The next couple weeks are going to be insane. There are so many new series debuting and unfortunately, there is only so much time in the day for me to write about television while balancing my “real” life. You know, the one I spend on Twitter. ANYWAY, I’m going to try to touch on each new series once it airs a pilot, but these posts probably won’t be too long or too in-depth unless they really need to be. And if certain things debut together, I’ll probably talk about them together.
I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but remember: Comedy pilots are never that good and even if they are, they might not be indicative of what a series is going to be like in the long-term or even the relatively short-term. More than any other television format/genre, sitcoms change, get tinkered with and develop into something slightly different.
New Girl is a moderately complicated representative of the changes that happen with sitcoms in and directly after the pilot stage. Of all the comedy pilots we will see this fall, New Girl will certainly be the most altered in episode two. Damon Wayans Jr. is obviously headed back to Happy Endings and come the second episode, Lamorne Morris will be joining the cast as the new roommate. While it is somewhat odd that FOX chose not to reshoot the pilot even though they loads of time to do so and eventually decided to have Morris join in the second episode as completely different character from who Wayans was playing, casts regularly change between the original pilot and what comes soon after. This is definitely a weird case in some regards, but it’s not completely unusual. Actors leave, retools happen. New Girl‘s cast changes basically reflect my whole point: things are always in-flux at the outset.
But what is really interesting to me is that the things changing with New Girl probably aren’t for the better. Wayans is the funniest part of this pilot and although his character is a bit obvious, the actor brings some real life to it. Of the three male characters, Coach has the most personality and again, provides the most laughs. Maybe Lamorne Morris is the funniest actor that I have never heard of and perhaps he can come in with this new character and New Girl will never look back. But losing Wayans and the Coach character all together feels like a misstep to me, particularly when Max Greenfield’s Schmidt is a mega-douche and Jake Johnson’s Nick is so obviously placed as the love interest for Zooey Deschanel’s Jess. Wayans’ Coach kept this pilot from being completely dominated by Deschanel and without him there, I don’t know what New Girl is going to look or feel like.
Of course, if you were to believe FOX’s publicity campaign, none of this matters. This is the Zooey Deschanel show. Like you, I too am tired of the word “adorkable” and the general fawning over Deschanel’s preciousness. I get it. The one piece of good news is that this pilot doesn’t treat Deschanel’s Jess in the same way the rest of the world likes to treat the actress playing her. I do like how the pilot finds a way to balance Jess’ inherent weird, awkward tendencies with her obvious attractiveness. Though there is a small She’s All That-esque moment near the 15-minute mark, New Girl doesn’t spend a whole lot of time trying to stupidly convince us that men don’t notice Jess is attractive. She just had a long-term boyfriend and she quickly finds herself on a date with another man (one that goes horribly wrong, but still). Jess’ problem isn’t that she’s a pretty girl wearing weird glasses with her hair up, her problem is that she’s coming out of a break-up and doesn’t really know how to put her weird self back out there. It’s a bit twee and still tip-toeing over to Manic Pixie Dreamgirl territory, but with a bit of an edge.
Even with Deschanel giving a solid performance at the center of New Girl, I’m still not sure what the heck New Girl is really about. Not only are the questions about Morris’ new character and Wayans’ departure, but it is also unclear what the series’ story engine is going to be. None of the guys work together so they can’t even contrive a way for Jess to get a random assistant job or something. Obviously, this doesn’t have to be a workplace comedy to be successful, but it’s still very hazy to what these people will do or talk about as they get to know one another. With Morris’ new character around, it might feel like Schmidt and Nick are stuck with two new roommates, but I don’t know how much mileage you can get out of that, either.
New Girl works just fine as a pilot. Deschanel is good, Wayans is pretty great and the other guys are fine with the small amount of material they are given. This first half-hour is funny enough and doesn’t go too far into saccharine territory to annoy me. But with cast changes and the lack of real premise, I have absolutely no idea with New Girl episode two looks like. That’s sort of exciting and weird at the same time. I guess.