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History of TV: ‘New Girl’ on the block

June 10, 2021
3 min read time

From its “simply adorkable” beginnings, New Girl entertained audiences for seven seasons of emotionally charged comedy. It was Fox’s highest-rated fall debut in a decade when the pilot aired as part of the 2011-12 season, and went on to be nominated for multiple awards, including five Golden Globes® and five Emmys®, with its stars winning a smattering of others for their performances.

I remember watching the pilot for the first time and physically recoiling at the awkwardness — not because it was painfully bad, but because the characters’ awkwardness was painfully real and relatable. New Girl didn't just hit the mark, but obliterated it. Zooey Deschanel’s Jess was something fresh on TV; a composite of opposing characteristics. In other words, she felt real. As did her three (sometimes four) roommates Nick (Jake Johnson), Schmidt (Max Greenfield), Winston (Lamorne Morris), and sometimes Coach (Damon Wayans Jr.). 

The show did acknowledge the oddity of a woman moving in with three guys in their thirties by way of a quick exchange when Jess (on the phone with her obviously worried mother) asks Nick if he’s going to murder her, to which he responds a whip-quick yes — and she reassures her mom that no, her new roommates won’t. In fact, they turn out to be the Johnny Castle to her Baby, saving her from a bad date in the end. While we know women don’t need saving, New Girl addresses that what we all really do need is really good friends.

The comedy chemistry test

“I have your back. No matter what. No matter how stupid it gets. And you and I both know it can get really, really stupid.” -Jess

The heart of New Girl is the relationships and friendships between the roommates, along with that of Jess and her childhood friend Cece (Hannah Simone). And since emotional resonance feels like the end game (as does Jess and Nick’s eventual engagement), the show’s gold lies in the chemistry and comedic timing between the actors. While New Girl could’ve easily played to the stereotypes of each character, relying on slapstick humor and punchlines — even though there were some epic one-liners, to be sure — they pushed through expectations to show deeper, more vulnerable sides that ultimately made even the one who needed a “douchebag jar” in the pilot one of the most endearing characters by the end. 

While story is important to New Girl, it doesn’t feel as central to the show as the character journeys do. And enjoyable journeys they are; filled with a lot of laughter, even if you’re kind of cringing on the inside while you’re laughing (see awkwardness comment in the second paragraph).

The multifaceted love story

Jess and Nick’s chemistry inevitably turns romantic, then on-again-off-again until they get engaged in season seven. Likewise, Schmidt originally hits on Cece because she’s a model; but the pair eventually get serious, get married, and have a three-year-old by the end of the series. While Winston falls for his partner on the force, Aly (Nasim Pedrad). Jess and Cece are also a symbol of enduring love and friendship. Having been friends since they were little, they've endured the growing pains of friendship that happen when you grow up, get a job, marry and have kids. It can make or break a friendship in some instances. In Jess and Cece’s case, the friendship simply evolves.

Then there are the bromances. For their part, Nick and Schmidt are a bit like the odd couple on the show and act as the foundational friendship that Winston and Coach build on. The idea of masculinity is constantly explored through how these four interact with each other, and with the women in their lives. This is where New Girl shines, dissecting the massive amount of time and energy we spend agonizing over relationships of any kind and the simple question we inevitably ask ourselves in them: Did we make the right decision?

The end game

Showrunner Elizabeth Meriwether created New Girl to explore that decade after you hit your thirties when life is supposed to be “on track” with the relationship and career all figured out — and sometimes, just isn’t. Living with Jess, Nick, Schmidt and Winston for seven years was a bit like hanging out in never-never land; where no one wants to grow up, but the alligator is still circling with that ticking biological clock. 

You know right from the start that Jess and Nick are somehow meant to be. You’re rooting for Jess and Cece to stay friends. You hope Schmidt will evolve from his Neanderthal ways. Eventually, it all comes true and just like in real life, the real pleasure came in watching it unfold and living the moments in between.

In retrospect

While I’m still not clear on the rules of "True American," I love the glimpse of the gang’s future we see in the finale of them playing it with their kids — whether their kids are shotgunning beer is still TBD. But more importantly, what we can walk away with as screenwriters is that New Girl is a quirky study in how to defy expectations through character alone, because we’re the ones that drive the action and make the story happen.

You can binge all seven seasons of New Girl on Netflix now (in the name of research, of course).

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