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Saturday, May 21, 2016

New Girl Is Now One Giant Game of True American

Fox’s New Girl ended its fifth season recently where the fictional drinking game True American, played by the main characters of the show, reared its beautiful head. No one quite knows what the rules of the game are (although The Internet claims itknows how to play), but the rules are unimportant. The game is an excuse for the characters to shout random, funny things, and the few True American scenes we’ve seen throughout the series’ run have always been guaranteed laughs. The second half of New Girl’s series run has essentially become a version of its fictional game- random, unstructured, nonsensical, and really funny.

Back in 2014, my Cord Cutters Podcast host and I werediscussing the series finale of How I MetYour Mother, which led to a discussion of our favorite sitcoms of all time. I mentioned that New Girl had a chance to make my Top 5. While it was coming off of a horrendous first half to its third season, the show had an excellent second season to follow up a very good rookie year. I though at the time that if New Girl could right the ship and return to the level it was at for its sophomore season, then it had the potential to be transcendent.

As it turned out, New Girl took a hard left after that video was posted. It was able to rebound from its first half of Season 3, but it never returned to what it was in Seasons 1 and 2. Like many of its predecessors like Friends and How I Met Your Mother before it, New Girl’s structure was pretty straightforward. It’s a traditional sitcom about good-looking twenty-somethings hanging out and the shenanigans they get into. While it was never going to be as serialized as a show like Breaking Bad or Mad Man, New Girl always managed to take the plot points and character personality traits it previously laid the foundation for and build upon them. That may seem like a straight forward and obvious point, but it is not something all sitcoms follow or live by. The League would introduce a concept in an episode, say Ruxin’s super-sensitive taste buds, and immediately dismiss it the very next episode. However, New Girl seemed to have been following the serialized path, and in the era of binge-watching, On Demand, and Netflix, this type of story-telling was the way to fans and critics hearts alike.

Early on, the show realized the incredible chemistry that its lead Zooey Deschanel had with her co-star Jake Johnson (who plays Nick Miller) and spent its first two seasons setting the table for the two to come together in Season 3. The first two seasons were excellent. It successfully left us with our new version of Jim and Pam (Nick and Jess) and it created a star out of Max Greenfield (Schmidt). Most sitcoms struggle out of the gate, but New Girl gave us an above average pilot and built upon that success (even though it had to replace one of its main characters by Episode 2) and by the end of the second season the show was clicking on all cylinders. It realized that its success hinged on Schmidt’s good-at-heart douchebaggery, Jake Johnson’s ability to spout random one-liners, and the flirtation Johnson had with Deschanel.  The show still had problems, mainly that it never was able to successfully integrate Lamorne Morris’s Winston after having him replace Damon Wayans Jr.’s Coach due to Wayans contractual obligations to Happy Endings, but with A and B subplots involving Schmidt, Nick, and Jess every week, Winston’s C plot / whatever he was doing with the other three was easily overlooked.

Then came the horrendous third season. Many people would blame Nick and Jess coming together as the reason of the downfall (making Schmidt an insufferable asshole was personally my biggest complaint), but that’s a pretty generic complaint. The issue was not that Nick and Jess inherently starting dating, it’s that the writers didn’t know how to make that relationship as funny as it used to be. Just ask Elizabeth Meriwether, theshow’s creator. As the great TV writer Mindy Kaling once said, “If a couplegets together and its boring, the characters are bad”.  While that certainly was not 100% true in New Girl’s case, the sentiment behind the statement was factual. By failing to maintain the success of Nick and Jess together the same way the show had when they were beforehand, the entire show suffered.

Luckily, the show was able to learn from their mistakes. New Girl blew everything up and basically started from scratch. It was weird approach for the show (or really any show) to take. New Girl very easily could have gone back to the semi-serialized version of what it was in its first two seasons, but they instead hit the reset button and created a whole new series. Same characters, different structure.
This approached bothered me at first, mainly because it was so jarring. It was frustrating seeing an incredible episode like “Eggs” (one ofthe show’s funniest episodes where we also learn that CeCe needs to get pregnant ASAP if she ever wants to have kids) and then not treat the content of the episode seriously. Three years later we finally see the culmination of Schmidt’s and CeCe’s relationship in the poignant Season 5 finally that was their wedding, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that the show told the audience that CeCe is essentially barren and then ignore this piece of information like it was nothing. This lack of discipline the show seemed to have caused me to give up on it towards the end of the fourth season.

Fortunately, my wife was a fan of the show and started simultaneously re-watching the old episodes that had previously irritated me while also watching this new season. Doing so gave me a new appreciation for what the show has done after it hit the reset button. It wasn’t the same show that I had previously said had the chance to make my list for top 5 All-Time favorite sitcoms, but it was damn funny. The show realized what I comic gem it had Lamorne Morris and he became the loveable, yet insane goofball wild card. Schmidt and Nick were elevated to co-leads and each week was an excuse to have them do what they do best. Jess was slightly relegated to third fiddle which was fine because she works best when playing off of Nick and Schmidt. The show also soon got rid of Coach, who had briefly returned after Happy Endings was officially cancelled, as he was yet another mouth to feed for a show that didn’t know how to feed him. The show was still frustrating, but it did the very exact thing every sitcom should do- it made me laugh.

New Girl has now turned into a show that still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as a final product, yet is a comically charming excuse for funny actors to be funny. These characters will get into a situation that normal humans (or even these exaggerated people that exist in the world of sitcoms) would never get themselves into, yet it works for New Girl as the writers know what these characters have to do in order to generate laughs. The show is completely unstructured, but it works. Just like a game of True American. 



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