TV Review: NEW GIRL, 1.1 - "Pilot"

Men love Zooey Deschanel. That's why New Girl - Fox's upcoming sitcom about a woman who moves in with three single males after an unexpected breakup - brings a whole new meaning to the term "suspension of disbelief."

rating: 3

Men love Zooey Deschanel. That's why New Girl - Fox's upcoming sitcom about a woman who moves in with three single males after an unexpected breakup - brings a whole new meaning to the term "suspension of disbelief." Deschanel stars as Jess, a kooky, geeky, clumsy, but nonetheless adorable woman in her late twenties. Her biggest quirk (emphasised by the show's theme song) is making up little songs about herself. She's that girl who wore braces until she was nineteen, and was never invited to any of the cool parties. After she decides to surprise her boyfriend by turning up in just a raincoat and exposes her naked body to him, Jess discovers he's cheating on her. You can imagine the predictable fashion in which such an event plays out, but Deschanel makes it amusing enough. That's about it for the set-up, because the show's entire premise is put into place in roughly 3 minutes. Jess searches for a new apartment and gets an interview with three guys: Recently dumped Nick (Jake M. Johnson), ladies man Schmidt (Max Greenfield), and sports-obsessed Coach (Damon Wayans, Jr.). She makes a terrible impression, and cites her break-up as reason why she'll be watching Dirty Dancing on an endless loop in their apartment, but they let her move in because she reveals her best friend is a model. And her best friend's friends are models. The plot for the pilot is notably scatty, with just the bare bones of an actual narrative in place. It works well enough, though the approach may grow tiresome in future episodes. The male characters aren't particularly memorable, with Damon Wayans Jr. standing out as the strongest among the bunch (and he's leaving for good in the next episode). Jess is put through a series of embarrassingly "cute" moments (she burns her hair on straighteners, and exposes a pair of large white panties), but she's not exactly Liz Lemon (Tina Fey's ever-unattractive 30 Rock alter-ego), and that brings about a larger problem. The promo material insists that New Girl is all about the sexual politics between men and women. This show could offer a fresh perspective if it was just honest with itself. You can't explore sexual politics with any worth or resonance when you don't believe in the characters. If New Girl wants to offer anything special, it will either make a point in skilfully removing the sexual potential between Jess and the guys, or choose to emphasise the difficulties in platonic male/female relationships as a major theme. The point is, male viewers are still going to find Jess attractive, even if she does fall over twice an episode. It means they're going to be scratching their heads wondering why the three male leads aren't making a move on their new flatmate. They don't find her attractive? Audiences can't believe that these guys are real people, then. There. Sexual politics, honestly told. A scene over the end credits attempts to address this grievance, with Schmidt telling Jess, "I'd still totally do you", but it feels tacked on, like the writers/producers are covering their backs in case anybody questions the situation. It's not too obvious who exactly New Girl is for, either. Shows like Friends have clear cross-gender appeal, but this seems a little confused. Many of the jokes are male-orientated, with geeky pop cultural references to Lord of the Rings, but there's triple-mention of Dirty Dancing, too, so it's really fair game. Truth is, it looks like New Girl has gone for the widest audience haul possible, a decision that might come back to haunt Fox executives. Audiences are honing in to more defined comedies, with the broader stuff being pushed into the firing line. New Girl claims it's off the wall and kooky, but it doesn't make a convincing case. Not with mediocre flashbacks and low-key gags, anyway. But there are laughs to be had: The douchebag jar, especially, is proof that there's talent behind the scenes of this show. Jess's tendencies to sing to herself aside, New Girl is too generic, too familiar, and likely to get cancelled after a season if something doesn't change. Based on the potential glimpsed in the pilot, though, there's definitely something attractive about the show's style. It's easy, if unedgey fun, and there's an undeniable warmness to the situation, especially during the scene in which Jess is stood up on a date and the boys come to her rescue. Kind of refreshing in an age of overtly pessimistic sitcoms. It's up to the rest of the season to define New Girl as something worth investing in, and to find a unique perspective in tackling gender relations that doesn't seem rehashed from other, better shows. Based on the pilot, it's nothing we haven't seen before, but there's still time to make it count. And, hey, at least it has Zooey Deschanel. There are worse ways to spend 24 minutes, week after week. New Girl will premiere on Fox in the US on September 20th, where it will air on Tuesday nights at 9/8 central. This episode is currently available to download early via the iTunes store in the US only.
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