September 20, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Disclaimer:  Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall.  Pilots are often reedited and rescored, and in some cases even recast or reshot.  So these critiques shouldn’t be taken as full reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.

NEW GIRL –  Tuesday 9PM on FOX:  Potential DVR Alert

When the networks finished their casting for this past development season and tallied up the stars they’d captured, the biggest surprise was that Zooey Deschanel was doing TV.  She’s a thriving indie film star (500 Days of Summer, the fun Our Idiot Brother coming later this summer), and swings into bigger budget pictures like Yes Man and the recent Your Highness when she feels like a paycheck, so there was no pressing career need for her to take on a series–and were she so inclined, the expectation would have been for something more like a short-order, prestigious cable show at an HBO or Showtime.  But instead, she launched herself right into the world of network sitcoms.  And now that NEW GIRL, her new FOX series, has been unveiled, it seems evident that she simply liked the script, which is the most appealing of the new season so far.

The writer of New Girl is Liz Meriwether, whose major previous credit was the script for this year’s No Strings Attached.  That makes New Girl a pleasant surprise, since the movie was mostly witless (in fairness, the development process in Hollywood often bleaches out idiosyncracy–it’s known, for example, that Meriwether’s original film title alone would have made No Strings impossible to advertise).  In light of the series, it’s worth nothing that the best parts of No Strings were the scenes between Natalie Portman and her roommates, who included Mindy Kaling and Greta Gerwig; roommates are the subject of New Girl, and perhaps that’s Meriwether’s strong suit.

The pilot quickly sets up the thin premise, which is that Jess (Deschanel), having been dumped by her boyfriend, answers an ad on Craigslist looking for a roommate, and she finds to her surprise that the ad was run by a group of men:  would-be stud Schmidt  (Max Greenfield), bartender–and fellow dumpee–Nick (Jake Johnson) and Coach, a personal trainer who treats people like he’s their drill sergeant (Damon Wayans, Jr–although the part will have to be recast, since his Happy Endings was renewed by ABC). After some initial reluctance, they decide to take her in (her best friend is a model).

A storyline like this could just as easily lead to a terrible show as a good one–and in classic Hollywood fashion, it doesn’t exactly beef up the reality quotient that we’re supposed to believe Zooey Deschanel would have trouble attracting men–but the charm of New Girl is that all the characters are both a little crazy and somewhat fond of their own weirdness.  Jess makes up–and sings–nervous songs about herself; Schmidt has to constantly put dollars into the apartment’s “douchebag jar” (which is a jar ABC should consider adding to the sets of some of its new shows); Coach can’t keep himself from yelling at people.  The most level-headed character is Jess’ fashion model pal (Hannah Simone), which is itself a nice spin on the stereotype.  The laughs so far are relatively low-key, but they arise comfortably from character rather than schtick.  The cast works together beautifully, and Deschanel, playing against the “manic pixie dream girl” label affixed to her indie career, is capably as much of a wreck as the men are.  (The fine direction is by Jake Kasdan, who helmed the classic pilot for Freaks & Geeks, and who has Bad Teacher opening in a few weeks.)

New Girl could still go either way–there’s no underlying franchise to supply stories, and shows that rely on charm are hard to sustain–but it’s off to a bright start.  FOX has given it their plum sitcom spot, following Glee on Tuesday nights, where the competition will be NCIS, Biggest Loser and the Dancing With the Stars Results, so the field is clear for a young-skewing, smart comedy (Mitch Metcalf’s analysis has it in 3rd place, not far out of 2nd).  New Girl‘s off-kilter good nature makes it a good match with Glee, and certainly worth a try–it’s a manic pixie dream sitcom.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."