For more explanation of this month’s theme, “millennials in thirty things,” check out this post.

Because Buzzfeed provides almost endless distraction, I found myself perusing its pages the other week and stumbled upon this gem, and then I saw it posted by nearly half of my Facebook friends. That the words of Nick Miller might make their way onto ironic poster scenes might at first seem contradictory, but really it makes all the sense in the world. Though he’s 30ish, in more than one way his character represents the stereotypes, characterizations, and pseudo-realities of so-called “millenials.” He asks deep questions about meaningless things (“When does a hill become a mountain?”), flaunts his trendy accomplishments (“I’ve done things. I wrote half a book about zombies.”), and postpones what he deems unimportant (“I haven’t done laundry in five months.”).

Really, I don’t know what to make of Nick Miller, but I love him. Through him, the writers of New Girl capture all the ridiculousness of easing into adulthood—you know, the stuff that shouldn’t be inspirational but somehow is. He’s lazy, but it comes across as conviction; he’s grumpy, but it’s all too endearing. There are obviously things about Nick Miller that are less than inspiring, but his faults are exaggerated in a way that makes them forgivable. Why? Because his life is a mess, he knows it, and yet he moves through. Cynicism lurks behind almost everything he says (“Don’t trust your government, kids”), but it never dominates his character.

Perhaps the most defining moment of his development on the show comes in season three (now available on Netflix!), episode eleven. The gang is gathered around the bar, and Jess is trying to decide between taking a new job or staying on as a teacher. As Erik Adams of AV Club notes here, the episode ultimately asks how we make (or don’t make) decisions. At the end of the episode, Nick reveals that he passed the bar exam to become a lawyer, but took the test only to prove to himself that bartending is what he “really wanted.” Suddenly, this lazy and unambitious goof transforms into a hard-working, could-be lawyer. The way he is in the world now is the result of a decision, not the result of bartending being the only thing that caters to his apparent lethargy.

Maybe, though, “decision” is the wrong word to use. It feels too cognitive, too trapped in the mind. Maybe “desire” better explains the motives behind Nick’s life. After all, as Adams observes, Nick claims this at the end of the episode: “I want this. It makes me happy.” Even though Nick Miller typically has trouble expressing himself (“If feelings were made to be talked about, they’d be called talkings”), he opens up here: he bartends because it fulfills his desire to be happy. Sure, he cognitively decided to become a bartender, but it’s the desire to be happy that fuels this decision. And that gets to the core of why Nick Miller is such a relatable character. He desires and he wants and he isn’t afraid to wear that on his sleeve (see the quotes above or watch this to know what I mean).

We’re all the same way, especially those of us who fall into the “millenial” subtype. We’re fueled by the desire to live into a story, and in a way that shapes our identities significantly. That is a good thing. But, personally, I don’t think Nick goes far enough. I don’t think his desire is aimed toward the fullest picture of what it means to be human. Happiness is not quite enough, and anyone who wanted to punch a wall after hearing Pharrell’s song more than three times knows what I’m talking about.

So what is enough? For Christians, the goal of desire is finally intimacy with the Triune God through union with Christ. That is who we are; that is what we aim for. Nick Miller characterizes our desiring hilariously, and we love him for it. But the end of our desire is so much more.[1]

 

[1] This “anthropology of desire” in Christian theology stems back to Augustine and has seen a resurgence in the works of James K.A. Smith and others. Recent psychology has also started to formulate a similar conception of who we are as humans.

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