New Girl: Where To From Here?
TV's best/worst couple have returned to our screens. Will the show work as well now that they're official? And when will Winston get an actual proper role?
For the past few weeks, every TV nerd I know has been sweating on the question of what will happen to Walter White as his nefarious dealings catch up with him. That’s fine and all, but there’s been something far more pressing on my mind: what the hell will become of Jessica Day and Nick Miller now that they’ve sped off to a life of potential domestic bliss in the back of a crappy old Volvo?
Over the course of its first two seasons, New Girl stealthily became one of the best comedies that’s on TV right now. Led by Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson, the show features a cracking ensemble cast, who can pair off into any configuration for guaranteed laughs. It’s funny and snappily-written, with characters you actually enjoy catching up with each week, and its observations about life for people in their late 20s and early 30s ring awkwardly and painfully true.
But as it enters its third season, New Girl finds itself in a precarious position. As the show left off, roommates Nick and Jess ended their two years of flirting and bickering and furtive kissing and finally coupled up. For a sitcom, this is a tricky thing – when your main characters have spent two years doing the a will-they-or-won’t-they dance, how do you keep the tension and interest alive once they’re together?
Nick and Jess are a classic sitcom case of opposites attracting. She’s a sunny optimist, he’s an eternal pessimist; she’s somewhat focussed in terms of her life and career goals, he’s a helpless man-child who is intimidated by adults and can barely be coaxed out of his hoodie most days. I’m sincerely hoping that, as it heads into season three, the show doesn’t fumble their relationship.
The first episode of the new season, ‘All In’, aired this week, picking up right after Cece’s ill-fated wedding. So how are New Girl’s bestest buddies faring this year?
Let’s be honest here – at this point, Winston is the funniest character on the whole show. Lamorne Morris is a gifted comic actor, and even when Winston’s not the focus of a scene, it’s fun just watching him react to things. The fact that his character is so underdeveloped at this point seems a bit perverse – save for the season two episode when he ran all around LA trying to find a condom, he mostly just participates in other characters’ storylines.
The writers seem to be aware of this, as ‘All In’ acknowledges how unimportant Winston is in the scheme of things – everyone around him is going through potentially momentous life changes, and he just wants to sit down to do a jigsaw puzzle.
He gets all the biggest laughs in this episode, not least of all the reveal that he wears a hoodie as pants, and his slow realisation that he might actually be colour-blind.
Winston is hilarious — hopefully New Girl’s writers will give him something interesting to do now.
Poor, handsome Nick is barely holding it together in this episode. I mean, Nick barely manages to hold it together in general. He’s a man in his 30s who can barely pay his own way and is terrified of the concept of adulthood – but here, his anxiety comes crashing down around him when he realises that he can’t even afford to buy nice things for his new girlfriend.
He can’t afford actual accommodation, so he sets up a shanty town in the back of the car on the beach and pretends like they’re on a fun adventure; when that doesn’t pan out, he shakes down a terrified kid for his hotel ID, before eventually getting thrown in prison. Admittedly, it’s not that bad – it’s just hotel prison, where they even let you watch Ugly Betty — but still, this is a man who is desperately and pathetically treading water.
The scene where he presents Jess with a pair of half-drunk cocktails left behind by another guest is probably the saddest ‘All In’ has to offer. Johnson plays his character beautifully, and here, you can see the wheels desperately spinning in his head as he tries to figure out how he’ll make it work with Jess. He and his con man father are maybe more alike than he’d like to admit.
Given how elaborately New Girl likes to humiliate Schmidt – remember the time he broke his penis and spent all summer walking around in a cast? – this episode felt a little bit flat. The season two finale forced Schmidt to make the choice between his old flame, Elizabeth, and the love of his life, Cece, who had just left her nice but oh-so-boring fiancé at the altar. He panicked and chose to run away instead, and ‘All In’ doesn’t offer much of a resolution.
Backed into a corner and unwilling to man up, Schmidt tells each girl that he’s chosen her. As Ron Howard would say, that’s a clear-cut situation with the promise of comedy, but it doesn’t turn into very much in this episode: the normally hilarious Max Greenfield didn’t really have a lot to work with, while Cece and Elizabeth barely register as characters. Tellingly, the funniest thing about Schmidt’s story this week was Winston, whose attempts to cover for his friend ended in a hysterical lie about how he wanted Cece’s underwear to sew into his own.
Please give Winston more to do this year.
I’ve put Jess second-to-last on purpose, because even though hers is the title role, she feels like the least important character in this episode. To be fair she spends most of it in a state of shock, but in the season premiere Deschanel mainly just bounces off Jake Johnson — which is a pity, because she’s so damn funny in her own right.
There are those who dislike Zooey Deschanel for being a hipster or a manic pixie dreamgirl or whatever, but very few of those people have actually sat down and spent a decent amount of time with New Girl. Deschanel’s performance as Jess is sweet and winning, and filled with tiny moments of hilarity — like her awkward, flapper girl-esque sexy dance, or the way she breaks into a ridiculous cockney accent because she’s embarrassed to say the word ‘penis’.
The episode does a good job of setting up her future relationship with Nick – they’re less a girlfriend and boyfriend than a mother and a child who needs caring for. He doesn’t even know that you’re supposed to carry house keys with you, so she promises to keep an extra set for him. It’s sweet and endearing now, but there will quickly come a time when it’s not.
Remember when Cece was an important character with something to do? New Girl clearly doesn’t. Jess’s cool and assertive best friend has become passive and uninteresting – a real waste of the very funny Hannah Simone.
It’d be nice to see her do more than just moping around after Schmidt this season.
Where To From Here?
The final scenes of ‘All In’ offer a certain amount of reassurance for the future of New Girl. After busting Nick out of hotel prison, Jess gives a stirring speech about how life just doesn’t work without the core foursome of roommates. It seems like the writers’ way of acknowledging that the show’s main strength is in its ensemble; that Jess, Nick, Winston and Schmidt are better together than apart.
At the beginning of its third season, New Girl is still very funny. It remains to be see just what happens to Schmidt – although I’m guessing it will involve both women rejecting him, before he finally ends up with Cece, Hannah Simone being one of the show’s stars and all. More interesting will be Nick and Jess’s relationship: it’s going to end badly, but how badly? Will the fallout involve Nick moving into his car?
Most important is the question of whether or not Winston gets something interesting to do this season. I really hope Winston gets something interesting to do this season. Are you listening, New Girl writers? TEAM WINSTON.
Alasdair Duncan is an author, freelance writer and video game-lover who has had work published in Crikey, The Drum, The Brag, Beat, Rip It Up, The Music Network, Rave Magazine, AXN Cult and Star Observer.