New Girl relies on quirky lead
On a new sitcom on Fox, Zooey Deschanel (500 Days of Summer) stars in New Girl as the endearingly awkward Jess Days. In a hilarious flashback that starts off the show, Jess prances around naked in her boyfriend’s apartment, clumsily knocking over plants and accompanying her awkward seduction attempts with a goofy song. Naïve and adorable, she is taken unaware when she realizes her boyfriend was with another girl, prompting her to move out and find a new apartment.
The new roommates she stumbles upon are an unlikely match for her. Coach (Damon Wayans) is the short-tempered personal trainer for Schmidt (Max Greenfield), a self-proclaimed ladies’ man. The two make a humorous duo, and their over-the-top antics are balanced by their down-to-earth roommate, Nick (Jake Johnson). The episode suffers from some awkward insertion of necessary exposition, such as Nick’s break-up six months earlier. Although clunky, this is to be expected from a pilot episode.
Zooey Deschanel is the magic of the show, and she carries her co-stars throughout much of the episode. The timing of the other actors is not always on par, but luckily for them, the show doesn’t rely on quick-fire witty lines. Rather, it focuses on Jess’ quirky qualities, such as singing to herself and dropping references to Lord of the Rings, which make her imperfect and relatable.
It does require some suspension of disbelief to accept that Jess is supposedly an undesirable dating partner, because she is still physically attractive despite her awkwardness in social settings. In real life — or at least at Carnegie Mellon — a pretty girl who exposes her inner dork would have guys chasing after her from all directions.
At times, however, it seems that when the writers don’t know how to end a scene, they resort to Jess dancing badly or singing a funny couplet. When they don’t use this method, sometimes a plainly bad line ends a scene, like when Coach tells Jess, “Your hair is on fire,” as she styles it with her curling iron. Dull lines like these make one feel like the show is riding on Deschanel’s quirky and adorable coattails, rather than clever writing or interesting characters.
While Nick is a nuanced character, which we see in his interactions with his ex-girlfriend, the other two male characters seem caricature-like. Schmidt is a sleazeball the entire episode, and he doesn’t act sweetly toward Jess the same way the others do. Coach’s random short-tempered explosions are stressful, not funny. Of course, there is always room for these characters to grow throughout the season.
New Girl has the potential to turn into a reference-worthy show with gags like the Douchebag Jar, in which Schmidt has to put money when he says something sleazy, or Jess’ terrible pick-up line, “Hey, sailor.” However, most people will ultimately continue to watch it for its cute and quirky lead girl, not for original or side-splitting writing.