In Defense of New Girl (Hear Us Out...)
Depending on your perspective, Zooey Deschanel is either the cutest, funniest, most adorable little retro-kookster on earth, or she's an irritating try-hard with zero comedy chops. The only thing the world seems able to universally agree on is that Deschanel has nice bangs. As such, her sitcom -- New Girl, now nearing the end of its second season -- is divisive amongst viewers to say the least.
We understand why New Girl is roundly dismissed with such regularity. Deschanel's character, Jess, is girlie to a fault, full of child-like whimsy and unabashed naivety. The humor is, at times, oddball, which makes a great many people think the show is trying too hard to appeal to a "hipster" audience. And finally, the characters at times come off as ridiculous to the point of cartoonishness..
This is a shame because there are a great many layers to New Girl that are rarely acknowledged. The most valuable, and least recognized, element in the show is that it is exclusively about people who are totally screwed up -- and not in that cleaned up, Friends way either, where there's only one character who's allowed to have a truly dark side (that was Phoebe, by the way, in case you missed it). You may not notice it immediately in New Girl, because everyone in it is physically attractive, but this is not a show about hot young people figuring everything out, episode by episode. They might look nice on the surface, but all of the characters here are thoroughly un-dateable and probably in great need of some therapy.
The character with all the best lines, Schmidt, is an obsessive compulsive who, thanks to formative years spent bullied and obese, is a shallow shell of a man, unable to find true happiness because he is now too obsessed with surface appearance. Nick is a paranoid, low-paid self-hater with few social skills and almost no hope for the future. Winston is a washed up ex-athlete who is lonely, but has zero confidence with women. And Jess is a woman-child, struggling to deal with the pressures of adulthood and failing at every turn to be truly independent. The best of the bunch here is the relatively stable and extremely beautiful best friend, Cece -- but her constant pursuit of a suitable man causes her frequent misery and takes up almost all of her time.
In short: this is a sitcom about fuck-ups. Fuck-ups finding other fuck-ups and bonding. If hipsters don't like New Girl, it's because nobody in it is even remotely cool (Schmidt is supposed to be the fashion conscious one, yet he owns a "summer suit" with a lightning bolt on the back). This show isn't for hipsters -- it's for awkward misfits who understand the pure, unadulterated joy of finding other people to hang out with who are as weird and dysfunctional as you are. Nerds have The Big Bang Theory, young professionals have How I Met Your Mother, and the socially inept have New Girl.
Much of the strongest comedy in the show is born out of each character's urge to fit in, and subsequent failure to do so. Probably the funniest scene to date took place in Episode 8 of Season 1. Jess is feeling sexually inadequate, so watches hours of internet porn in an attempt to pick up new skills, only to hit the bedroom with Justin Long wearing crazy lingerie over her plain Jane undies and demand role play -- which results in her doing a 1920s old-timey operator voice and him impersonating Jimmy Stewart. It is long and uncomfortable and one of the funniest things we've ever seen on television.
Problems don't get resolved in New Girl. There is no lesson at the end of each episode and things frequently end badly for the characters -- whether it's a break up, a job loss or dealing with deadbeat parents. The only thing the four roomies really have at the end of all these disasters is each other. (And a drinking game called True American, which, frankly, we'd like to learn how to play.) It's actually a testament to how funny the scripts are that people don't immediately notice the bleakness of the content.
We're not saying that things aren't often absurd on New Girl, and we're not saying that there aren't sickly elements in this show. We're merely pointing out that there's a lot more to this sitcom than meets the eye, and its overarching view of the world as a profoundly disappointing and frustrating place is unique for a comedy of this nature. So, if you've been avoiding this thing because it looked too cutesy, it might be time for you to take another look -- just be sure to ignore Fox's "adorkable" ad campaign (gross) and Zooey Deschanel's perfect bangs.