Like many in my age bracket, I find it hard to like something that seemingly everyone adores. Take, for instance, Zooey Deschanel. While I recognize her adorability and appreciate her good set of bangs, I often find her ever-whimsical quirkiness nauseating (hi, have you seen this Siri commercial?). So when New Girl premiered on Fox in September of 2011, I refused to tune in. Less persnickety friends of mine did. Soon I began to hear how truly hilarious the show was, how Zooey wasn’t as bad as you’d expect and how the ensemble cast was brilliant, energetic, chock full of well-timed one-liners, and always good for laugh. I couldn’t believe my ears! Armed with a Hulu Plus account and time to kill, I marathoned the first season and a half over a weekend. I was hooked.
And so I became a loyal New Girl fan, excitedly tuning in week after week to see what kind of shenanigans the gang would get up to next. I’d been so thrilled to have a show about post-college life for the modern early 30-something. A Friends for today, if you will. But suddenly, and without warning, the show I grew to love took a turn.
Things began to unravel during the show’s second season. At the finale of the first season, sexual tensions between roommates Jess and Nick were at an all time high. The will-they-won’t-they vibe gained serious momentum through the second season and then burst like a big sexy bubble. Nick and Jess gave in to their desires and audiences ate it up, hook, line, and sinker. But where could we go from here?
In October, KQED Pop questioned whether or not this single plot point was enough to signify the beginning of the end for our beloved sitcom and pointed out the show had lost several million viewers between seasons one and two. But as season three trudges onward, it seems the too soon roommate romance may not be the only sign that the show’s once brilliant scripts are getting more difficult for writers to churn out.
Last week, while watching episode 16, “Sister,” I had my “A-ha! This show is going downhill!” moment when I noticed the same obnoxious phrases used twice in one episode. Actually, it was twice in one interaction by two people. Cece and Coach both took a turn recalling something slightly zany that had occurred between them, then barked at one another, “Who does that?!” It hit me all at once. My lip curled into a sneer; my inner laugh track subsided. It just seemed so boring and obvious, like I was overhearing the brunch conversation of a couple of airheads. I’d grown accustomed to New Girl’s brand of witty back-and-forth and this dialogue just appeared jarringly lazy.
Then, I noticed a few other frustrating details. Let’s take the character of Winston, for example. Played by Lamorne Morris, he began appearing as a regular immediately following the show’s pilot. Daman Wayans Jr appeared in the pilot as a character named Coach but, due to his prior commitment to the short-lived Happy Endings, was unable to continue with the first season. And so we got Winston. Winston started out strong: sharp, awkward, and always quick with a quip. For the first season and a half or so, he may have been the sleeper favorite among the roommates. But then Wayans’ character, Coach, returned to the loft. With Nick and Jess fully encompassed in the honeymoon phase of their romance, maybe producers felt adding more characters would spice up the plot lines. As the episodes wore on however, it became clear that this show wasn’t big enough for all of them. Soon Winston’s hilarious antics became increasingly bizarre, and not in a particularly funny way, but in a strange, weird, kind of ignorable way. His conversational contributions became poorly placed and easily brushed off. His storylines drifted further from those of the main group and now reside somewhere, off to the side, slowly fading away into obscurity. I miss the old Winston!
It’s not unique for a show to include a few guest stars every once and again, but New Girl has flooded its third season with an obnoxious amount of them. Recurring roles by Merritt Wever, as Schmidt’s college sweetheart, Eva Amurri Martino, as Schmidt’s coworker, Rob Reiner and Jamie Lee Curtis as Jess’ divorced parents, and Steve Agee as Outside Dave are one thing, but New Girl has also made room for cameos by Taye Diggs, Adam Brody, John Lovitz, and even Prince. And while it was exciting to tune in and watch Prince make the entire cast of a sitcom noticeably weak in the knees, the script seemed thrown together and even a little silly. It started with a tense relationship moment between Nick and Jess and ended with Prince giving Jess a makeover and feeding her pancakes. Though I appreciated the reference to Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Story about Prince feeding him pancakes after a basketball game, his inclusion in the episode felt forced. The remainder of the season promises even more special guests which brings me to the most dangerous detail in the show’s potential demise.
New Girl has been employing a method of keeping viewers interested that I refer to as “The Cousin Oliver Tactic.” This occurs when a show fears its viewers are losing interest in the lives of the main characters, so they insert a new character into the mix. It is so named for when The Brady Bunch employed the tactic by adding Cousin Oliver to their already overcrowded nine-person household. It almost never works and can often signify the beginning of the end for a sitcom.
First, Coach returned to the group, nearly bumping Winston into the ether. Then, last week, audiences were introduced to Jess’ wild child, never before mentioned big sister, Abby (played by Linda Cardellini). Abby is slated to return several more times this season in an effort to spice things up. Writer Matt Fusfield even admitted to the Hollywood Report that “it had always kind of been a plan in our heads that Jess had an older sister. It seemed like the right time to introduce her to the loft and see how that would mix up things.” So could this mean the end of the hilarious New Girl we once knew? Or is this just a mild lull in what will be a long, enduring comedy series? I’m hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. Tune in Tuesdays at 9pm on Fox to draw your own conclusions.