The debut of a series inevitably brings with it expectations; of tone, of plot development and direction, of character arcs. These can affect not only the initial reception but also long-term investment. A pilot that suggests the show will go in one direction can easily lose its audience if it suddenly shifts direction. Sometimes the network and showrunners have communicated openly and clearly about where the series is headed and so it is given room to breathe and grow. We’ve seen how a show can overcome a shaky start to become truly great (Parks and Recreation and Fringe are obvious recent examples). While I am not suggesting that the increasingly good New Girl is destined to become a classic, what I am saying is that for those of us who have stuck with it throughout its patchy first season it is starting to find its feet. While that may hardly seem a good enough reason to write about it please indulge me for a few minutes.
Initially New Girl seemed to be geared towards highlighting the quirkiness and general charm of lead and eponymous ‘new girl’ Zooey Deschanel. Early episodes focused on her effect on her new roommates and the ways in which her quirky and fun attitude reflected and effected the world around her. The comedy quickly changed tack when they realised this would quickly get very old. The impressive supporting cast includes Max Greenfield (of Veronica Mars – the secret big hitter of the first few episodes that has become less of a secret as they’ve relied more heavily on him), Jake M Johnson (the obvious and reluctant love interest for Zooey Deschanel, whose laconic charm is one of the more likable things about the show… plus I love a good ‘angry’ character) and Hannah Simone (the surprisingly talented ex-model turned talk show host in her first full-time acting gig). These three have gradually taken on more of the story as New Girl has progressed, leaving Zooey to insert charm when necessary rather than carrying the whole show.
The weakest link in the series—and yet for my money one of the more interesting characters—is Winston, played by Lamorne Morris. He typifies the show’s change in direction more than any other character, and yet he is perhaps the least focused and defined, and it is easy to dismiss Winston as unnecessary. When we first met him he was replacing Damon Wayans Junior’s “Coach” from the pilot (he had gone on to the higher quality Happy Endings). Winston is a man whose life had been entirely planned out thanks to his middling-to-decent basketball abilities, which landed him a career in Latvia before that went belly up and he had to return to the US with no other professional skills. This all too common (in theme not specifics) story of someone in their 20s having to start again after their plans fell through may not be fresh or original but it’s a far more interesting concept to me than Zooey singing wacky songs and talking about ‘jeggings’.
This theme has since permeated New Girl on a far more fundamental level and now on a weekly basis we watch these characters deal with situations that are perhaps more ‘real’ than many comedies currently airing. It’s become an issue show wrapped in the guise of a sitcom. How do you deal with your first brush with your own mortality? How do you say goodbye to your first car when you don’t know where your next one will come from? How do you cope with having your dream crushed?
Don’t get me wrong, this series isn’t going to change the world (but then again how many shows actually do?), but if you saw the pilot and gave up, give it another shot. There’s something admirable about New Girl reveling in its uncertainty. Understanding that it is in flux in much the same way that the characters are makes me comfortable; it’s good to know that not every series must have its end-game preplanned, that a show can grow and be manipulated by the vagaries and interests of its writers and creators and that’s okay.