Last night I watched the first episode of Zooey Deschanel’s new television series, New Girl.
I’ve been captivated by Zooey since I saw her in Almost Famous a decade ago where she portrayed Patrick Fugit’s rebellious older sister. While she is a fine musician (see the She & Him albums) and an actress capable of considerable range (see Winter Passing for one of her rare dramatic role where she turns in a nuanced performance as the selfish, drugged-out daughter of a J.D. Salinger-type), Zooey is best known as the poster child of wry hipsterism and the zany Manic Pixie Dream Girl of millions of twenty- and thirtysomethings.
Here’s the premise. Jess, a twenty-something teacher, discovers one day that the boyfriend she lives with is cheating on her when she walks in on her boyfriend and his other girlfriend. She needs a new place to stay, and she responds to an ad on Craiglist for an apartment share, an apartment with three guys looking for a roomie. They take her in, she turns their lives upside down (she lives on the couch and watches Dirty Dancing incessantly), and they take her under their wing to help her find a new boyfriend and get back on her emotional feet. In the pilot, she meets a guy and makes a date, but then he blows her off, and at the end Jess and her roomies bond.
Does it work?
I was a little forgiving of New Girl because it was a pilot, and they had to fit in the "origin story" in the first ten minutes, though I can honestly say that, were it not for Zooey, I would not have watched it.
First, let’s talk Zooey, since she is probably the reason that people watched it.
With the right material, she has pretty good range. New Girl, unfortunately, doesn’t find Zooey expanding her range or leaving her hipster persona behind. Slate’s Seth Stevenson wrote of her two years ago, “When I go on my imaginary dates with Zooey, we’re always riding around on vintage bicycles while shopping for banjos,” encapsulating in a single sentence that persona. Jess, her character from New Girl, is a hapless twenty-something woman who is, frankly, emotionally clueless. The episode forced a lot of questions — like how did this character get anywhere, like even getting a job, if she’s so emotionally clueless? — that it was incapable of asking. Zooey isn’t terrible, but she doesn’t have to do anything.
None of the other characters, though, clicked with me — I can only remember them as Bartender, Douchebag, Coach, and Supermodel — and I felt like all of them together made the episode too crowded.
I felt it was intermittently funny at best — and, unfortunately, I’d seen all the funny bits in the promo reel that FOX put out over the summer to promote the series.
The things that interested me were the stylistic things. I liked that it had no laugh track. I liked that it didn’t look like a three-camera sitcom shot on a soundstage. Actually, it felt like it was a movie script that didn’t sell so they decided to turn it into a television show; I could see this as a 100-minute rom-com with Mark Ruffalo as Bartender.
For Zooey’s sake, I’ll give New Girl six episodes. I want to see the characters develop into something more than labels, and I hope the series figures out what it’s about.