The New Girl (Fox, 2011)
The New Girl is a deeply disturbing show.
Zooey Deschanel plays a character born out of a sort of nightmarish romantic comedy netherworld – a strange elixir of the most homogenized image of hipsterdom (the glasses!), a B sex-romantic comedy heroine, the worst sort of Manic Pixie Dream Girl that Zach Braff could dream up, and a sort of half-baked parody of third wave feminism. She delivers each line with a forced quirkiness that slowly chips away at one’s ability to take human language seriously. Deschanel is always strongest as an actress (of sorts) when she silently plays the wispy sort of MPDG that many a sensitive man in his twenties could fall obsessively in love with (see the best scenes of 500 Days of Summer). But here, in The New Girl, - a show driven entirely but its dialogue and supposed cleverness – she is forced to relie on her ability to deliver a line like a human being. And she fails to the point in which by the end I felt sorry for her – and myself.
Oh and the dialogue. The dialogue. At the ten minute mark I found myself wondering if there was a sort of rom-com Necronomicon from which the writers – and I use that term here provisionally – drew their terrible dialouge and plot from. The core of this show is a sort of examination of the supposed gender differences between men and women (girls are flighty! men want to get laid). But there taken on this feels stale even if this was 1983. In the end the show feels like a sort half-baked version of Three’s Company + 1.
I blame How I Met Your Mother, which showed that domesticated sex comedy could work on national television. But HIMYM’s many wannabes have failed to acknowledge two key facts about that show (a show which I enjoy a great deal). First, that it is constantly teetering on the edge of collapsing under the weight of its own gender troubles, high CBS sit-com cheese, and misogyny. Second, HIMYM’s cast was always stronger than the material the writers gave them. Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segal, and Cobie Smulders are legitimately funny people, which always comes through no matter what awfulness Carter & Bays make them spout.
And yet, when you stare long into the darkness the darkness begins to stare back into you. There were moments of true humor in The New Girl and, perhaps, a few truly relatable moments. The sort of things that make a sit-com work. A few times Deschanel’s strained line readings are over come by the humor, and not the other way around. The show makes good, if painfully quirky, use of her excellent singing voice.
In the end, The New Girl is not likely to be the worst new show in 2011 (that honor is likely to go to some cop show with pornographic murders of pretty girls). I am glad that this season the networks have decided to come out with several shows driven by young female leads. But that does not make The New Girl a good show. Just a disturbing one.