Meet Jess, a lovable dork prone to making up spontaneous theme songs for herself even after being humiliatingly dumped by her boyfriend. Meet Jess's new roommates. They have a Douchebag Jar

By Lanford Beard
September 21, 2011 at 01:00 AM EDT
Isabella Vosmikova/Fox
S1 E1
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  • TV Show
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From the second Zooey Deschanel’s face appeared on screen in the pilot for New Girl (which happens to be second 0.000001, in tight close-up), it was clear this show was not meant to be your grandma’s sitcom — despite Jess’s fondness for granny panties (more on that later). Telling her humiliating break-up story within the framework of horror clichés, she gave a nod to the hyper-referential hipster characters on which she has made her name. So, the rules were set: If you like Zooey Deschanel, you’d like New Girl. But did the pilot play out that way?

In the show’s opening scene, Jess looked directly through the camera at us, as if to say, “Like me! Get me!” as she offered details of her fresh heartbreak. Let’s just say it started with a risqué, trench coat-clad, surprise drop-in on her boyfriend and quickly devolved into Bridget Jones’ discovery of Daniel Cleaver’s philandering, only without the benefit of a bunny suit and if Bridget endured the added embarrassment of launching into an off-key, self-penned musical number. Like many a comedy heroine before her, Jess tried to bust out of her own shell, and it blew up in her face. It couldn’t have helped that Jess’s first instinct was to name her scandalous sex persona Rebecca Johnson (she ultimately settled on Charlie Sheen-influenced Tiger Boobs).

Cut back to the present, where Jess was no longer talking to us, but to her prospective roommates. She concluded, “So… that happened. I’m sorry, what was the question?” Potential roomie: “Do you have any pets?” Clearly the pay-off in this show will never be the yuk-yuks. There were a few ongoing gags worth noting, such as Jess’s tendency to sing spontaneous theme songs about herself or the events unfolding before her. Also, the Guy-iest of Jess’s new roommates (which is not to say “manliest” since all three are stuck in that first-apartment state of transition between boy and man) is a fellow named Schmidt. He errs on the side of tool so often that his housemates have designated a Douchebag Jar for him.

NEXT: Meet the guys who created the Douchebar Jar

Somewhere between the guys’ recognition that they could use a bit of feminine energy and Jess’s confession that her best friend/current roommate is a model, Jess landed herself a new place. The guys’ first mission was to get Jess out of her break-up-induced depression and into rebound mode. Much of that involved pausing Dirty Dancing and peeling her off the floor. New roomie and voice of reason Nick related to Jess since he was still recovering from being dumped six months ago. (If I were a betting woman, I’d say these two are going to fall into each other’s arms by the end of the first season.)

In turn, Jess helped the guys overcome their personal foibles. Third roommate Coach, for example, is a personal trainer prone to sudden outbursts of rage.  Jess taught him how to kick his raging habit (mostly) and talk with girls about things like jeggings. (Many people would probably say Damon Wayans Jr.’s character Coach is the weakest link. For them, I have good news: Wayans will be replaced by Lamorne Morris — playing a new character named Winston —  in the second episode, since Wayans’ show Happy Endings was picked up for a second season.) Jess also cut through Nick’s emotional baggage, warning him not to become “that old guy” filled with regret because he couldn’t move past his ex. As for Schmidt… well, there was, is, nor will ever be any helping him.

Jess leans heavily toward the “lovable loser” trope (think 40-Year-Old Virgin). She’s an absolute nerd who wears granny panties out to the bar, picks up guys by purring, “Hey, sailor,” and thinks overalls are appropriate first-date apparel. But she’s also wise when she needs to be (like in her pep talk with Nick) and just so darn cute! This, however, escaped the notice of Schmidt’s a-hole buddy, who stood her up after she texted him too much. This story arc and Nick’s confrontation with his ex both seemed like necessary but distracting interjections on the way to the night’s make-or-break moment: After Jess’s rejection, the guys rushed to her side to serenade her with the single worst rendition of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” ever. The gang all headed back home to watch Johnny take Baby out of her corner and Jess earned her stripes by getting in her first order for Schmidt to contribute to the Douchebag Jar.

NEXT: “Pink wine makes me slutty!”

Like many sitcom pilots, New Girl struggled to keep the comedy afloat in the face of so much exposition. Each scene seemed a bit more like a vignette than a cohesive part of a whole, making the ongoing plot either absent or slightly clunky. Perhaps because of this, some of the best moments of the episode were the random in-betweens. From the awesome throwback to classic TV with a She & Him-inflected theme song (“Hey girl, where ya goin’? Hey girl, what ya doin’? Who’s that girl? It’s Jess!”) to Jess’s predilection for rosé (“Pink wine makes me slutty!”), to even small details like Jess’s insistence on showering in her bathing suit.

The episode also featured its share of nods to other comedic styles, like Liz Lemon-esque flashbacks and Kristen Wiig-inspired facial contortions from Deschanel. To that I’ll say, Deschanel does best when she’s being herself. That’s not to say it wasn’t a solid start. With sitcoms increasingly going the way of the single camera, New Girl fits well into the quirky type of humor that Modern Family has mastered. Once all the relationships have been established, it will have a lot of potential to join the Dunphy-Pritchett-Tucker clan in keeping comedy fresh.

So, Newbies, what did you think? Are you on Team Zooey, or do you think her she’s over-hyped? Do you think replacing Coach will help or hurt the show? What were the highlights of the show for you? What are you looking forward to in the season to come?

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Zooey Deschanel plays lovable Jess, who is plodding through life with a good group of friends.
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seasons
  • 5
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  • TV-14
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  • 09/20/11
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  • In Season
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