schmidt are engaged and her mother isn’t too happy about it. In order to win her over, Schmidt performs and entire song-and-dance routine.

Their wedding, in which she was decked in a white dress but with a red dupatta on her head, was an equally moving episode. The two called their first home Jaipur Aviv, a tribute to Cece’s Indian and Schmidt’s Jewish heritage.

After seven seasons, Cece remained as headstrong and fierce as she was at the start. Yet, her personality morphed into an even more realistic, relatable, soulful character. There aren’t many famous leading South Asian-American woman in TV comedy and Simone will always stand out as one of the few who created a niche for herself with her talent. It’s sad to see “New Girl” go but at the same time, I’m excited to see the other peaks Simone will go on to conquer.

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