Critics’ Roundtable: “New Girl”

The New Girl cast (l-r) Lamorne Morris, Jake Johnson,
Zooey Deschanel, Max Greenfield & Hannah Simone

Fans of Fox’s sitcom hit New Girl got what they’ve been wishing for when Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and her roommate Nick (Jake Johnson) finally locked lips. But will the Moonlighting curse strike and ruin the show? And how are their fellow roomies – Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Winston (Lamorne Morris) – faring with their own romances and stories? More importantly, does New Girl have what it takes for a long, healthy sitcom run?

We rounded up some TV Critics to see what they think of the show and break down what’s working and what isn’t. This week, we have Rob Moynihan (LA Correspondent, TV Guide Magazine), Laura Prudom (Associate TV Editor, HuffPost TV), Scott Huver (LA Editor, NBC National Entertainment), Shaunna Murphy (Staff Editor, and yours truly, Jim Halterman.

The big question: Nick and Jess getting together. Too soon, or what took them so long?

Rob Moynihan: At its core, New Girl has always been about the relationship between Nick and Jess. Even though the pilot focused on how Jess’ presence would affect all three roommates, there was clearly an instant chemistry between Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson. The producers have done an admirable job of exploring the dynamic between the two characters, but it was time they started advancing more a physical relationship. The kiss itself was full of passion, intensity and heart. It made for a very believable expression of feelings between two characters that deep down really love each other.

Scott Huver: I actually feel like the timing is just right. It did feel pretty apparent that this coupling was going to happen eventually, and I think the show took the right path exploring various romantic options for them first while still using those storylines to draw them together. It’s a tricky dance, but had it gone on any longer the effort to keep them from hooking up would start to feel forced.

Shaunna Murphy: I’m okay with them getting together now-ish because the romantic tension was undeniable. The question is, can New Girl’s writers create a successful comic relationship, or will the fall victim to the Ross/Rachel eternal “will they or won’t they?” curse? Parks in Rec in particular have set the mold with Leslie/Ben and April/Andy lately — I hope that Nick and Jess are still great AFTER they have sex. We shall see.

Should Jess and Nick actually get together or are they better apart? (Who said ’Moonlighting Curse?”

One of them is bound to mess things up first. Will it be Jess or Nick and why?

Laura Prudom: I vote Nick, since messing stuff up is pretty much his complete MO. Jess might be prone to overthinking things, but it seems more likely that Nick will push her away as soon as things start getting too “real.” 

Scott Huver: Although Nick’s the obvious choice to make the first screw-up, my money’s on Jess – she’s waaaaaay more freaked out about this relationship than he is at this point, and probably much more likely to make a wrong move out of the gate.

Jim Halterman: Definitely feels like this should come from Jess, especially since we know Nick has sabotaged one too many relationships. It would be more like life if just as he’s figuring out how to keep a relationship going, he chooses someone like Jess who suddenly can’t handle it.

Nick has had quite a few ladies this season (Odette Annable, Olivia Munn, Brooklyn Decker). Who has been the best match for him or is it Jess?

Rob Moynihan: Nick might be one of the luckiest characters on television with the amount of love interests he’s had this season. I don’t think he ever looked at any of them as more than a fling. Nick still has to figure out the direction his own life is taking before he settles down. Because Jess is such a large presence in his life, she will continue to be his best match. Their relationship may have some bumps along the way, but their connection cannot be topped by anybody else.

Laura Prudom: Olivia Munn was actually pretty charming, but considering how vehemently the show seemed to be against hooking Nick and Jess up in the beginning, they’re a surprisingly adorable match, and it seems like a totally natural progression for two such nutty characters.

Shaunna Murphy: Oh come on. Those were all silly little distractions. All three of them were a total mess in their own unique way. It’s all about Jess.

Is it time for Schmidt to move from CeCe or should he hang in there to win her heart?

Schmidt still pining for CeCe has been going on for some time. Is it getting old? Should Schmidt truly move on?

Rob Moynihan: It is absolutely time for Schmidt to move on from Cece, but because we are talking about a TV show, I don’t see that happening anytime soon! Cece is engaged and clearly ready to move her life into a different direction, and she’s made it clear that Schmidt is not a part of that life. Let’s not forget it was his decision to “White Fang” her at the end of Season 1, so she shouldn’t feel compelled to go back to a larger relationship with him. I’d like to see Schmidt pair up with somebody as outrageous as he is. Would he be able to handle a woman like Schmidt?

Scott Huver: The minute Schmidt moves on is the minute CeCe starts second-guessing her decision to let him go. And because the comedy prospects in that scenario seem delicious, I hope it happens sooner rather than later,

Jim Halterman: I did like the two of them together in the first season but keeping them apart opens up more possibilities, especially if we’re already going to have Nick/Jess dealing with their relationship. But I wouldn’t be surprised if just as Schmidt truly moves on, CeCe won’t be able to take it and we get to see some great comedy from the underrated Hannah Simone.


Is the whole Jess adorkable thing still as adorkable as ever or too one note and needs an overhaul?

Rob Moynihan: The “adorkable” Jess was clearly a characteristic that producers definitely played up during Season 1, but I think in the second season they’ve done a better job of exploring more grounded stories about her character, like her relationship with her parents and of course the Nick/Jess relationship. She’s still adorkable, but she’s more more relatable now.

Laura Prudom: It was always the least entertaining part of the show — one of the things I’ve loved most about New Girl in its second season is that it has allowed the three guys more time in the spotlight, with less of Jess “bein’ quirky.” The more they downplay her weirdness and play up the guys’ insanity, the more I love it.

Shaunna Murphy: I’ve always hated the adorkable, I watch this show for the boys. I don’t find her to be the most strong or likable female lead, by a long shot. She has a good heart and moments of clarity, but overall, she is far from being a Leslie Knope-esque feminine icon.

