TV Review | Romantic hype fizzles in ‘New Girl’ season opener
Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 00:09
“Friends don’t let friends do friends,” reads the promotional tagline for the third season of Fox’s comedy “New Girl.” This witty little one-liner essentially sets up the entire framework for the next 20-plus episodes: can two once-platonic roommates suddenly and seamlessly step into a romantic relationship? Apparently, not without hitting a few (awkward) bumps in the road.
Last season left viewers waiting anxiously on the edge of multiple romantic cliffhangers. The show’s four roommates — Schmidt, Winston, Nick and Jess — collectively attend Jess’ best friend Cece’s traditional Indian wedding when, right before the deal is sealed, everything goes to shambles. After various mishaps, including a rabid badger being set loose, Cece (Hannah Simone) calls off the ceremony once she realizes her true feelings for her uptight, narcissistic ex, Schmidt (Max Greenfield). Schmidt, now dating a former college girlfriend, is flustered (yet secretly delighted) to find himself at the vertex of this new love triangle. Meanwhile, amidst all the chaos, Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess’ (Zooey Deschanel) culminating romance finally materializes — then ends — and then begins again, all in the span of a half hour. But at long last, the moment that every invested fan had been waiting for since day one — the Nick and Jess get-together — had finally come to fruition.
This second season get-together sets the stage for a season three getaway — literally. Nick and Jess, declaring themselves “all in” for the relationship, take a euphoric, ecstatic drive ... back to their shared apartment. It’s rather ironic, as Nick says, that after only 30 minutes of dating they’re already living together, but the duo remains undeterred until a needy Schmidt begins compulsively texting Nick for relationship advice. Cue the escape: In what ultimately becomes a bizarre turn of events, Nick and Jess drive to Mexico to flee the onslaught of pressure that comes with being a live-in couple with mutual friends. After a few days of freeloading at a beachside resort, Nick is detained by hotel security guards. Frantically, Jess returns to L.A. to rally the troops and help spring Nick. Back in Mexico with Winston and Schmidt in tow, the foursome finds that the situation is, indeed, not as dire as they had assumed and share a moment of sappy yet genuine sentimentality for their friendship.
For such a highly anticipated moment, the season opener was surprisingly flat and forced. The show, in no way a cutting-edge comedy, usually relies on a basic formula of random, wacky scenarios paired with heavy character acting. “New Girl” reverts to that same comic structure in this first episode, but this time it feels like the series is simply trying too hard. Maybe the fault lies in the ludicrous road trip to Mexico. After a few nights on the run, Nick and Jess look like legitimate castaways: Jess’ bridesmaid sari has been torn, giving her a silly “Jungle Jane”-esque look, while Nick’s heavy five o’clock shadow and sleeveless, raggedy button-down only adds to the couple’s overall disheveled appearance. It’s these small details, along with big, over-the-top scenes like Nick’s “arrest” by Mexican authorities, which remove any semblance of reality and turn the show into an exaggerated, campy farce.
Even the cornerstone comedic characters falter in season three. Schmidt, whose pompous personality and Type A ticks typically leave viewers in hysterics, fails to deliver. Forced to choose between two women (something he avoids), Schmidt becomes overwhelmingly needy — almost annoyingly so. Seeking advice from his best friend, Schmidt continuously calls Nick, making his character appear clingy and desperate — the antithesis of funny. Even Winston, the occasionally amusing fifth wheel of the group, can’t salvage the storyline with his weird hobbies and even stranger antics. (He has an odd obsession with puzzles and in one scene, wears a sweatshirt as pants.)
Despite the overall lackluster laughs that the season three premiere provided, there were a few moments that broke through. Winston’s train wreck of an attempt to help cover up Schmidt’s two-timing ways to Cece was so bad it had to be funny — and Nick’s clumsy, yet adorable assumption of the role of “boyfriend” was at times awkward, but overall, endearing.
Regardless of the first episode’s comedic flops, season three of “New Girl” will inevitably still have fans tuning in to watch the Nick and Jess relationship play out. The challenge will be, after all this pre-romance build-up — a la Jim and Pam of NBC’s “The Office” (2005-2013) — to find a way to keep it going.