There is arguably no funnier scene in New Girl than when Cece Parekh double-dipped her fingers into Schmidt’s pudding while he cooked the group’s first Thanksgiving meal. I remember literally crying from laughing to the point where my stomach ached, and I could hardly catch my breath.
At that moment, I truly understood what it meant to watch a South Asian-American character that you could laugh with, rather than laugh at.
Before New Girl, most South Asian characters in TV and film were perpetually stuck in the cycle of stereotypical side character roles. Boring, under-developed, and underwhelming. Think Raj from The Big Bang Theory, Apu from The Simpsons, and of course, the Patil twins and their god-awful Yule Ball outfits in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. (Seriously, the costume department could have picked, like, virtually any other gorgeous South Asian ‘fit out there!) The South Asian girlies were literally relying on crumbs for years.
But Cece? Cece was sexy, wise, and hilarious. In the beginning of the series, she flaunted her beauty and used her charm to mess with Schmidt, especially during his douchebag phase. But when they slept together, she even admitted feeling vulnerable about the way she looked because guys would flaunt her as some prize to win. Later on, Schmidt proclaimed that Cece had the wisdom of a thousand white women and throughout the show, the others always trusted her (even when Winston’s girlfriend KC broke up with him because of her advice). Her loyalty was also always front and center, like when Cece went along with Winston’s crazy plan to pretend that he died to get back at his girlfriend KC (a classic Cece and Winston mess around), or when she went full-on mama bear on the overzealous mall cop that detained her and Jess when they were high.
Beyond Cece’s enviable qualities — she’s the smartest and most level-headed character on the show, and you can fight me on that — Cece’s culture and identity is so seamlessly integrated into the story. There have been countless shows in which women of color, like Lane Kim in Gilmore Girls, jumped through hoops to reject their cultural backgrounds. And while that’s a valid experience for some, it was refreshing to see the opposite. Cece’s desi-ness was an extension of her, rather than just the butt of the joke or the problem to solve, and the way the rest of the New Girl gang openly embracing her identity was a sight unseen on a major network sitcom at the time. Even moments as subtle as Cece correctly pronouncing “Pakistan” in a heated discussion with Nick Miller and referencing Amitabh Bachchan and Salman Khan when mentioning her uncle Shishir with Jess added an invaluable layer of humor and depth to New Girl’s charm that made watching 20 straight hours of it more entertaining.
“I did not grow up ever seeing someone who looked like me on a TV show like Friends. I remember Liz looking at me like, ‘we just cast the funniest girl,’” Hannah Simone, who played Cece, told Refinery29 in a 2018 interview. “It was wonderful that all that Indian content came because they happened to cast someone who is half Indian, as opposed to ‘we got all these Indian jokes, go find an Indian actress.’”
Cece’s character opened the door for more authentic South Asian representation in entertainment. Bridgerton expertly integrated South Asian music into its score for season 2 and fashion inspiration into the Sharmas’ wardrobe (don’t mind me, just obsessively wearing baby jhumkas with all of my outfits), while Ms. Marvel accurately portrays the family dynamics of a modern South Asian family and the life of a Muslim girl in high school. Now everytime I run into any problem, I remind myself that I, like my South Asian-American queen Cece before me, can just channel the wisdom of a thousand white women within me to solve them without fail.