Season premiere review: 'New Girl' - 'Re-Launch' & 'Katie': Looking for Ms. Meatbar
"New Girl" has begun its new season with multiple episodes, and I have thoughts on both coming up just as soon as I figure out my sex character is named Sgt. Giddyup Carruthers...
The first season of "New Girl" went through phases. There was the period early on when it was all-Jess, all the time, which was understandable given that Zooey Deschanel was the reason this show got on the air in the first place, and given how funny she was in the pilot episode. Then there was a period dominated by Schmidt, which was understandable given how good Max Greenfield was, and also how much obvious humor flowed from his douchebaggery. And then there was the period when the show seemed to realize just how funny Jake Johnson was, and Nick's cranky voice became first among equals for a bit. There was, unfortunately, never a Winston epoch, though every now and then there would be an episode suggesting that the writers had finally decided who that character was beyond "not Coach." We never quite got to a point where Deschanel became an afterthought on her own show, but it was not a coincidence that the series really seemed to find itself and become more consistent once the other guys became a more important part of things.
These two episodes were actually among the funnier non-Dermot Mulroney Jess episodes the show's done. Forcing Jess out of her comfort zone by taking away her teaching job was a good idea, since Jess being on uncertain ground tends to bring out the best in Deschanel. (The pilot, after all, was all about Jess going into a shame spiral after dumping her cheating boyfriend.) I particularly liked the Jess scenes in "Katie," which had a good balance of Jess seeming quirky yet human. When the show tried to make her weird about sex last season, she came across like a 12-year-old girl, where here she was weird ("I became a werewolf") and yet adult. That broad strokes of that entire storyline — lying to David Walton, inadvertently sexting Josh Gad, trying to juggle both guys/identities, etc. — is pretty stock sitcom stuff circa 1979, but the execution of it and the way it was specific to Jess (and also to Bearclaw just being that damn creepy) made it work. Also, bonus points for a rare "New Girl" cutaway gag that actually worked: Jess falling down while standing still, crying out, "It's happening!" as she tumbles.
I wasn't crazy about how abruptly the show split up Schmidt and Cece last year, but his attempt to use the rebranding party to reconnect with her — and demonstrate his non-existent fire-juggling skills — was funny. Schmidt unfortunately spent much of "Katie" stuck in a subplot with Winston and his family that very clearly got cut down to the bare minimum to make time, but it was interesting to see the scene where Nick and Schmidt were trying to warn Jess about juggling two guys at once; Winston was nowhere to be seen, almost like an admission that the show has these three figured out and is still not sure what the other guy in the loft is for. I think it's clear that Lamorne Morris himself is funny (his falsetto "Groove Is in the Heart" was one of the highlights of the first episode), but there's still not a lot specific to Winston that is.
The MVP of the night was definitely Nick. Even though this is a show built around Jess, and even though Liz Meriwether has admittedly put a lot of her own personality into that character, Nick feels like the most specific person on the show. There are other versions of Schmidt out there, if not written/played nearly as well, and there are other quirky female characters out there, but Nick's premature old man-ness — "Now I only want to make a drink that a coal miner would want," he boasts at one point — doesn't feel like a type I've seen before, and there's a surprising amount of joy in Jake Johnson's performance, given how grumpy Nick is. The "Katie" story involving Raymond J. Barry from "Justified" as a time-traveling old Nick was so strange, and so delightful, because of course Nick would want to believe this crazy geezer was himself from the future. I think it would have been funnier without the capper revealing that the time machine was a cardboard box in the alley — better to leave Nick guessing — but everything leading up to that was priceless.
Because of that subplot, "Katie" was probably a bit funnier than "Re-Launch" (though "Re-Launch" did have Parker Posey as a shot girl), but overall I thought this was a splendid return for the show, especially since I wasn't crazy about the finale. (And speaking of which, can Tom Lennon come back at some point? Preferably now with a German accent?)
What did everybody else think?