01 December 2011

You Should Be Watching New Girl

Wow, people really hate this show. I mention New Girl (usually to relate a Schmidt anecdote), and immediately the eyes get to rolling and the sighs flood out like our air is running low on correct opinions. "I know, I know," I say. "Zooey Deschanel can be a bit..." and then I don't know what to say, because although I (sort of) share the opinion, I'm not sure what's exactly wrong with her. Is she too cutesy? Is she too successful? Is everyone just crushing that hard on Ben Gibbard? Well great news ladies, he's free again. And I'm free. To love Zooey Deschanel and her new show!

Here is a timeline of my feelings on Zooey Deschanel:
2000: Almost Famous comes out. Zooey enters my radar.
2003: I must be the only person ever who doesn't love Elf. I like the part on the escalator when he's having a hard time - that cracks me up. But syrup on spaghetti? Who would waste delicious syrup like that? I also have a hard time relating to the entire cast, which is heartbreaking because I love Mary Steenbergen and James Caan. AND NEWHART FOR GOD'S SAKE! What is happening to me?
2004: I rent All the Real Girls on dvd from Blockbuster. I like Zooey now (but hate her character for the second half of the movie).
2005: Bones premieres on Fox. I like talent families.
2007: Katherine burns me my first She & Him cd. M Ward is cool. I like this music.
2008: H&M has posters of AIDS-awareness bodysuits and I keep thinking the Katy Perry one is Zooey.
2009: I see 500 Days of Summer in the theater and it's simply 5% too much for me. The next girl is named Autumn? Toooo much. I start wondering if Zooey herself might be 5% too much. I hope she isn't; she has my coloring.
Spring 2011: I follow Zooey on twitter and my suspicions start to firm up. She's always tweeting about being at home with mom and they're baking! She's cooking Thanksgiving and she loves to cook! She adores everyone and everyone adores her! Weeeeeeee!
Fall 2011: New Girl premieres on fox. I have a habit of trying out any new comedy (within reason), no matter what prejudice I'm pretty sure I'm right about. I endure a punishing stream of zesty Whitney Cummings shows without reward. But then! New Girl pays off!

This morning I was looking around in the NY Times Television section and found an article written by self-declared "cranky geezer" Neil Genzlinger, who hates all new comedy. Why? Because it's not new - it's all been done before.

Well figured, dummy. Of course it's all been done before! Of course we've seen the same bits over and over and over again! It's tv, and tv has limitations. Limitations that demand each sitcom in history to have an "Oops I just saw you naked!" episode. Genzlinger takes particular offense to that very episode of New Girl ("Naked"). He outlines Seinfeld's "The Contest" episode, wherein the gang has a no-masturbating contest without ever mentioning the word itself, and compares the two:
Contrast that ["The Contest" episode from Seinfeld] with the naked-roommate episode of “New Girl.” It is all about the character Nick’s penis, which Ms. Deschanel’s character, Jess, has accidentally seen. The word “penis” is spoken (or, in one case, sung) nine times, and that’s not including a batch of near-penises as Jess struggles to say the word. (Eventually, of course, she does.) It’s all done with an episode-long smirk, the very smirk I affected back in junior high when using what I thought would be an attention-getting word. And I might have found “New Girl” funny when I was in junior high. The thing is, I’ve graduated. Sorry, New Girl; no laugh for you.
No Genzlinger laugh for New Girl, folks, you heard it here first. I didn't realize we were declaring shows "good" or "bad" based on how they stand up to SEINFELD. That's like going to a perfectly interesting art show and then tossing off something like "Eh, it's no da Vinci." No, no it is not a Leonardo da Vinci. But it still has a few things going for it, and we owe it to the future of culture to at least try to see something good (or at least new) in it.

Here we finally turn to New Girl, one of my new favorites directly because of the novelty of its character Schmidt. Schmidt (played by Max Greenfield a/k/a Young Sandy Cohen a/k/a the Cop that Veronica Mars Dates for like One Episode) is a character I've never encountered on tv before. He's a douchebag living among nice guys, a puffed-up peacock in eternal show-off mode, a full-throttle version of the brattiest feelings we have all felt before. Schmidt's roommates, Nick and Winston, do what they can to keep him in line, and Schmidt seems honestly to be interested in self-improvement. He's just got a long way to go.

In the pilot, when Schmidt meets Jess's best friend (a model named Cece), he can't help himself - he rips off his shirt, casually remarking how hot it is, thereby revealing his not-extremely-toned physique. He then smiles the most shit-eating grin and just starts repeating Cece's name to impress her. "Cece. Cheche. Chechelia," he continues, settling on a brief show of all the Italian he truly doesn't have a grasp on. I laughed for hours. The day Cece finally acknowledges Schmidt as a person, he leaves the room so that he can jump off the wall like an amateur stuntman and do 16 diving rolls on the floor.

Later on, in the very "Naked" episode in question, Schmidt begs Jess to describe Nick's penis (as he hasn't ever seen it, even after years of best friendship). When she refuses, he puts out his hands to illustrate a length. "I'll keep going and you tell me when to stop," he says, but his hands are spreading out so fast and to such an unrealistic length that he can't freaking believe she hasn't stopped him yet. "Seriously? No. Wait, oh my- REALLY? No, can't be- THAT'S INSANE! No, let me start over." This, ladies and gentlemen, made me laugh so, so hard. And I was alone in my room, a situation that typically discourages verbalized laughter. What a fully-formed asshole, and what a silly person, and what a foolish dreamer. Schmidt is more than just a douchebag - he's a human douchebag.

Like Schmidt, Zooey's character Jess is a human version of the incredible dork she portrays. At first glance, Jess seems like Zooey Deschanel Cutesy x1000 - she's putting a turkey in the dryer, pulling Feelings Sticks out of her purse, and wearing insane costumes for her kindergarten class. But what's annoying about that kind of cutesiness isn't the individual actions - it's the proud display of all the actions put together. A girl who knits a scarf has a hobby; a girl who knits tons of scarves and puts them in your face and essentially begs you to recognize how idiosyncratic she is has a problem.

Although Jess's little weird traits add up, they're never championed as something to be proud of. Her roommates are constantly trying to get her to just chill out and be cool. She's trying pretty hard, and they note it as openly as they note Schmidt's douchebagginess. She tries to start a game of catch and immediately breaks the tv. She has crushes on truly lame guys, like her hippie boyfriend and Famous Computerman Justin Long (whose character people seem to like, but just because they haven't seen through his sheepishness to the low self-esteem lurking far below). She's a loser, just like everyone else in the apartment. We have here a jobless basketball player, a schlub who just got dumped, a douchebag, and a total dork. IT'S THE PERFECT TEAM!

I'm really enjoying New Girl, and I think that you should be watching it - that is, if you want to see something new, despite Genzlinger's opinion. Besides, I get a feeling that Genzy only really watched the penis episode. In his article he mentions that his crankiness, though palpable, never kept him from laughing at MASH in his younger days. Well, there's your problem right there.

All photos courtesy fox.com

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