September 16, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “New Girl”


NEW GIRL:  Tuesday 9PM on FOX

NEW GIRL returned for its fourth season tonight with something to prove.  Rarely has an acclaimed, popular comedy plunged so quickly and so badly, both critically and with viewers:  the series that premiered in 2011 with a 4.8 rating had lost three-quarters of that audience by last May, and dropped more than 50% of it last season alone.  Whether or not it was inevitably a disaster for the series to bring together Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) romantically, as some theorized, there’s no question that the storyline played out badly, and one way or another, Elizabeth Meriwether’s show misplaced its comic mojo.

The byword for Season 4 is that New Girl plans to go back to being frothy, quirky fun, with a minimum of tortured relationships.  Jess and Nick are single, and so are Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Cece (Hannah Simone); Winston (Lamorne Bishop) has finished his drifting and is a attending police academy, and Coach (Damon Wayons, Jr) is officially a series regular, even if they haven’t reshot the opening credit sequence to include him.  The season premiere, written by Consulting Producer J.J. Philbin and directed by Trent O’Donnell, put a lot of energy into being carefree.  The whole gang found itself at a wedding, after what was a long summer of weddings, and they were determined to break out of their collective funk and go home with sexy strangers.  That didn’t work out too well (Nick and Schmidt, offered a foursome, couldn’t quite get past the possibility of their salt and pepper getting mixed), and soon their last hope for a one-nighter was Jess, who went after the best man (Reid Scott, from Veep), but had to compete with a ferociously focused genius (she’d lost her virginity to Malcolm Gladwell) played by Jessica Biel.

It was a cute half-hour, and some of it played very nicely.  Everything to do with the bungled foursome was funny, Biel served a reminder that she’s terribly underused by Hollywood, and Nick and Jess had a sweet scene together when they were both hiding out in a mens’ room cubicle.  It was all a bit meta, though, in a way the writers may not have intended:  the show felt as desperately intent on proving how much fun it could still be as its characters were to attract potential one night stands.  Every time a punchline landed, you could almost feel the writing staff shake its collective fist (not to be confused with a sex fist, as Jess dubbed the roommates) and shout, “We’re not dead yet, damn it!”  The graceful, oddball goofiness that made New Girl appealing in the first place felt like it was being parceled out with little spontaneity, a seedling that had to be cultivated carefully, out of direct sunlight.

Even a series that’s in great shape will tend to show signs of age by its fourth season; trying to remake one that’s seriously lost its way is a huge challenge, especially for a show like New Girl that’s always depended so much on fragile chemistry.  The cast remains tremendously skilled and charming, but they’ll need the writers to rediscover the sense of freshness that was there at the start, without falling off into terminal whimsy.  (At least in terms of ratings, it should help that last season’s competing comedies on ABC have been replaced by the shifted Agents of SHIELD, and that NBC’s Marry Me is far from a sure thing.)  For those who want New Girl to be weightless, the premiere was probably a promising start, but whether it can sustain itself, much less win back the fans who’ve left, remains unclear.

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."