Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fall Pilot #4: The New Girl

FALL PILOT #4: The New Girl 
NETWORK: FOX
SUPPOSED SELLING POINT:  Zooey Deschanel is bringing the manic pixie dream girl to TV, or something? 
POSSIBLE SELLING POINT FOR ME:  It's a comedy that doesn't have a laugh track.  Also, I'm interested in seeing how Damon Wayans Jr. manages two sitcoms at once (he's also on ABC's Happy Endings).

I don't particularly care for Zooey Deschanel, but I don't loathe her as many tend to.  To some, she's an obnoxious hipster cipher, the source code to the programming of a million 'quirky' girls trying to catch the attentions of boys who have attached mystical properties to her cartoon cute blank canvas.  I don't think Deschanel lacks personality, but I do find that there's something that always seems a little false about her.  Still, I held out hope for The New Girl because, let's face it, Zooey is a star smart enough to know her market.  If she makes the decision to come to network TV instead of latching onto an HBO original, there's gotta be something to it.  

And actually?  Yeah, while the premise isn't so original, the pilot is surprisingly sound and frequently quite funny.  The first episode (currently available early OnDemand, premiering Tuesday evening) plays almost like a mini bromantic film as we're introduced to Jess Day (Deschanel) and her predicament.  Jess is an awkward 20-something who moves in with a ragtag group of dudes after finding her boyfriend with another woman.  She sings to herself and cites Lord of the Rings and then cries hysterically watching Dirty Dancing seven straight times on the couch in her new apartment.  There are moments when she's oddly endearing, and moments where we cringe because her weaknesses and quirks feel so contrived, as though Deschanel had decided to channel Tina Fey's Liz Lemon without understanding the basic self-deprecating elements that made that character truly funny.  If this were a show solely about Jess, it would be a tremendous failure.  She's too much, manically nerdy in a way that's designed to be cloyingly cute instead of risky.  Where Liz Lemon is a tough lady, Jess is helpless and uninformed.  Still, though, there are laughs and the pilot leaves the show with room to grow and sturdy legs to stand on.  Deschanel's quirk is evened out by her three new "bro" roommates.  Damon Wayans Jr., Max Greenfield, and Jake Johnson act occasionally as filters for the audience, occasionally as quirky archetypes of their own.  They work in a way that's charmingly inept even as they try to help, thus making them subdued, unknowingly dorky male counterparts to Deschanel's unapologetic face making.  The show isn't particularly clever, original, or especially self-aware.  It's no Arrested Development or 30 Rock.  What it has going for it, however, is that's it's light, fun, and simply silly without resorting to that condescending laugh track.  As far as network comedies go?  That's a giant step in the right direction. 

SECOND EPISODE?:  Yes, actually. 
WILL IT MAKE IT TO A SECOND SEASON?: Depends on where FOX keeps it in the lineup and if they can balance out the show so all characters are equal to or greater than Zooey Deschanel.  

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