THE DEBATERS: Price Peterson & Lily Sparks
PRICE: The best thing about comedy's subjectivity is we now have a lot of comedy options on TV. Depending on your sense of humor, you can laugh along with a live audience at a buffoonish husband's ne'er-do-well ways, or you can giggle in solitude at esoteric late-night cartoons. Unfortunately, if your tastes are even remotely discerning you'll have a tougher time finding the right comedy for you, and that's especially the case among the new fall offerings. That's why I welcome with open arms Fox's weird, offbeat, and unexpectedly touching New Girl. Personally, I'm amazed something like this can be on network television, and it's exciting to live in a world where it might even be a hit.
But it's hard to discuss New Girl without somehow commenting on Zooey Deschanel's appeal (or annoyance factor), and that's by design: This show simply would not work without the singular charisma of an attractive lead. High-fashion accessory lines, indie music side projects, and Death Cab-fronting husbands have rendered Deschanel a sort of hipster icon, but those things don't diminish the fact that there's really nobody else like her—from her deadpan delivery to unpredictable career choices. The fact that she's as discussed as she is—not to mention that she gets the backlash she's currently receiving—is testament to her essential appeal.
New Girl's first episode didn't have higher aspirations than simply setting up a dynamic between a strange woman and the three dudes who are frazzled and captivated by her. Her "quirky" mannerisms run contra to her movie star looks, but I think the weirdness serves to humanize her. And while she did jump around a living room naked in the opening scene, New Girl took pains to not objectify her. Jess is awkward and human (while easy on the eyes, sure) but also relatable. Add to that some truly interesting dialogue and great jokes and New Girl has all I need to tune in at least another week.
LILY: Comedy's a big, wide world, and many varieties of it exist on TV, but free time is a small, precious commodity that can only be used on a few choice offerings. While I have no doubt New Girl will be a hit (Zooey!!! Hot guys! Wish fulfillment!) I have no intention of wasting my precious viewing time on a lazily written half-hour of Zooey Deschanel essentially making faces in her bathroom mirror.
Speaking of Zooey, let's get back to Zooey. Mmm, the eyes, the bangs, the jazzy contralto—I know her character has a name, but let's face it: It doesn't matter. In every movie I've seen with Zooey Deschanel, she has played this specific, free-spirited indie-girl type. With tremendous success! In fact, the widespread imitation of this character onscreen over the last decade has set the progression of female characters back by, like, 85 billion light years. Remember when women had a shot at being proxies for the audience rather than being depicted as objects or appendages to a male narrator? Bury my heart at (500) Days of Summer. New Girl's Jess is exactly Zooey Deschanel's archetype indie girl, plucked from an unbearably twee screenplay, ramped up to FULL WHIMSICAL OUTPUT, and plopped back down into an apartment with three "regular" guys. KEEPOW! "The script writes itself!" is what I assume the producers said, because I don't know whether a script was actually written or whether Zooey was simply given a large glass of merlot and put in front of a camera. Is she supposed to be a profound alcoholic? Will that be a major reveal later? Because I have never fallen over trying to put on shoes while sober.
PRICE: Fine, you don't find Zooey Deschanel as charming as I do, but I have to disagree with you on a number of counts. First off, did you see The Good Girl? Zooey Deschanel was awesome in that! And it was not like anything else she's done since. Secondly, since when do women in comedy have to be audience proxies? The men certainly don't. If anything, the most common way women are even allowed to participate in comedy is as nagging wives or sexy, dim-witted girlfriends. So here we have a character who's clever, has a good sense of humor, and is kind of mentally in her own world, and it's somehow setting women back? Like Parks & Recreation's Leslie Knope or even Strangers With Candy's Jerri Blank—I guess my favorite female characters tend to be utter weirdos—Jess seems to have her own agenda in life, and it's refreshing to see the dudes of the show playing second banana to her for a change. I'll admit I'm a bit concerned about the "guys are like this, but girls are like this"-type humor, but I found the jokes insightful enough to get a pass.
LILY: The dynamic between a strange woman and three men living together, as a premise, is woefully weak, if not embarrassingly anachronistic. In an age where most colleges have co-ed dorms, is it really that unthinkable for a woman to live with male roommates? Hell, I lived with three guys I met off Craigslist in an apartment, and at no point did I hog the communal TV for a week while scream-sobbing on the couch. That's just being a terrible roommate, no matter what your gender is. Not that Jess is completely to blame; the guys are even more puzzling. They are in their mid-thirties but are completely, absolutely befuddled by females. Did they grow up together at an all boy's school in Testosterone, Mansylvania? How do these bozos make it through the day? Although one of them can't talk to women without shrieking, magically they lock eyes and decide to ditch their party and seek out Girl They've Known For A Week and serenade her at a restaurant, just in time for the close of the third act. Obviously, guys make these kinds of intuitive, thoughtful gestures all the time. Classic Guy! Or the opposite, because this behavior—the weird shunning and the weirder serenading—does not resemble the actions of any of the men I have ever known or heard of. Real human behavior is interesting and funny enough without turning people into characters as broad as cereal-box mascots. It's an achievement to create real, three dimensional characters and make them funny, but it's been done, so there is no going back. Network TV has gone too far making interesting, three-dimensional character-driven comedies (Parks and Rec, The Office, Modern Family) to reheat Three's Company and call it a day. The light bulb has been switched on, so don't try to sell me some candles.
PRICE: Well I guess I disagree that good comedies must somehow reflect reality. Relatable situations or emotions, sure, but the point is to laugh at absurd things (like Jess' marathon viewing of Dirty Dancing). If I had to frequently stop myself and say, "Wait a minute, this isn't funny because it's unacceptable behavior," then I probably wouldn't be able to watch much TV (or read, for that matter). Because it's a pilot, the dudes have about one personality trait each, but in this case I thought they were chosen judiciously (like the douche roommate who thinks he's buff). Maybe you found it implausible that they'd show concern for a girl they barely met, but I found it heartwarming. Their surprise restaurant serenade was a small, dumb idea that had a big, charming effect. But then again I'm a sucker for comedies where people attempt to help each other.
Ultimately, though, I think the ads for New Girl have done it a huge disservice. Nevermind the insufferable "adorkable" terminology or those obnoxious, canary yellow billboards—just simply advertising the show as a Zooey Deschanel quirkfest detracts from what a slight, breezy, and deceptively simple little lark it is. I really enjoyed this pilot both times I watched it, and I can imagine myself tearing through the future DVD set in an afternoon. You know, a bright, breezy, "quirky" afternoon. (Ugh, that word.)
LILY: I have now watched this pilot four times, trying to find something interesting about this character, and all I see is a gorgeous lady who regularly does face modeling for Rimmel being sold to us as “awkward” because she squinches up her nose and burps out little musical phrases. To return to one of your earlier points, there is no comparison here to Amy Sedaris' Jerri Blank, because Amy transformed her very cute self to play an old, repulsive-looking character and proved she cared more about making something funny and original than finding her light on camera. Jess is GORGEOUS. She even had a standalone moment where she walked into the room in a cute dress and everybody GASPED! Leslie Knope is extremely competent at her job, which makes her neuroticism and insecurities that much more endearing. Jess isn't a weirdo, she's Zooey Deschanel being cute, like a Meg Ryan 2K11. I don't think Zooey Deschanel took the role to hone her comic timing, and the show barely qualifies as a comedy. It's an excuse to spend time with someone charming and famous, both for the viewers and the people making it, and I found that ultimately boring.
YOUR TURN: What did you think of New Girl?