Great pilots are hard to find in any genre (the recent Alphas was an exception). Great pilots for comedies- especially fairly generic comedies about twenty-somethings learning to deal with life and love- are really hard to find. Nearly every one I’ve seen over the past 5-10 years has been trying so desperately to distinguish itself from the many, many shows that came before them, that they end up playing to the wacky and weird end of the spectrum, or just sort of sitting in the doldrums of “been there done that.”
New Girl, the new Zooey Deschanel vehicle in the genre, somehow manages to seem both mundane and way too cutesy. It tells the story of Jess, who despite her Zooey Deschanel good looks, is a total weirdo and therefore repellent to men. Convincing anyone that Deschanel is repellent is a hard enough task, so the show sticks her with too-cute dork glasses, constantly messy (but sexy) hair, and enough personality quirks to fill a thousand wacky best friend characters in a thousand romantic comedies. Unfortunately, all these quirks and weirdnesses serve to make her not resemble a human being so much as an amalgamation of every original nerd chick ever. I don’t believe when Jess is crying and screaming at her Dirty Dancing marathon any more than I believe that she can quote Lord of the Rings.
The show starts because Jess gets dumped. She wants to move out of her model friend’s apartment (?) and therefore decides to answer a CraigsList ad written by three dudes searching for a roommate. The dudes in question agree to have the obviously batshit Jess move in because, hey, her best friend is a model and they’re dumbasses. Thus an odd couple comedy is born.
In the pilot episode, the guys are all written in broad strokes. The former Deputy from Veronica Mars, Max Greenfield, plays Schmidt, a guy so desperate to be cool he’s constantly removing his shirt to reveal a less than impressive physique and who the rest of the crew constantly have to charge “douchebag dollars”. I’ve loved Greenfield in previous roles, so I’m confident I’ll grow to love Schmidt, but in the pilot he’s kind of just annoying. Damon Wayans Jr, in the pilot, plays Coach, a personal trainer with problems talking to women. Apparently, in the next episode he’ll be replaced by Lamorne Morris, so I’m not going to bother talking about Coach too much, except to say that he’s pretty undercooked. And then there’s the guy that we’re obviously supposed to be rooting for, and with whom I’m sure Jess will be having romantic entanglements by the end of the first season: Nick. Nick’s the stereotypical TV nice guy, recently dumped and totally kind. The only thing that saves him is Jake M. Johnson’s natural charisma.
So far the guys have very little chemistry with each other. The cute gag of having them rag on Schmidt for being a douche is inventive, and one of those personal touches that should help to ground this foursome into something that resembles our own reality, but their relationships don’t feel earned. And the pilot episode hinges on us believing that these three guys see through the neurotic but cheerful hot mess that is Jess and grow to kind of adore her. This is also really absent from the pilot. By the time the guys are giving up dancing Pocahontas boobs to save Jess, I was groaning out loud.
But… as I said comedy pilots are really hard and there are the seeds of a good show buried here. Although Daman Wayons Jr. was fine as Coach, I’m interested to see how the character dynamics change once they switch to the permanent actor. And the ending credits sequence, seeing the four sitting around and watching tv together, was a lot more relaxed and enjoyable than everything that preceded it. I legitimately like Deschanel as an actress (despite the recent Internet backlash against her manic pixie dream girl-ness), and want to see this series reach up to her potential.
On top of that, the show is created by Jake Kasdan- an Apatow alum who worked on Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared- and Elizabeth Meriwether- who has shown promise on projects like Childrens Hospital and No Strings Attached-. I like that there’s a female head writer; it speaks well to the possibility of Jess eventually resembling a human. And if there’s anyone who can help tone down the quirk factor and up the platonic chemistry between the leads, it’s someone who once worked with the master of the Bromance.
All in all, there’s enough here for me to tune in for a few more episodes. I’ll keep you posted if it ever turns into the series it could be.