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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
NEW GIRL (FOX)
(written by Liz Meriwether; directed by Jake Kasdan; TRT: 23:48)
The network's description: "NEW GIRL (working title) is a new single-camera comedy from Liz Meriwether ("No Strings Attached") that features a young ensemble cast and takes a fresh and outrageous look at modern male/female relationships. JESS DAY (Zooey Deschanel, "(500) Days of Summer") is an offbeat and adorable girl in her late 20s who, after a bad breakup, moves in with three single guys. Goofy, positive, vulnerable and honest to a fault, Jess has faith in people, even when she shouldn't. Although she's dorky and awkward, she's comfortable in her own skin. More prone to friendships with women, she's not used to hanging with the boys - especially at home. Of the three male roommates, NICK (Jake Johnson, "No Strings Attached") is the most grounded. He had big plans for life, but somewhere along the way, he stopped caring and became a bartender. Usually the smartest guy in the room, he has an uncanny knack for reading people and uses humor to deflect everyone and everything. SCHMIDT (Max Greenfield, "Ugly Betty") is a hustling young professional who fancies himself a modern-day Casanova. Though his heart is usually in the right place, he's always scheming ways to climb the social ladder and is driven by an immature and almost obsessive urge to be on "the scene."
Viewing Jess as a gateway into the elusive female mind, as well as a personal project, Schmidt encourages the guys to bring Jess into the apartment. The third roommate, COACH (Damon Wayans Jr., "The Underground"), is a former high school athlete who currently makes his living as a personal trainer. Set in his ways and with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude to dating, Coach is most comfortable when he's in the gym. Though he'll never admit it, Coach's macho athletic exterior is actually a cover for his shyness around women, and he struggles to translate his personal confidence into conversation, preferring to speak in sports metaphors - or not at all. Rounding out this group is Jess' childhood best friend, CECE (Hannah Simone, "Beautiful People"), a deadpan, somewhat cynical model who blossomed after outgrowing her promiscuous adolescent years. She has the street smarts Jess lacks and spends a lot of time doling out no-nonsense relationship advice that only a professional model could give. She and Jess balance each other well and accept each other despite their faults, making Cece the perfect complement to Jess. As their relationships progress, the five friends come to realize they need each other more than they ever thought they would and end up forming a charmingly dysfunctional family."
What did they leave out? Damon Wayans Jr.'s role will be recast due to his first position status on ABC's "Happy Endings."
The plot in a nutshell: "So you know in horror movies, when the girl is like, 'Oh my God there's something in the basement! Let me just run down there in my underwear and see what's going on in the dark!' And you're like, 'What is your problem? Call the police!' And she's like, 'Okay,' but it's too late because she's already getting murdered?" schoolteacher Jess (Zooey Deschanel) asks her prospective roommates Schmidt (Max Greenfield), Coach (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Nick (Jake Johnson). "Well, my story is kind of like that." You see, two weeks ago she surprised her boyfriend wearing nothing but a trenchcoat and a smile only to find him with another girl. So now she needs a new place to live. Nick and Coach, horrified by the emotional mess in front of them, at first say no however Schmidt - after hearing her best friend Cece (Hannah Simone) is a model - convinces them to give Jess a shot.
Sure enough she proves to be just as much of a handful as advertised, spending her days sitting on the couch crying and watching "Dirty Dancing" on a perpetual loop. Left with no other choice the guys decide to take her out to cheer her up. There we learn they too have their own foibles: bartender Nick is still hung up on his ex, Caroline (Mary Elizabeth Ellis); personal trainer Coach's relationships generally consist of yelling at people; and quintessential douchebag Schmidt is explicably trying to keep up with the douchebag Joneses. Ultimately, Jess's somewhat hapless/helpless nature can't help bring about the best in them and she likewise gets a much needed push out from her protective shell. Really, that's about it.
What works: I'll give Deschanel credit, rather than playing your Typical Romantically Challenged Girl (TM pending) she's at least tying to create a character in Jess. The problem is that character...
What doesn't: ...never quite comes together. One moment she's a meek mouse, hiding behind her glasses, afraid of the world; another she's an unencumbered chanteuse that breaks into awkward dance moves and composes her own theme songs; and yet another she's a sage oracle to all things women, doling out advice to her heathen roommates. Each scene seems to present a new incarnation of Jess, often contrary to the previous one we've just seen. And while I guess I could buy her current emotional turmoil is responsible, it doesn't make getting to know her, let alone caring about her, any easier.
That's not to say there aren't laughs to be had - a running bit involving Schmidt having to put a dollar in the "Douchebag Jar" every time he takes things too far, in particular, is quite amusing and who doesn't love off-key renditions of 1980s classics? - it just makes the show's central dynamic - nice girl teaches idiot guys about women, idiot guys teach nice girl to loosen up - feel a little wonky. I mean, when the girl in question can barely dress herself or curl her hair, how does one take her advice seriously? For all their issues, the guys are at least presented as functioning human beings. All in all, whether its mechanizations work or not, it's either funny or it isn't. Under that standard...
The bottom line: ...being funnier would better mask its problems.