I didn’t start watching New Girl until it appeared on Netflix this past summer, and after giving the pilot a try, I binged on all 24 episodes within a week. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the amusing plots, quirky characters, and brilliant sense of humor. The premise of 4 thirty-somethings living together in an apartment is nothing new, but the strong characters are what really make the show a gem. Zooey Deschanel as Jess is adorable, and Max Greenfield seriously deserves an Emmy for his hilarious performance as the douche-y, but lovable Schmidt. Why the overrated ABC comedy Modern Family continues to win all the Emmys every year is beyond me; New Girl is easily the best sitcom currently airing on TV.
This past week’s episode, entitled “Keaton,” was unusual in the fact that it centered around only one plot, avoiding the standard A, B, and C plot format that divides typical television episodes into three different stories. Jess, Nick, and Winston express concern that Schmidt needs help since he has been in a bad funk since his breakups with Cece and Elizabeth, whom he was dating at the same time until they found out. After learning that Schmidt’s mother and later Nick used to write to Schmidt as the actor Michael Keaton to offer him advice in place of a father figure, Jess decides to resurrect this to help him find purpose in life again. At first Schmidt is ecstatic to hear back from the famous Batman actor and fill-in mentor after not hearing from him for years, but it doesn’t take long for Schmidt to find out the truth and get upset. In the end, Schmidt decides its time to move out of the loft and move on with his life, moving all the way down the hall to the empty apartment across from the loft.
I read an article earlier this year that said Damon Wayans Jr. is returning to New Girl as Coach, who was the original fourth roommate in the pilot, but had to be written out of the show due to his commitment to the now-cancelled Happy Endings. It appears that the writers decided to move Schmidt out to make room for Coach, which should make for an interesting dynamic since we’ve never seen Winston interact with Coach before, and obviously Jess and Nick haven’t seen him for two years. I’m also interested to see how they characterize Coach differently from Winston, since Winston originally felt like a fairly identical replacement for Coach’s character (the two even supposedly played on the same basketball team together). However, toward the end of the second season, the writers began to take Winston’s character to extremes, which felt weird to say the least. He constantly suggested and arranged violent pranks on his friends, became extremely colorblind overnight, and one episode even implied he pleasures himself to puzzles. Originally these behaviors seemed out of character, but now I’m guessing the writers knew they needed to make Winston more distinct from Coach anticipating his return the following year.
Overall, the third season has felt a bit off in terms of quality, with the season premiere in particular being disappointing compared to previous episodes. As much as the audience wanted Nick and Jess to be together, in some ways their coupling came too soon and now their relationship creates a new dynamic amongst the group that disturbs the perfect chemistry the show previously had. Even Schmidt comments on this chemistry disturbance in the season premiere, but this form of self-reflexivity doesn’t dismiss the fact the show’s quality is a bit off par right now. “Keaton” wasn’t an awful episode, in fact it was one of the better episodes this season. What I liked most about it was that it demonstrated really well how much Nick, Jess, and Winston care about Schmidt. In the same way the pilot showed the audience how much the three guys care about Jess, we see that despite his recent infidelities and bad decisions, Schmidt’s friends still really care about him and want the best for him.
Nick and Jess’s relationship wasn’t a highlight in “Keaton”, which was good. It’s not that they make a bad couple; they are cute together and it was obvious since early in the first season that they should be together. But if you look at Jim and Pam’s relationship in The Office, it took five years for them to get together. For Ross and Rachel in Friends, it took them all ten years of the show to get together and it was still ambiguous in the end. I suppose if the writers are planning an on-again/off-again relationship for Nick and Jess, the show can find some longevity, but at this point, the show needs to mix things up to get out of its current funk. Hopefully Coach can help.