May 15, 2013



NEW GIRL only got better this season.  There are TV comedies that are good at silly (Happy Endings, The Neighbors), and there are some that are great at soulful (Parks & Recreation more than any).  But combining silliness and soulfulness at once is a remarkable combination, and even in its first-rate initial season, New Girl didn’t pull that off the way it did this year.

Although both storylines in tonight’s season finale (with a script credited to staff writers Christian Magalhaes and Bob Snow–series creator/showrunner Elizabeth Meriwether certainly participating–and direction by pilot director Jake Kasdan) were examples of this, it may have been the B story that was more striking.  All season, New Girl had been building to Cece’s (Hannah Simone) arranged marriage to Shivrang (Satya Bhabha), and we’ve assumed from the start that Schmidt (Max Greenfield) would keep it from happening, since he’s been in love with Cece since Season 1.  And indeed, the wedding didn’t happen, and it all involved plenty of slapstick from a possibly rabid badger, an inappropriate recording of “Cotton Eyed Joe,” and a rearing horse.  But what New Girl did that’s practically unheard-of in this kind of rom-com set piece was give Schmidt a new girlfriend along the way, his ex from “fat Schmidt” days, Elizabeth (Merritt Wever, from Nurse Jackie).  And Elizabeth wasn’t a cardboard character to be tossed aside when Cece became available–she was a substantial, funny, forthright woman with real emotions, someone who cares about Schmidt and is good for him.  Instead of going for easy gags at the end of the episode, we saw how hurt Elizabeth was when she realized that Schmidt had been instrumental in ruining the wedding, and then when Schmidt had to choose between the two of them, it was anything but an easy choice.  (He ran away to Season 3.)  You don’t get that kind of emotional complexity on any other network sitcom, let alone in what’s supposed to be the “funny” part of the episode.

Of course, the most notable aspect of New Girl‘s season was the decision to go ahead and make Jess (Zoey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) a couple.  Again, the show didn’t take the easy way out–on the contrary, the halting romance has only deepened both characters over the course of the season.  This isn’t Ross and Rachel; Jess and Nick are both perfectly aware that they may not be right for each other, and they may even hurt one another.  Bringing them together doesn’t just alter the fundamental chemistry of the TV series, it alters both of the characters, and when they ride off as the credits roll on the finale, it’s more like the end of The Graduate than Pretty Woman–this could genuinely fail to work out.

While remaining enormously funny, New Girl hasn’t been afraid to let its characters change and go dark.  Jess is a long way from the quirk-fest we met in Season 1, who moped to Dirty Dancing when she was sad and couldn’t say “penis.”  She’s stronger and more sexual, but also angrier and less at peace with herself.  Nick’s been questioning himself from the start, of course, but episodes like the one where he met “Nick from the future” and where he dealt with the death of his father have made his self-doubt a bigger issue.

Despite all this darkness and emotional ambiguity, New Girl has continued to deliver huge laughs, with episodes this season like the one where two of the roommates faked a robbery to fool Schmidt, or the entire gang fought practically to the death over a parking space, or “Pepperwood,” where Nick became convinced there was a killer among Jess’s students.

The show still hasn’t quite figured out what to do with its other main character, Winston (Lamorne Morris).  Winston got plenty of laughs this season (the episode where he agreed to be more “black” for Schmidt by bringing him to buy crack was a riot), but he still hasn’t come into focus as an individual–it’s not clear, unless scheduling didn’t permit, why the show didn’t continue to develop Winston’s relationship with Daisy (Brenda Song), which was funny and promising.  It’s particularly noticeable because the series is so good even with its guest stars:  this season Olivia Munn, Carla Gugino, Rob Reiner, Dennis Farina, David Walton, and Margo Martindale were all among the excellent guests.  (The stunt-casting bit by Taylor Swift in the finale may have been slightly too clever for its own good.)

New Girl‘s ratings haven’t reflected how very fine it is.  By last season, they had already slid from the heady heights of the first few months into the high 2s (competing against sitcoms on two other networks all fall didn’t help), and lately the series been lucky to stay above a 2–and airing against The Voice next fall will make things even more difficult.  Luckily, these days even a 2 is a success for a non-CBS sitcom, so unless New Girl collapses, it isn’t in any danger.  That’s good, because there’s no more moving comedy, and no funnier show about relationships, on the air today.


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."