Critic Vs. Critic: “New Girl,” Season One
Once, there were two TV critics who watched New Girl. They laughed and they cried, they loved and they hated (one of them did a lot bouncing between loving and hating). And now, after the conclusion of the first season, they weigh in New Girl’s first season and the future of the show.
Where can New Girl go from here?
Lindsey Kempton: I think New Girl can go anywhere. It hasn’t set down any storylines that box it in in any way (True Blood, I’m looking at you!) and its roots in totally absurd comedy allow it a lot more plot flexibility.
Gabrielle Moss: I’ll be eager to see whether the writers will go forward with the more nuanced Jess we saw in the second half of the season, or return to the free-wheelin’ human pop tart she was in the first half of the season (as they did in the season finale). CanNew Girl become a long-term part of our televisual lives? Will we be huddled around our robot TVs in 2020, watching to see if Nick and Jess finally get together? The answer is: only if our cruel robot overlords permit us to. But the other answer is: a lot of that will depend on season two, and whether the writers choose to really develop these characters and give them consistent personalities.
Is New Girl a hipster sitcom? And what does the advent of the hipster network sitcom mean for TV in general?
G: I feel like New Girl represents the advent of the hipster sitcom–TV created for young, ostensibly hip people who are grossed out by the idea of watching, say, The Big Bang Theory, but would also like to sometimes watch something that requires less active thinking than Community or 30 Rock. I feel like the success of New Girl on that front has already led to the development of more shows like this–Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 leaps immediately to mind–that make use of things like basic sitcom structure, but throw in some edgier jokes and some counter-intuitive conclusions (is an attempted three-way with a handyman, set to the music of Rusted Root something we would have ever seen on How I Met Your Mother?) . And on this front, I am thankful to New Girl. I think Two and a Half Men-style fare has ruled the network comedy roost for too long, and I’m happy to see the door opened for more shows like this.
L: While I agree with most of what you’ve said Gaby, I’m not sure that I would call it a “hipster sitcom” because that implies that it’s aimed at the hipster demographic. I know a lot of self-proclaimed hipsters who hate New Girl. At the same time, I know a lot that love it.
My inclination is to say that New Girl is more of a sitcom alternative, like the other white sitcom meat. Okay, that’s gross, but what I’m saying is that New Girl offers an option to the viewers that are sick of comedies like The Big Bang Theory but still want a little of that Friends-esque feeling that you don’t get with The Office or 30 Rock.
I also think that a large part of it has to do with the type of humor (and intellectual/classist connotations that go along with it) that is often found in single camera sitcoms like New Girl, Community, Don’t Trust the B In Apartment 23 vs. multi camera sitcom like Two and a Half Men or The Big Bang Theory, but that’s a post for another time.
Did Winston simply become a token character by the end of season one?
L: I don’t think completely, but each episode that he is relegated to the B or C plot he slips a little closer to tokenism.
G: I am very disappointed in the way things ended up with Winston. On the season finale, everyone else got major, life-shattering relationship questions, and he got two minutes about how he was afraid of the dark! Though I am glad that this show does not take place in Whitesville (population: Girls), I do think it feels very weird that Winston rarely gets anything real to do. So, that’s something I hope is different in season two.
L: Haha, so true! Everyone else was dealing with major life choices and Winston was overcoming a childish fear.
What are your thoughts/feelings on a potential Nick/Jess relationship?
L: Ugh. Not a fan. I know I’m going to upset some people when I say this, but Nick is my least favorite character on the show. Most of the time he just whines and makes bad decisions. I was excited when his character picked up a little bit with the arrival of Dermot Mulroney, but it didn’t last.
But my main problem with a Nick/Jess hookup is that I just don’t buy it. I don’t see it. Schmidt and CeCe were always flirting with each other and their attraction to each other makes sense. But Nick and Jess? Maybe you could make the tired “opposites attract” argument, but that’s pretty weak in this case. I know, Internet, go ahead and hate me.
G: Ha, I agree that Nick is the worst character on the show! I mean, he is a perfectly crafted character, that character just happens to be whiny and super-annoying . I feel like season one was full of experiments in lightly pushing the limits of sitcommery, and one of them was, “Can you run a show without really promising or implying the main guy and girl characters will eventually go allMoonlighting all over each other?” They backed off from the “will-they-or-won’t-they?” vibes that permeated the first few episodes, and yeah, I think the show was better for it. I hope they never get together! That would be an applause-worthy piece of realism
What was New Girl’s strongest suit this season? Character? Plot? One-liners? Where did it fall flat?
