New Girl: Season 1
Benjamin Franklin once mused that nothing is certain except death and taxes. Had he lived in American any time after the fifties he would have added another item to the phrase; sit-coms. Since the humble origins of television the situational comedy has maintained at least on program on their schedule of this format, typically multiple representations in any given season across all the networks. Traditionally the focus of sit-coms is the family, a fundamental component of society that inherently is subject to change over time. The construct of Dad going off to work while Mom manages the household encompassing the kids and family dog, has lost its monopoly in our culture. The idea of a family has broadened significantly so that now a myriad of compositions are currently deemed acceptable interpretations of the definition. An example of this more liberal view of what constitutes a family is demonstrated in a quirky little half hour series called ‘New Girl’. The traditional assigned roles for the characters are replaced by a group of young people approaching their thirties sharing an apartment in Los Angles. This concept has been utilized successfully with a wide selection of popular shows like ‘Friends’’ but this particular incarnation is thematically closer to ‘Three’s Company’. Like that classis series the titular young woman has recently been infused into the odd social dynamic created by a group of male roommates. Networks have a long tradition of taking a popular show and flipping one of the central precepts. For example the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’, was revered to come up with ‘Green Acers’, both based thematic examples of the fish out of water trope. Quite a sizable number of modern day affectations are incorporated into the premise in order to give it a cutting edge feel perfect for attracting a younger target audience. While most viewers will enjoy the zany antics and adorable characters there are a number of cultural standards employed here that will appeal to all but the most jaded contingent of the audience will discover the show is whimsical, delightful and just right to unwind after a daily bout with the reality of life.
Jessie Day (Zooey Deschanel) is a young woman with an exaggerated joie de vivre. Working as an elementary school teacher returning home each day to a place she shared with her boyfriend, that is until she had a feeling their relationship needed revitalization prompting Jess to show up in a trench coat an absolutely nothing else much to her dismay Jessie discovers she was not the only naked woman there; Jessie caught him in flagrante delicto. Angry and suddenly in need of a place to live she does what any young person would do, sign on to her computer and go to Craig’s List to locate suitable housing. After a few humorous interviews Jessie takes an apartment with a group of guys; law school dropout Nick (Jake Johnson) now working as a bartender in their local hangout, Schmidt (Max Greenfield), the requisite womanizer and Winston (Lamorne Morris), highly competitive with a protective big brother attitude towards Jessie.
With a down turned economy an increasing number of young people this age are unable to support a place of their own, relegated to either returning back to the childhood home of their parents or living with roommates. The Fox network may a sensible choice is using the later premise; is it the more robust setting rich in comic potential. This propelled the series to become one of the leading live action series. The term used to describe Jessie had to be invented within the context of the show; ‘adorkable’, so incredibly dorky that she is irresistibly adorable. Jessie is the kind of person entirely devoid of a mean spirited bone. She is a fully functional adult, well mostly, but was never grown out of that childlike wonder of the world. This quality enables her to relate exceptionally well with her students but it does frequently poses difficulties navigating the grown up world.
Jessie instantly insinuates herself into the lives of her roommates. Jessie considers the idea of ‘personal spaces ‘more of an esoteric idea that something with practical applications. After a quick change in character lineup following the pilot the series rapidly settles into an entertaining dynamic. Jessie needs to be liked by her roommates, her new family unit. Helping her maintain a modicum of contact with reality is her long time best friend and fashion model, Cece (Hannah Simone). Despite this grounding influence Jessie is prone to outbursts of singing and rather surreal bouts of behavior. In another context she might be classified as crazy but for the sake of television she is eccentric. Her Midwest naivety has never surrendered to the big city; a factor that brings out a protective and indulging attitude with the guys. Her presence has drastically altered the Y chromosome driven dynamic previously prevalent in the apartment. For example a guy’s night of watching a horror flick is soon disrupted by chatty Jessie plopping down on the couch. She tries her best to fit in but has altered the environment. The vain Schmidt discovers this when Jessie accidentally barges in on him while he is naked. She inadvertently emits a school girl giggle which prevents Schmidt from disrobing in front of an eagerly willing woman. Jessie tries to even the score by letting Schmidt she her naked but, of course it backfires; the girlfriend is present. ‘
The series is admittedly not for everyone. The lack of realism in the execution may be an acquired taste. It should be noted that the majority of sit-coms are based on outlandish circumstances and nearly impossible coincidences. This series certain exhibits this behavior but the fact remains it does show with panache. The show represents one of the rare times siblings stared in different shows on the same network, Zooey Deschanel’s older sister stars and produces the forensic crime procedural, ‘Bones. This Deschanel sister easily manages to pull off the exuberant character of Jessie without allowing the portrayal to degrade into caricature. Ms Deschanel is able to infuse an undeniable quality in Jessie so that even if you find it difficult to believe a person this trust can exist there is some aspect in her presentation that makes you want to believe someone like Jessie could exist. In some ways the series is a fantasy but everyone needs a Jessie around every so often.
Commentary On Pilot Episode