September 26, 2012



NEW GIRL:  Tuesday 9PM on FOX

WHERE WE WERE:  In an apartment with four very strange inhabitants:  Jess (Zooey Deschanel) of the title, who does have her magic pixie dream girl moments but enough issues and grit of her own to make her more than a male fantasy; Winston (Lamorne Morris), a former (European) basketball player trying to break into radio; Nick (Jake Johnson), a bartender and lost soul who may be Jess’ soulmate; and Schmidt (Max Greenfield), a gourmand, insecure egoist and the reason the apartment has a Douche Jar.  Also on hand is Cece (Hannah Simone), Jess’ best friend, a model, and as unlikely as it may seem, former inamorata of Schmidt.

WHERE WE ARE:  Summer has passed, and with it Schmidt’s time encased in a penis-cast.  (Don’t ask.)  In the first of two premiere episodes (used to launch the new Ben & Kate in the next half-hour), written by Co-Executive Producer Kay Cannon and directed by Steve Pink, Schmidt throws a party (the theme is “danger” and Philip Seymour Hoffman is on the invitation list) to celebrate his freedom, but the main event of the episode is Jess getting laid off from her grade school teaching job, a blow she initially refuses to acknowledge.  In the second episode, written by series creator Elizabeth Meriwether and directed by Larry Charles, everyone’s gone even more off the rails than usual:  Schmidt is determined to conquer Winston’s visiting WNBA player sister, Jess is being pursued by all manner of men, and pretends to be a good-looking guy’s (guest star David Walton) internet blind date, and Nick is convinced that one of the drinkers at his bar (guest star Raymond J. Barry, last seen as Raylan’s shady father on Justified) is actually his own future self paying a visit.

NEW GIRL returned in fine style, its mix of precise jokes (Schmidt compares Winston’s suit to the one Morgan Freeman wears when they finally release him from Shawshank), general weirdness (Parker Posey as the “26 year-old” shot girl at Schmidt’s party, not to mention Jess’ dance when she tries to showcase her own inner shot girl) and genuine sentiment intact.  The second episode was even better than the first, with excellent use of Walton and of Josh Gad, as someone called “Bearclaw” because of an unfortunate tattoo, and Jess, who started out as prudish in a gimmicky way early in the first season (she literally couldn’t say the word “penis”) wholeheartedly enjoying her time “off the grid.”  The show is in no hurry to get to its seemingly inevitable Jess/Nick romance, although a few crumbs were thrown to shippers when Future Nick advised Present Nick to apologize to Jess for something bad he’s going to do to her in the future.

There are plenty of sitcoms about groups of oddly-matched friends, even other excellent ones with a surreal edge (Happy Endings), but New Girl has an almost unique tone–Parks & Recreation comes closest–a melancholy and depth of emotion fleetingly on view behind the silliness.  Watching the uniformly wonderful cast, you not only feel like these characters like each other, but that they truly need one another, in ways none of them could quite explain.  (Although they’d be happy to talk it to death.)   Regularly drawing laughs is an accomplishment, but doing it with unforced warmth is extraordinary.

New Girl was a substantial hit last season, even if it cooled off after its initial smash numbers.  This year, though, it’s in the season’s suicide slot, an insane half-hour where three first-rate single camera comedies will duel it out, New Girl vs. Happy Endings vs. the increasingly promising Go On on NBC.  All three of them richly deserve to survive, but the odds are that someone’s going to have to blink.  New Girl has the advantage of being the incumbent, and with any luck, it will continue to develop its special, funny strangeness for seasons to come.

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."