L: I think the obvious answer here is one-liners. New Girl is great at throw-away comedy, and I’m fine with that. I don’t need my sitcoms to be multilayered and complex (although, when it’s done well, like Community, it’s great). I was even fine, and in some cases, happier with the show when it was less complicated, when the characters were more like puppets maneuvered into increasingly ridiculous situations seemingly without regard for social realities.
While zany quips and situations remained a consistent presence throughout the season, equally zany characters didn’t, so I’m going to say that character was where New Girl struggled the most. I’m not saying that the show isn’t filled with fantastic characters (again, a world without Schmidt is not a world I want to live in), but I think it was New Girl’s most inconsistent element.
G: Definitely one-liners–”Damn it! I can’t find my driving moccasins anywhere!” And yes, characters were the weakest point–their personalities seemed to fluctuate wildly between episodes sometimes, forcing the illusion of growth instead of actually writing it. So basically, just everything Lindsey said. I’m copying off her test.
New Girl went through a lot of growing pains in its first season, but seemed to (mostly) find its voice after the midseason break. What changed that transformed the show so much?
L: I think my previous point about characters speaks to this a little. After the midseason break, it felt like New Girl took a hard right towards more in-depth character development. Prior to that it was experimenting with what kind of show it wanted to be, but once the writers started to focus on turning Jess into a real person rather than just a paper doll with fantastic hair the show found its footing.Sure, there were still some missteps in the latter half of the season, but it was overall more consistent.
G: Turning Jess from a network TV Amelie into a fallible human being who just happened to wear party dresses every single day saved this show. I mean, saved it for me–I know America at large still embraced this show when it had significantly less substance than My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. But once they opened the door to Jess being wrong about things in the second half of the season, it was suddenly an actual show, rather than an extended advertisement Zoeey D’s fantastic locks of hair (which, I must admit, can cure disease, communicate with the dead, and steer a ship on a moonless night).
Did you like it better pre-midseason break or post-midseason break?
L: Honestly, I felt like I was watching two completely different shows. The New Girl I knew before the breaks was not the New Girl that came back. I don’t think the show managed the transition gracefully, either. It was like the characters were trying so hard to advance but the situations they found themselves in were still totally absurd and the two didn’t mesh well at first.
There were some episodes, like “Injured” or “Jess and Julia”, that married character, tone, and plot nicely, but the inconsistency between character and situation continued right until the end. Exhibit A: the coyote scene in the season finale. A coyote appearing out of thin air just to demonstrate Nick and Jess’ devotion to each other was too self-consciously absurd for a scene (and an episode) with such a realistic plot and tone.
G: AFTER THE BREAK! Pre-break, I totally had to get drunk to even deal with writing those recaps (note to my boss, Lindsey: I DID NOT GET DRUNK TO WRITE THOSE RECAPS).
L. Please. I had to recap the entire season of Terra Nova. You don’t think there was some alcohol involved?
Was New Girl ultimately a success or failure?
L: For me, there’s no question that it was a success, critically and commercially. While its audience did dwindle after its strong premiere, New Girl went on to develop a passionate fan base, receive a fair amount of critical attention (that was admittedly lukewarm overall, but some attention is better than none!) and was nominated for a Golden Globe. Also, I don’t know how I lived in a world where Schmidt didn’t exist.
G: While I agree that it was a critical and commercial success, I’m not sure that I agree that New Girl totally accomplished what it set out to do. And yes, I know this was it’s first season, and almost all first seasons are borderline-incoherent, herky jerky messes (see: Seinfeld!). But I felt like New Girl stopped short of its goal–which I think is to be the Friends of our era. I enjoyed watching the show this season, but I never got wrapped up in the characters–never got to the point where I actually cared about who got together with who, or if Jess figured herself out, or if Nick went back with Caroline. I don’t think New Girl is supposed to be a Seinfeld, where you just stand back and admire the craftsmanship–I think we were supposed to care about these characters, and on that level, it failed for me. But, yes, it did improve my quality of life one thousand fold by creating Schmidt, and for that, I am always grateful.
L: That’s really interesting. The first half of the season I thought New Girl was going for a Seinfeld-esque vibe, but after the midseason break, it felt like they were attempting to be Friends 2.0 with way more cupcakes. I just don’t see New Girl having the potential for cultural dominance like Friends, and if it did it would almost goes against the idea of a “hipster” or “other white meat” sitcom idea we discussed earlier, which is inherently more niche.
What did you guys think? Did New Girl soar or sour in its first season?
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