Watching the debut of New Girl, you may have been thinking, “I’ve heard these jokes before.” Oh, right: It was in the 21,875 commercials Fox offered in promoting the show, revealing punchline after punchline. Is there such a thing as too much promotion – specifically, promos that give away the best gags? Only the ratings will tell, but even if you hadn’t already downloaded it on iTunes or watched it on Hulu, I’ll bet a lot of you thought you’d seen much of this half hour well before it aired.
Not that Zooey Deschanel can or should be blamed for any of this.
She and show creator Liz Meriwether are clearly trying something different: a portrait of an eccentric as the lively center of a series. In another, less imaginative show, Deschanel’s Jess would be the wacky sidekick, the comedy-boosting help for the glammier star of the sitcom. Meriwether and Deschanel have moved that kind of person – smart, quick, cheerfully silly, unafraid to make a goofball of herself – front and center.
And it works. Deschanel comes with a certain amount of pop culture baggage – movie career, music career, Internet adventurer – but it’s the right kind of baggage: She’s like the more successful version of Jess, who’s so destitute after a romantic breakup, she moves in with three guys. Three guys, I must add, who are at present so uniform in their reactions to Jess I’m not going to name their characters until they distinguish themselves from each other. (This is New Girl’s trickiest problem: It was a wonderful idea for Meriwether to avoid giving Jess a boyfriend – otherwise she’d immediately be just a 21st-century That Girl – but by giving her, in essence, three neutered boyfriends, boys who are friends, the writing staff has its work cut out for it to make these fellows compelling, not to mention funny in ways other than funny reactions to Jess’ funny stuff.)
I will steadfastly resist the temptation to call Deschanel adorable; indeed, what I find most charming about the character is that she’s sweet, for sure, but she’s also more than a little prickly. The brief flashes of irritation Jess displays – at being thought dumb; at being cheated on; at not having her heartache taken seriously enough – are satisfying. I hope Meriwether and Deschanel play up this aspect of the character.
The “Douchebag Jar”? As Jess would say, “Jeesh.” As a running joke, this doesn’t seem promising. In fact, it made me think that was the kind of thing I’d see on Cougar Town, and it’s likely Meriwether and Deschanel don’t want to go there. Instead, I want New Girl to continue to use its visuals as metaphors for Jess’ state of mind. The scene in the restaurant, for example, with a lonely Jess joined by her new pals, made for an interesting TV screen, filled to the edges with glum colors and the depressed air of a chilly place to eat alone.
The pilot, as many times as I’d heard its jokes, just makes me want to see next week’s episode all the more. To see how those guys develop (especially when Damon Wayans Jr. is shipped back to Happy Endings and is replaced by Lamorne Morris). To see whether Jess really is going to singsong her way through parts of the half hour. But mostly just to see whether the warm/funny/eccentric vibe New Girl gives off can be sustained. Oh, and I like the Zooey-sung theme song. How about you? I’d also be curious to know what you think about the whole ads-revealing-too-many-jokes thing.