The first season of ‘New Girl’ was charming. It had loads of potential. And when the second season rolled around last year, the sitcom seemed to avoid the usual sophomore slump by finding its footing and growing into a far more sophisticated show than its pilot revealed. But, just like its five kooky characters, the third season premiere revealed the show is far from perfect. Therein lies some danger that the series might return to its awkward freshman roots if it doesn’t trim some of the fat and get into whip-smart fighting shape. So, here are five ways that ‘New Girl’ can improve right now to avoid jumping the shark, and so it can ride off into the sunset a la ‘Friends’ (and less like, say, ‘The Single Guy’).
1. No More Lying!
In the third season premiere, Schmidt lies to Cece that he broke up with Elizabeth, and also lies to Elizabeth that he broke up with Cece. And if that wasn’t enough fibbing, Schmidt proceeds to save face with Cece by telling her that Winston slept with Elizabeth. Oh boy.
Okay, ‘New Girl’ writers, we know - falsehood can be funny. When one character lies about something, and then finds himself/herself in a bucket of hot water, the results can be hilarious with wacky hijinks galore! And then, of course, the inevitable awkward tension ensues as the viewer wonders, “How oh how, will Schmidt/Nick/Winston/Jess/Cece get themselves out of this pickle?”
Having your characters lie can be a terrific plot device, but, just so you know, it’s not the only one in the whole story-telling universe. And I don’t mean to be a smart aleck, but, according to basic writing 101, if your characters lie, then a) that should really reveal something about the character and/or b) the lies should truly propel the plot forward. If we’re to use the season premiere as an example, all that lying didn’t do either. My advice: go back to who the characters really are and what they really want, and the story should write itself…
2. Who are Cece and Winston?
…Except your story won’t if you don’t know what to do with a couple of your characters. It’s season three and I still don’t know who Cece and Winston are (besides human forms of arm candy and an Achilles’ heel, respectively). Perhaps there would be less ludicrous plot devices being used (meaning all that lying I just mentioned) if the writers had a handle on the objectives/wants/needs of these two. No disrespect to the actors – I think Hannah Simone and Lamorne Morris do awesomely well with the material they’re given – but right now, Cece and Winston are more set pieces than active participants in the series, which is to its detriment. So…use them! Figure out who they are and give them something to fight for and I can pretty much guarantee that more interesting stories will develop because of it.
3. Ixnay on the Sentimentality
Although I prefer sitcoms that balance hilarity with heart (think ‘Modern Family’ and ‘Parks and Recreation’), there’s a difference between sensitivity and schmaltzy sentimentality. The last scene of the premiere, with the gang outside their apartment, debating whether Nick and Jess living together is a good thing, was both sweet (“I’m not ready to lose you; I just got you”) and a little too saccharine (“I got a really great deal on Craigslist — I got all of you.”). If ‘New Girl’ is going to go for the heart, it would do well to follow in the footsteps of ‘Friends’ rather than ‘Full House' - meaning more show, less tell.
4. Please, No More Flashy Guest Stars
Speaking of ‘Friends,’ remember its third season when the likes of everyone from Jean Claude Van Damme and Julia Roberts to even Charlie Sheen showed up? I don’t know about you, but when those big-time guest stars appeared, it took me out of the story. I was more like “Hey, that’s Julia Roberts!” rather than actually believing she was Chandler’s girlfriend. Well, the same is happening with ‘New Girl.’ It’s one thing to have Rob Reiner, Jamie Lee Curtis and the late Dennis Farina to drop in as parents last season, but we’ve also seen Dermot Mulroney, Justin Long and Taylor Swift (?!) drop by, and this season Taye Diggs, Angela Kinsey and Eva Amurri will also appear. Aren’t there struggling L.A. actors who could use a guest spot or two? Wouldn’t casting a “nobody” lend more credibility (read: believability) to these roles? I think so.
After the third season, ‘Friends’ dropped all the high-profile guest stars. Though some would pop up now and then, the show went back to what it did best: tell stories through its six characters, and I think that’s what ‘New Girl’ should do, too.
5. Make Jess the Star Again
Though it’s cool that the show has become an awesome ensemble, its title does refer to Zooey Deschanel’s Jess, and seeing as there are few shows not only named after a female character, but also revolve around one, it would be cool to see her in the spotlight again. Sure, Jess’ quirkiness in the first season was a bit too much and needed to be grounded in realism, but that shouldn’t mean boring – and Jess is kinda bland now. So, let’s spice her up and give her some provoking storylines (that hopefully don’t involve lying) and let the show become what it could be: a modern-day ‘I Love Lucy’ instead of ‘Joanie Loves Chaci.’
'New Girl' airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on FOX.