FOX‘s new comedy, New Girl, is a dangerous enterprise, and it isn’t helped by the fact that the line-up is going to change right after the pilot. It’s dangerous, because it’s a very particular brand of comedy, and one that is hard to categorize without using the word “silly.” That may or may not make for a successful show, but it’s a trickier gamble than most comedy offerings. At least, today.
There was a time when silly was all but the name of the game, and whether it was Ted Baxter, or Jack Tripper, the key descriptor of most comedy characters on television was “goofy.” That’s not today’s game, for good or ill, and the shows that make it are largely after quotes for their commercials that run along the lines of “clever,” “witty,” or at least, “laugh out loud funny.” Silly, even in its heyday, was rarely laugh out loud funny.
Of course, this is updated silliness, but making it through the antics of Zooey Deschanel‘s character, Jess, even in the pilot alone, without raising your eyebrows and thinking of her as little more than a kooky, goofy, silly anti-stereotype is a chore. I say “anti-stereotype,” because though her character is delivered in the fashion of an overused stock character, she has too many things going on to be an actual stereotype.
Her uber-sensitive, severely awkward nerd girl may be a mashing together of the simplistic views of many types, but eventually complexity of character wins out over the stereotype game. Maybe.
The difficulty lies in the fact that none of this is actually a bad thing. That’s obviously tricky, because it sure seems like it is, especially to today’s markets. You don’t hear a lot of chatter around the water-cooler about the great new show that everyone loves because it’s really silly.
In a nutshell, Jess finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her, and answers an ad for a roommate. The available room is in a loft apartment with three guys: Nick (Jake Johnson), a prickly bartender, Schmidt (Max Greenfield) a womanizer of sorts, and Coach (Damon Wayans, Jr.) a personal trainer. (Note – Due to the late pick-up of Wayans’ other show Happy Endings, Lamorne Morris joins the show after the pilot as Winston, when he returns from playing basketball in Latvia and takes back the room he was subletting to Coach)
The guys aren’t particularly interested in Jess becoming a regular part of their lives, until she mentions that all her friends are models. Even with that nugget, they aren’t all on board with the pro-con layout of the idea. Things go from bad to worse when, after moving in, Jess makes good on her threat to watch Dirty Dancing virtually non-stop for the foreseeable future. Finally, they decide they’re going to have to make the best of it, and if that’s going to go anywhere, they’re going to need to snap Jess out of her depression. Of course, getting back on the horse is a great idea, but it still involves some level of coordination, and putting Jess back into life sounds easy, but its an uphill struggle with her “adorkable” charm being a tough sell to the uninitiated.
The previews spell things out rather well, with Jess’ Stooge-esque “wonka wonka” personality displays making life difficult for a group of guys who are trying to shape her up to be back on the market. She’s a handful, and adorable quirkiness can trip over into irritating pretty quickly, but in the end, she’s so much character that the very manly men (and the audience) can’t help but fall for her.
Not only does the show make a play for updating how silly and zany play out in a show, balanced by the fairly “normal” guys who, even with a three-to-one advantage, can hardly cope, it also showcases a certain “nerd appeal” that has slowly taken over the culture for the last several years. Nerd girl is the new black, and like a sort of mashing of Felicia Day, Casey McKinnon, Cali Lewis, and Veronica Belmont, plus massive doses of “girlie-ness” (read: crying all over the place), Liz has at least one demographic of viewer wrapped up at the outset. Of course, that’s largely because Zooey Deschanel could have just as easily been part of that list.
The real question the show raises is, how quickly can people become enamored with such a beast these days? The pilot, while not exactly hilarious, is a lot of fun, and better put together than many comedy offerings, but this is the kind of show that probably needs a lot of establishment before viewers really fall in love with it. At least, that’s the objective outlook. I love the show in a kind of theoretical sense, but I need to know how things are going to play for the next several episodes before it moves past a fun, entertaining lark, into the realm of that which I am definitely not missing every week. That shouldn’t be seen as a negative really. It’s just that kind of show.
I hope it takes off, because I’d like to see how the show explores the male/female interplay it has in its arsenal, but we have to face the fact that this is a rough road. If this were on cable, I’d pretty confidently tell you to go ahead and commit now, because this is going to become one of your favorite shows. The hard truth is that the world of shows that need to run a while before they really get their hooks into you is a world that has a hell of a time making it on big network television anymore. A lot of your favorite wacky comedies from the past only had to compete with two other channels, and you could develop the relationship with your audience in a richer way.
All that said, there is no show coming this fall that I hope will succeed more than New Girl. It is wickedly fun, and takes on its characters with reckless abandon. Unfortunately, much of that hope stems from the fact that there are few shows that are a bigger question mark in the grand scheme of things. Here’s to hoping that a lot of people out there are willing to embrace their inner awkwardness, and follow the adventures of a character who could turn into the New It Girl for a new generation.
By the way, you can check out the pilot right now on iTunes – details below.
P.S. I just got off the phone with Zooey, so check back for that soon.
DEBUT EPISODE OF FOX’S NEW COMEDY “NEW GIRL” AVAILABLE NOW FOR FREE DOWNLOAD EXCLUSIVELY ON ITUNES
NEW GIRL, the new comedy series from executive producer and writer Liz Meriwether (“No Strings Attached”) and starring Zooey Deschanel (“(500) Days of Summer”), will be the first broadcast network series to offer its debut episode on iTunes prior to its televised premiere. The episode will be available for free on iTunes (www.itunes.com) from today until Monday, Sept. 19. NEW GIRL premieres the following day, Tuesday, Sept. 20 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT), on FOX.
In the debut episode, JESS DAY (Deschanel) discovers her long-term boyfriend is cheating on her and decides to move into a loft apartment with three male roommates – prickly bartender NICK (Jake Johnson), womanizer SCHMIDT (Max Greenfield) and intense personal trainer COACH (guest-star Damon Wayans, Jr.). The guys, alongside Jess’ childhood best friend CECE (Hannah Simone), try to help Jess get back on her feet and into the dating world.
NEW GIRL is produced by Chernin Entertainment in association with 20th Century Fox Television. The series is created and written by Liz Meriwether. Meriwether, Jake Kasdan (“Bad Teacher”), Peter Chernin (TERRA NOVA), Katherine Pope (TERRA NOVA), Dave Finkel (“United States of Tara,” “30 Rock”) and Brett Baer (“United States of Tara,” “30 Rock”) are executive producers. Kasdan directed the debut and will continue to direct episodes of the series.