It is not often that a show will, in the first five minutes, include a beautiful woman attempting to strip and knocking over a plant in the process. Fox’s new sitcom, “New Girl,” does just that, even turning the incident into an endearing joke about her clumsiness, leaving her to sing-song “I’ll pick that up later.” It follows the adventures of a quirky, twenty-something teacher, Jess (Zooey Deschanel), who struggles to get over an unexpected break-up with her boyfriend. With the help of three new male roommates, she tries to get back into the dating world. Fox has been heavily promoting the show by distributing the pilot on iTunes for free and by scheduling its premiere after showings of the highly-rated “Glee.”
The pilot begins with Jess in a taxicab on the way to surprise her boyfriend with a striptease. However, she catches him cheating on her, and immediately scrambles to find new housing. Through Craigslist, she comes by roommates in the form of three somewhat—but not completely—clichéd guys: Nick (Jake Johnson), a bartender pining for his ex-girlfriend of several months ago; Schmidt (Max Greenfield), a smooth-talking womanizer whose lines more often than not fall flat; and Coach (Damon Wayans Jr.), a personal trainer. However, Coach’s character will be replaced in the next episode by Winston (Lamorne Morris), as Wayans was needed for another show.
The premise is thin, and the show is written in a way that suggests that Jess will, end up in the arms of one of her roommates. Sexual tension will probably develop after several typical roommate situations, such as walking in on each other in the shower (as is slated to happen in episode three). The characters are not groundbreaking and the dialogue, while witty, is rather cheesy and predictable. One of the more clever running gags is the “douchebag jar,” similar to a swear jar, which Schmidt’s friends force him to donate to when he says something corny or idiotic, serving the dual purpose of comic relief and a “safety net” for the writers, who can blame the poor quality of their new humor on they jar if the jokes fall flat.
The glue that holds the sitcom together is, without a doubt, Deschanel. Her ”simply adorkable” (as the tagline states) Jess is not so different from the characters she typically plays: eccentric, sweet, and vivacious girls with comic bite. With her infectious exuberance, mesmerizing blue eyes, and charming-yet-snarky attitude, her captivating camera presence is so undeniable that the repetitive nature of her acting is nearly forgivable. Even so, at times her oft-criticized mannerisms are amplified to the point where she is no longer playing the typical bubbly doe-eyed hipster, but a caricature of it.
Her roommates are far less compelling, though each has his amusing moments. Coach is in all of one scene, in which he barks at a crying Jess to pick herself up and get out on the town. Nick is the nice, logical, desperately romantic guy of the house, and one hilarious scene features him calling his ex-girlfriend and attempting to disguise his voice with a bad Australian accent. Schmidt, the jerk with a heart of gold, truly shines when he takes off from a major hookup opportunity to help the other two lift Jess’s spirits after her first post-breakup date ditches.
Given more screen time, Nick and Schmidt could easily be contenders for Jess’s future affections, and each has the potential to grow into a much stronger character. Johnson’s acting is as genuine as his emotions, and Greenfield is appropriately aggravating as a frat boy. Coach, however, is incredibly one-dimensional, in both acting and characterization, and while this can be chalked up to his limited appearance, his replacement will hopefully be much more complex.
One confusing aspect of “New Girl” is that it is sometimes unclear whether a moment is meant to be sweet and funny, or gawky and embarrassing; the mixed mood comes across as strange to viewers. For example, Jess mourns her failed romance by watching “Dirty Dancing” on repeat, singing along to the climactic song, “Time of My Life.” While she is portrayed as a stereotypical heartbroken woman for laughs, the scene is cringe-inducing. Also, the pilot’s uplifting closing scene, in which all of Jess’s roommates sing to cheer her up after she is stood up, ends with the foursome being told to get out for being too loud (and off-key), muddling the message of the moment.
Overall the show is funny, but it is more of a cute, subtle, one-liner-centric sitcom than a laugh-out-loud fest—the kind of show that will leave a half-suppressed smirk on your face. While it is too soon to tell how successful the program will be, its pilot drew over 10 million views after having already been made available for free on iTunes and On Demand channels. What can be told, however, is that “New Girl” is one of those witty comedies with enough corniness to make it your new guilty pleasure.