Let’s talk Winston. His role on the show is just fine or do we need to take him in a new direction?

Laura Prudom: He’s still underused, which is a shame, because when he’s allowed to let his freak flag fly, he’s surprisingly hilarious. But the writers never seem to know what they want to do with the character, and he remains the least developed of the group. Even Cece seems to get more of an arc than poor Winston. 

Scott Huver: Here’s the thing: the show benefitted wildly from taking its focus off Jess and letting the ensemble come into their own. But now that everyone can stand on their own comedy legs, it seems like a great time to put a little more focus back on Jess and develop sides of her beyond her inherent quirkiness.

Jim Halterman: Lamorne Morris definitely has some great comedy chops but the writers haven’t figured out what those are yet. His pairing with guest star Brenda Song is strong and filled with chemistry but they just need to find a good overall story arc so he can really shine. 

All these romantic stories on New Girl. Is the show becoming too much like a TV rom-com?

Rob Moynihan: It was only a matter of time before New Girl started exploring these relationships, and I’m glad we’re finally there. Character relationships are at the core of TV’s best comedies, and I don’t see why New Girl should be any different. New Girl also used the will they/won’t they to their advantage in the first two seasons, teasing it and ultimately delivering in the payoff.

Scott Huver: I’m all for the romantic storylines, because so far they’re working in a big way. For a while TV’s been missing a genuinely funny sitcom that also legitimately involves in to the character’s love lives and has you wondering what’s going to happen next. It’s a difficult thing to pull off, and New Girl’s doing it.

Shaunna Murphy: Not yet. I still like the gang’s zany adventures, and romantic adventures are just a natural part of an early 30-something’s life. They’re all single (for now) so the dating game is likely to continue for quite some time. Still, they’re at their best as a fun drunken foursome, so I don’t want to see anyone completely settled down too quickly.

How does New Girl do using guest stars? Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner were fun earlier this season and this week has Margo Martindale and Nick Kroll. Does the show know how to use guest stars well?

Laura Prudom: Definitely — the big names don’t overshadow the main cast and seem less like “stunt-casting” than shows such as Friends and Will and Grace back in the day. They seem to let the characters dictate the casting and not the other way around.

Scott Huver: The guest spots have been erratic – Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner were very welcome presences, but felt a little short-changed in the episode. The show needs to make sure that familiar guest faces get episodes worthy of them – which DID happen in Olivia Munn’s case.

Jim Halterman: It’s hit or miss. I liked Curtis/Reiner but in tonight’s episode, Martindale and Kroll come off as charicatures that fail at one big part – they’re not funny and this is a sitcom. Hopefully they won’t fall down the path of some sitcoms and get obsessed with stunt casting for the sake of stunt casting. Story first, people.

Tonight, the gang heads to Chicago for a funeral…and, of courss, Jess ends up in an Elvis outfit.

How does tonight’s “Chicago” episode – where the gang ventures to the funeral of Nick’s father – rate on a scale of 1-10 (10 being AWESOME).

Shaunna Murphy: I’d give it a solid 6. Again, if I were more sold on dorkability, I’d love Jess’ Elvis impersonation a lot more. I do like that Nick was able to see how much she’s willing to do for him, and both Winston and Schmidt had a lot of fun one-liners. But it was not, by far, one of the season’s best. Last week’s “Hardening Caulk” was better. I love Margo Martindale, and she was disappointing during the “Chicago” episode.

Jim Halterman: I’d give it a 5. For the first time maybe in the history of watching the show, I was a little bored and felt Jess’s whole Elvis segment as incredibly forced. Since this was what felt like a special episode outside of the norm, I have no problem believing it will be back to fine form in the next new episode.

New Girl is wrapping up season two soon. Does it have what it takes to be a long-running sitcom? Or is it already running out steam?

Rob Moynihan: This is just the beginning of a fantastic run for New Girl, Moonlighting curse be damned! Just because Jess and Nick are going to be together doesn’t mean a show naturally has to run out of steam. There are still a wide variety of storylines to explore between the two. They can date for a while, break up, get back together…the possibilities are endless. These are characters that we’ve grown to love for the past 2 years, so even if they make decisions we don’t necessarily agree with, we will still be there to laugh with them every week.

Laura Prudom: I think it’s been consistently funnier in its second season than its first, so that seems like a good sign to me. As long as it keeps relying on the strengths of its three leading men as well as Zooey Deschanel, I see it having longevity, although it will be interesting to see if the many romantic entanglements eventually trip it up.

Scott Huver: I think there’s every reason to believe New Girl has genuine staying power. The show’s found a very distinctive comedy voice and quickly blossomed beyond the appeal of its initial lead, Zooey Deschanel, creating an ensemble of new TV stars along the way, each with their own unique appeal – it reminds me of Friends, which was designed as a vehicle for Courteney Cox but quickly made its more unknown actors into stars in their own right. The biggest test comes now: can New Girl sustain its momentum and keep its romantic plotlines fresh, funny and involving? It’s a delicate soufflé and one that a major mistake could leave falling flat, but so far the show’s always zigged where it might have zagged and been better off for it.

Shaunna Murphy: I think that their Schmidt and Winston problems really need to be addressed. When one half of your cast are one-dimensional dudes who are only there to make pratfalls, you have an issue. If this continues, then I wouldn’t see this going past Season 3 or 4. With a more well-rounded, Parks and Rec-esque cast — AKA, a group of people we want to root for, not two people we want to hook up and two goofy side characters — they could go a long way.

Jim Halterman: Definitely. From Season one to two, the show has only gotten sharper and the characters are growing enough for us to stay engaged. I’m in!

New Girl
airs Tuesdays at 9pm on Fox.