So, New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel. Is it any good? According to the critics, it's pretty decent. But let's step back for a moment and compare New Girl with a show that was first made over sixty years ago, I Love Lucy:
I don't recall ever being more appalled by a TV show, and that's saying something. Despite the title, New Girl offers anything but fresh ideas. Hell, it wouldn't have offered fresh ideas if it aired sixty years ago!
Let's start with (as always) the characters. If you're on the ball, you've probably guessed New Girl is all about a girl. Jess (Zooey Deschanel), our "hero", has just discovered her boyfriend is cheating on her, so she leaves him and moves in with three men she's never met before, rather than ANY of her friends. Right away we have a major problem: the very premise of the series is flawed. Jess moves in with three guys she's never met because she needs a place to stay. This is despite the fact that (a) she's shown to have female friends and (b) she has a full time job, and could likely afford a small apartment.
See, folks, my main issue with New Girl is the girl herself. She's such a weak female character. As the chart above shows, we had stronger leading ladies on television sixty years ago. I realise that not all women in fiction need to be Buffy's or Xena's, but even Rachel in early seasons of Friends had some strength to her character. Sure, she was naive, but she was determined. Its the same with Daphne in Frasier and Elliot in Scrubs: these women aren't very confident women, but they're determined, dammit! They at least know what they want in life, they realise their shortcomings and acknowledge they need to get past them if they want to achieve their goals. By comparison, Jess is such a stupid flake that I cannot sympathise with her at all. When she discovers her boyfriend cheating on her, unlike Elliot, Daphne, Rachel, Lucy, Xena or Buffy, who would have at least yelled at the boyfriend; Jess breaks down and moves away. That's right: she kicks herself out, despite the fact he's the one cheating on her.
The marketing for New Girl labels Jess as "adorkable" (someone's been reading TV Tropes), but I just find her weird. Many of her quirks don't come off as funny, adorable, or even dorky - they're just bizarre, as if someone who's never known a dork in their entire life is trying to imagine what a nerd is like. In one episode, she shoves in fake teeth and speaks with an English accent. Is this supposed to be funny? In the pilot, she tells her friend on the phone her name is "Two Boobs Johnson". Again... funny? While situations like these do indeed paint Jess as an (exceptionally) awkward girl, they certainly don't make her funny. Compare her with another character who's almost always awkward, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. He, at least, makes you laugh when he's awkward. Like when he explains that he went to the sperm bank in the pilot or when he tries to hug Penny after she gives him Spock's DNA:
"Look Leonard, Sheldon's hugging me!"
You can't just make your character "weird" and expect people to find him or her funny. If you are sitting at home, laughing at Jess and thinking, "It's funny because she's different to me!", then please never, ever, have children. Trust me, you'll be doing the human race a favour.
Another issue I have is that Zooey Deschanel is supposed to be this massive nerd, yet she's clearly quite attractive:
This is the same problem I had with Ugly Betty. If you're going to have a character that's supposed to be unattractive, why don't you hire an actress who's not smoking hot? I get that we don't want to see ugly people on TV, but to Ugly Betty's credit, they at least gave the actress braces, glasses and bizarre clothes. A big plot point of New Girl is that Jess has trouble attracting men, yet even in the context of the show, this is ridiculous. Here is an actual shot of Zooey's character from episode three:
By this point, I'm just using it as an excuse to type "Zooey Deschanel" into Google Images
I simply cannot accept that any heterosexual red-blooded male would find this unattractive, unless the first words out of her mouth are, "I have a poop fetish". Even then, she is one attractive lady, so there'd probably still be a few. Making it worse is the fact that Jess' best friend in the show is a model (!), so don't try and justify her shortcomings by her social awkwardness - she just needs to go to one club with her friend and she's sure to get a phone number or twelve.
You may be sitting there thinking, "LOL THIS IS JUST THE START OF THE SHOW. JESS' CHARACTER WILL EVOLVE AND BECOME MORE CONFIDENT!", but you're missing the point of early episodes of a TV series, which is to make us identify with and like the characters. Going back to Friends, Rachel was homeless, penniless and had just run out on her wedding in the pilot episode, yet the writers established her as a strong woman by having her run out on her wedding - she made the decision to leave, it wasn't thrust upon her because her fiancee cheated on her - she couldn't see a future with this man. Most of Rachel's screentime in the first season was then dedicated to her finding a job and finding her independence. This is how you start a character's arc.
Now, before I finish, there may still be some people giving the Family Guy defence: "Who cares about story? All I want is to laugh." To you, I say, well, if you don't care about story, then why are you watching a TV show at all? There's a little thing called YouTube with a couple of million funny videos on it - why don't you just watch that for half an hour instead? Because while you may claim you don't care about story, you obviously do. Otherwise, you wouldn't be watching a scripted television show.
While I do appreciate the fact that scripted comedies are being made, and I always like it when a show is bold enough not to use canned laughter, New Girl commits the heinous sin of trying to be funny, rather than just being funny. Jess isn't a believable character, and every time the writers try to make her funny, it just falls flat. Avoid.
© 2012 by The Free Man