May 6, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “New Girl”


It seems fair to ask just what the hell happened to NEW GIRL this season.  A series that seemed to spring out of its pilot womb in complete command of its oddball voice and marvelous cast could suddenly barely take a step in the right direction, the laughs dried up, and the ratings plunged:  the series, which had already lost 50% of its original ratings in Season 2, lost 50% again, to the point where it’s been rating no better than borderline shows like Community.

Everything the series tried to do seemed to backfire.  There was no reason for the romance between Jess (Zoey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) to be a disaster for the show, no matter how the pair ended up, but the writers’ room appeared to be terrified of the characters growing up even the slightest bit, so Jess and Nick stayed infantile (or, more accurately, like 13-year olds) who were having sex, which made everything queasy in a weird way.  Trying to climb out of that hole, the writers abruptly broke them apart, but that’s been worse, as the show tiptoes around their awkwardness with each other while leaning heavily on schticky humor instead of believable emotion.  Schmidt (Max Greenfield) moved out of the apartment and then back in, fashion model Cece (Hannah Simone) was suddenly a bartender and suddenly dating a 20-year old Australian, Winston (Lamorne Morris) was desperate to join the police force but only when the writers remembered they’d invented that plotline.  Jess became an assistant principal at her school, but it had little effect on the rest of her life.  Even the return of Coach (Damon Wayans, Jr) as an unofficial regular (it’ll be official next season) didn’t help much, because although Wayans is a terrific talent, the Coach that showed up had none of the focus of the character who was so missed when he couldn’t stay with the show after the pilot (due to Wayans’ commitment to Happy Endings).  It was all mystifyingly flat, and for a viewer, watching it happen was like going through some of the the stages of death:  denial that a show so uniquely funny could have gone stale so fast, then depression, and finally something like anger that so much talent was being wasted every week.

Even in a good season, this year’s finale wouldn’t have been promising:  a cruise for all the regulars that probably should have included shark-jumping among its activities.  The gimmick was that Jess and Nick had booked the trip while they were still a couple, and couldn’t get refunds, so they convinced everyone else to come alone (as it turned out, all in the same room).  The writers, Supervising Producer Luvh Rakhe and Co-Executive Producer Rob Rosell, and series creator Elizabeth Meriwether, who directed, couldn’t come up with less hackneyed gags than Coach turning out to be deathly afraid of the sea, and Schmidt wanting to give a ring to Cece (not an engagement ring in this case, but it might as well have been) only to have the moment ruined at every turn.  In the end, nothing really happened–Nick and Jess, and Schmidt and Cece, were all still apart–except that next season we can look forward to Nick and Schmidt in bunk beds sharing Schmidt’s room.

There were bits during the season, to be sure, to remind us that New Girl could zing when the material was there, like the episode about Schmidt’s years of personal messages that he thought were from Michael Keaton, Jess’s campaign against a Chinese restaurant’s excessive menus, and Nick’s secret film project for Jess’s birthday.  At its best, the show can be soulful, imaginative and very funny, all at the same time.  But those instances were few and far between this season.

New Girl has become an odd mixture of traditional and modern TV comedy, in which significant things happen to the characters, but the show resists any resulting change from them.  The effect is frustrating, neither an efficient laugh machine nor a narrative that wholeheartedly engages the emotions.  The series needs to do the work that perhaps came too easily at its start, and figure itself out once and for all, because it can’t survive another season like this one.


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."