Editor’s Note: Welcome to our TV Rewind column! The Paste writers are diving into the streaming catalogue to discuss some of our favorite classic series as well as great shows we’re watching for the first time. Come relive your TV past with us, or discover what should be your next binge watch below:
Back in 2011, as a Zooey Deschanel enthusiast, I was beyond excited to dive into the New Girl. But it was a busy time in my life, and I ultimately lost track of new episodes. I ended up rediscovering New Girl a few years later, while it was still airing, and have been returning to it ever since. Elizabeth Meriwether’s FOX sitcom ended in 2018, but spending time with the eccentric Jess and her friends remains a warm blanket of familiarity. The show is both a perfect escape and clever entertainment, and remains a sitcom well worth revisiting.
It’s hard not to like Jessica “Jess” Day (Zooey Deschanel), a quirky, bubbly young woman who is the titular New Girl. Capable of charming anyone with her thick-rimmed glasses, uplifting nature, and a big smile, Jess’ life is unfortunately at a low ebb when we meet her. Following a nasty breakup, the eccentric teacher ends up moving into a crowded Los Angeles apartment loft with three single guys: Nick (Jake Johnson), Schmidt (Max Greenfield), and Coach (Damon Wayans Jr.)—and later, when Coach moves out, Winston (Lamorne Morris). Although the guys frequently find Jess’ behavior more than bizarre, they support her to the best of their abilities.
New Girl portrays a group of friends navigating (or attempting to navigate) their daily lives in a modern, capitalistic society. Each of them tries to find their way in the big wide world, dreaming of great careers and finding reliable partners—all while scrambling to pay rent on time. Despite Deschanel’s Jess being central to the plot, each of the roommates is equally important and as well-developed. Eschewing typical sitcom narratives, the creators additionally make certain that each member of the group learns from their mistakes and continually advance, allowing New Girl’s characters to grow alongside the audience and connect more with one another. That includes Cece (Hannah Simone), Jess’ model friend who frequently joins the group on their crazy adventures, and whose calmer nature is the ideal counterbalance to Jess’s constant energy. The two illustrate a beautiful, empowering, and hilarious female friendship.
One of their best episodes, “A Chill Day In” (written by Sarah Tapscott and directed by Erin O’Malley), involves Jess and Cece getting high and accidentally destroying a wedding gift from Schmidt’s mom. The duo come up with the “brilliant” idea of returning to the place of purchase and replacing it. Both Simone and Deschanel absolutely kill it as their under-the-influence characters attempt to obtain the display model that’s not for sale. Jess and Nick’s relationship is also central to the story, and one of their funniest, most wholesome scenes (not dealing with their will-they-won’t-they) is when the two meet Prince. Yes, the Prince, indeed. In Episode 14 of Season 3 (titled the same as the name of the legendary singer), Johnson and Deschanel truly embody the reality of the situation as their characters scream and faint, as any of us would, when Prince is standing right there.
And that brings us to another fantastic aspect of New Girl: the cameos. More than just a relic of the network sitcom and sweeps formula, the show provided hilarious, star-studded appearances that were meaningful parts of the show. In addition to Prince, New Girl also featured Jamie Lee Curtis as Jess’s mother, as well as multi-episode arcs with Carla Gugino and Megan Fox. The latter played Reagan, a pharmacist and Nick’s girlfriend, who joined the show for 15 episodes on the cusp of Seasons 5 and 6. Instead of a one-off stunt, Fox turned out to be a great addition to the cast and a well-written character. The show balanced these moments well; the chemistry between the permanent and guest stars is always on point, giving the impression that both parties had a great time on set.
As mentioned above, the series as a whole depicts a group of people who desire what many of us do in life: a stable relationship, a lucrative career, security. But the characters demonstrate that this isn’t always possible right away. Sometimes, like Jess, you have to work in fast food before finding a teaching position. Or like Winston, you start out on radio before discovering your calling as a law enforcement officer. Furthermore, New Girl zeroes in on male relationships and, in a way, mocks the toxic belief that one cannot express emotions in male friendships. Nick, Schmidt, and Winston are all affectionate in how they talk with each other, support each other, and even give each other small gifts.
Behind the layered characters lies a solid script packed with one-liners and great jokes. Because of that and so much more, New Girl remains an empowering comedy that’s extremely binge-worthy. And if you’re just starting this journey with the quirky Jessica Day, you’ll quickly realize that it doesn’t take long to feel like one of the gang.
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Zofia Wijaszka is a Los Angeles-based film and television critic. She writes for Awards Watch, Nerdist, and First Showing. You can connect with her on Twitter – @thefilmnerdette.
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