Test Pilot is a semiregular feature sharing my first impressions of the pilots for next season’s shows. These aren’t reviews, since these pilots can be rewritten, recast and retooled before airing, and the shows that eventually get on the air can prove much better or worse. But premature opinions are why God invented the Internet, so let’s get on with…
The Show: New Girl, Fox
The Premise: Three guys in need of a roommate put out an ad and, as often happens, the respondent is an attractive young woman, Jess (Zooey Deschanel), on the rebound from her boyfriend’s having cheated on her. She’s an emotional wreck, nervously talkative and nerdy (i.e., she sometimes wears glasses). The trio argue about whether to take her in and disrupt their bachelor-dude lives. (They’re self-conscious bachelor dudes, though; they keep a “Douchebag Jar” that they have to kick in a dollar to whenever they say something obnoxious.) Ultimately, sympathy—and the fact that she’s friends with fashion models—wins out, as they adjust to a female presence and try to help her snap out of depression.
First Impressions: Some people will say that it strains credulity to base a sitcom on the idea that Zooey Deschanel is a socially inept dork with low-self-esteem who has no idea how to attract men. Other people will say, “Huh? Sorry, did you say something? I was looking at Zooey Deschanel.”
There’s definitely a basic ludicrousness to the premise that would be more annoying if the pilot—from Liz Meriwether—were not well-written and -cast. (I once read a great analysis of the character of Pam Beesly on The Office, which I will link if I can ever find it, that dissected how she plays into the nerdboy fantasy of the geeky girl who is also amazing and beautiful, but only you can see it.)* Still, if the first half-hour isn’t brilliant, it’s charming, and not simply because of the winsome star. New Girl is perhaps most appealing if you think of it like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or a fantastical sitcom like, say, Alf. This is basically a show about three men who, one day, find themselves having to care for a unicorn. In this case, a unicorn in the form of a waifish girl who sobs repeatedly at Dirty Dancing and bursts into jazz-inflected theme songs about herself. What works about the pilot is that it owns its unreality, and rather than go the predictable route—i.e., the three guys competing over the new girl—it instead becomes a sweet story about misfit friendship.
Do I Want to Watch Another Episode? Huh? Sorry, did you say something? I was looking at Zooey Deschanel.
*Update: A reader finds the original observation in Julie Klausner’s I Don’t Care About Your Band; I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it excerpted, or quoted at length, online because I don’t actually have the book. But now I need to get it!