For those unfamiliar with the glossy sitcom, "New Girl," it stars blue-eyed Zooey Deschanel as Jess, a quirky 20-something whose three roommates are guys -- fussy Schmidt, laid back Winston and grumpy Nick. They live in an enormous funky loft with exposed brick walls and a roof patio, a creepy/randy landlord and a bathroom with an Olympic size shower and toilet stalls with doors.
In last season’s pilot episode, Jess moved in with the trio after she caught her boyfriend with another woman. That she discovered his infidelity while performing the least seductive striptease in recent television history -- Lucille Ball would have been impressed, I think -- sets Jess up as a goofball utterly lacking in guile, suavity and self-respect. But she’s sincere and she’s cute. She is really cute.
My husband is a Z.D. fan, though he rarely announces his celebrity crushes outright, and the promos looked silly and slapstick-y and a little crazy, like the producers wanted to make something that didn’t feel exactly like "Home Improvement" or "Friends." (Not that there is anything wrong with those shows. They’ve just been done a million times.)
We watched it. We liked it. We laughed. Deschanel was willing to do all manner of pratfalls and awkward dance moves to make a scene funny; her lack of vanity felt original, especially given that in real life she appears so hipster fashionable as to be a caricature.
But "New Girl" had comedic energy that worked with its early jerky pace. And the tone was knowing but not too ironic, self-aware but not at the expense of wanting to make people laugh.
I did feel awkward and embarrassed to be on the other side of 35 and still happy to watch rather young attractive single people essentially have sex and goof off. My father visited once and the three of us took in an episode. It wasn’t quite as mortifying as the night my husband encouraged my father, mother and brother to watch "Bridesmaids" (I skipped that viewing event in favor of hanging with the baby, but I could sense my father’s bewildered disgust through a hallway and two closed doors). Still, it was uneasy.
"Boy, the modern world," said my dad. He’s 67 with a young heart, kind of like Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots crossed with a young Sam Cooke crossed with Peter Pan crossed with Tevye. He likes Mexican operas, Shakespeare, the blues, Tolstoy, Bulgarian folk music, and five-part rounds. Young people being crass and oiling themselves while they do inverted sit-ups to impress lovely ladies (and then pass out: the funny part!) doesn’t, say, wow him.
He laughed a bit during the 22 minutes and then forgot about it, I’m sure, and my husband and I kept making time for episodes even though we are so staid and old in our ways. It was fun.
Five or so episodes in, the show got popular. You could see it in the actors during the second half of the season; they knew they were hot. They performed with little smiles beneath the dialogue. The writing grew bolder and the editing more certain. The situations involved more alcohol and more partial nudity, though they remained ridiculous. I mourned, in the most trivial way possible, the end of those early chaotic episodes, free of the expectation and intoxication of being liked.
Jess changed most of all. Her clothes sharpened up. Her hair was more styled. She didn’t wear plastic fangs, like, ever. Her humiliations were more feminine, less physically comedic, and more forthrightly sexual. She became an object of attraction, more like Zooey Deschanel than like the dork of the debut.
The question now: do we sign up for season two? I’ve watched the first two episodes, and they are funny and tightly executed. The show actually seems less pleased with itself and more genuinely confident about the kind of jokes and stories it wants to tell.
On the down side, Jess is acting like a dope. The season begins with unhappy news for her, but even so, when you’re that doe-eyed, you have to keep your sense of humor to keep from being trivial and annoying. The camera and her wardrobe conspire to rob the actress of her power, if I can be highfalutin about it. A central female character doesn’t have to be a feminist icon, but she does need to be more than a cute doll.
So I don’t know if we’ll bother with "New Girl" this year. We only have so much time, and my husband openly loves "Person of Interest."
Oh, who am I kidding. Of course I’ll watch it. Not because of the wacky youths or camera work or wild jokes that do make me laugh, or because I don’t care about seeing more well-grounded characters on TV. What I really love is to procrastinate, and "New Girl" perfectly fits the bill as my favorite waste of time.
Becky Karush is a regular contributor to the Reformer.