Monday, September 19, 2011

Pilot Inspektor Tim: New Girl

The show: New Girl, Tuesdays on Fox

The premise in ten words or less? Recently dumped girl (ZOOEY DESCHANEL!) moves in with three guys.

Any good? New Girl has its problems, which I'll tear into with zeal in just a second, but of the three new sitcoms I've watched so far this season – this one, Up All Night, and Free Agents – it's the best by a decent margin. It's the only one that actually made me laugh out loud using my lungs and voice box and everything at any point during its premiere. That may be the sitcom equivalent of praising a car for successfully getting you to the supermarket without breaking down, but hey, so many cars do break down in the comedy game.

The pixieish, doe-eyed elephant in the room is of course Zooey Deschanel, who, save for a few guest spots on Weeds, has been on big screen duty her entire career. Granted, her filmography includes The Happening and Yes Man, but it also includes (500) Days of Summer, Almost Famous, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Hell, I'll even cop to liking Elf. Unless it's Alfred Molina debasing himself on Law & Order: LA, there's always a certain thrill to seeing a movie star step sideways into television (not step down, mind you, both because I'm not a snob and because at least half of the best stuff made in the last several years has been in TV), and that stands here. Zooey is charming, insanely charismatic, and fun to watch.

It's the writing that remains suspect. The script doesn't quite trust Zooey (whose character is named Jess Day, but who I can only think of as Zooey) to be funny and resemble a human being at the same time and severely overwrites her as this cartoon person who randomly bursts into song and whimpers and baby talks and loses her train of thought and misunderstands basic human interaction to an autistic degree. Zooey very nearly makes it work, but they still need to scale it back about 40% immediately.

Don't get me wrong: Jess can be goofy. She can be awkward. She can be silly. But she shouldn't be infantilized, because it borders on creepy. I saw Zooey Deschanel in a movie called Our Idiot Brother just a week ago where she was playing Paul Rudd's lesbian sister and she was perfectly funny and likable while remaining human. New Girl should try to tap a little more into that and a little less into whatever they made her do in the pilot.

The pilot opens with Zooey moving in with three strangers after her boyfriend dumps her for another woman, and while I wouldn't exactly say that any of these three characters grabbed me, I did like them better than any of the coworkers in Free Agents. They're characterized in pretty broad strokes – one is pervy and douchey, one a recently dumped sad sack, one a personal fitness trainer who doesn't understand women – but it's a sitcom, so hey, that's fine.

The less fine thing is that the funniest of the three guys by far, the personal trainer, is played by Damon Wayans Jr., who wound up committed to Happy Endings on ABC when it got renewed and had to drop out of New Girl. Rather than recast and reshoot the pilot with a new actor, they created a whole new character who will arrive in the second episode, which is kind of annoying and probably a bad choice. I mean, they reshot the $8 million Game of Thrones pilot after a batch of recasting; you're telling me they couldn't reshoot this? Whatever.

But on the plus side, at no point in the pilot is it hamfistedly hinted that there's an epic romance on the horizon between Zooey and any of her new roommates, an absence I can't put my thumb high enough in the sky in approval of.

Will I watch again? If the show was just about the three guys I'd be long gone (especially without Damon Wayans Jr.). But Zooey is exceedingly likable and will only become more so if they scale the violent quirkiness of her character down to tolerable levels. I'll take a look at the second episode. If the show ever reaches a point where I look at Jess Day and think "Jess Day" rather than "Zooey Deschanel," then it will have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

Premise: B

Execution: B

Performances: B+

Potential: B+


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