New Girl is one of the fall’s more high profile and markets new shows. It has a headline star in Zooey Deschanel and a concept of a woman rooming with 3 men that has alluring potential.
The first episode’s plot is standard for a pilot. It quickly introduces you to the show’s main plot and how Deschanel’s lead Jess got there (by catching her now ex girlfriend boyfriend Spencer with another woman) and her 3 new roomates Schmidt (Max Greenfield), Nick (Jake Johnson) and Winston (Damon Wayans). The setup is quick and smartly passes over the obvious questions real life females would have about rooming with 3 strange men. Sometimes it’s better not to ignore the questions instead of asking them for a show like this. They also to leave the men’s competitive slobbering over her for another episode. Deschanel is essentially the female Superman here. Hide her behind a pair of glasses and her fellow characters believe she’s homely dork Jess instead of one of the most beautiful people on the planet, just as Supes could trick everyone into thinking he’s Kent. I don’t mind the trick in either the Superman mythology or here. It’s a necessary suspension of disbelief and we all know they’ll end up attracted to her soon enough. Meanwhile, they show the guys putting that horndog energy on Jess’ model BFF, to show they are indeed hetero males.
The second half of the episode follows a mini plot with Nick meeting his ex girlfriend again, Jess getting an ill fated date, and Schmidt facing some male competition. Standard stuff, but pleasant and watchable enough – and more importantly, the resolutions in the 2nd half do tug the heartstrings a bit. The pilot worked better as a dramedy than comedy to me, though they will clearly be attempting for the latter.
But the real question determining whether this show will work is the cast. Usually to have a hit you need multiple cast members bringing it. Zooey is up to the task as the lead, but I have more questions with the male leads. The 1 standout among them is Johnson as Nick, mainly because he pulls off making his character the most human and believable of the 3. He’s given the closest thing to a real subplot with an ex girlfriend in Caroline who briefly appears in the episode, but even in the comedy only scenes, he just has more weight his character and sarcastic comments than the other two. If New Girl doesn’t make it, watch out for Jake Johnson elsewhere.
The other two male leads give me far more questions. Schmidt (Max Greenfield) appears to be stuck between being a) The closest thing to a male screentime ‘lead’ and the most obvious future love interest for Jess, with Nick being off the table if the Caroline subplot stands – while Winston is clearly the 3rd wheel and will be getting the B and C subplots, and b) A goofy wannabe ladies man, clearly the show’s attempt to fun of male slobberpig stereotypes. The former is Ross, the latter is Joey. Ross can carry the storylines while being one of the least funniest characters, while Joey can be one of the funniest characters but can’t carry a storyline. They need to decide which Schmidt is or else he will fail to make his mark as either, in my opinion. I’m guessing they want him to be the male lead and A love interest for Jess, which means Greenfield needs to work on his character being human and grounded like Nick, and less over the top and caricature-y. If he can’t, the show still has the option to drop the Nick-Caroline subplot, push him as the A love interest for Jess, and let Schmidt find his Joey B character destiny
Damon Wayan’s Winston doesn’t have much to do in the pilot except yell out of turn and be a foil for the other two male actors. It’s for the better anyways, because Wayans got recast after the pilot was shot due to his other show Happy Endings getting renewed. Unfortunately they’re going to make the new actor play the same guy, one of the most annoying trends on TV. How hard would it be to write an exit for him and bring in his zany cousin or brother? And it’s not like reshooting pilots hasn’t happened before, especially with a high profile new show like this. Still though, if the new actor is an improvement over Wayans, it could be a blessing in disguise.
One more thing about New Girl, the opening credit sequence with Zooey’s own singing is fairly memorable. The opening credits in shows do matter on a subconscience level. If people like seeing them, it’s another reason for them to come back, even if they’re not complete knockout openings like Friends’ or CSI’s. This one does happily open the show.
I’ll also say that the show looks pretty good. The sets are bright, the actors are attractive, and I’ll always prefer single camera shows to multi-camera sitcoms for aesthetics.
I give New Girl a solid B or 3 stars out of 5 which is what every person who’s watched the pilot has said. It won’t knock you off your chair, but it’s pleasant to watch, has a few moments and has at least one character in Johnson’s Nick who shows real standout potential going forward. Once upon a time I said How I Met Your Mother’s pilot was a decent enough 3 out of 5 show that’s more pleasant than funny, and actually, I still feel that way and don’t watch it regularly – But a lot of people do. So New Girl has a shot to catch on publicly. It’s worth a try.