Friday, October 25, 2013

How to Kill a Show in 60 Minutes: The New Girl Story

I watched every episode of New Girl’s first two seasons.

I stopped watching the show after two episodes of season 3.

It’s not like New Girl jumped the shark. It was eaten by the shark.

It is almost impossible for any TV show, but especially a comedy, to remain good after it’s been on the air more than a few years. Invariably, what made it great gets repeated too much, or the characters evolve too far from their sweet spots, and the show fades away.

I loved the Office. I stopped watching regularly when Jim and Pam got married and tuned out for good when Michael Scott left.

nick jess new girl 2013
How I Met Your Mother was a must-watch for me. Then after five years of the same jokes, the same teasing of the Mother, and the terrifying romance between Barney and Robin, I tuned out. Why they ruled out Robin as the mother in the first episode, I’ll never know. Why they continued to tease a Robin/Ted relationship for years afterwards, well I’m pretty sure the answer to that is pure desperation.

In fact, it’s much easier to list shows that remained strong and funny throughout their run. We’re talking the pantheon of television comedies – the Cheers, Seinfeld and 30 Rock’s of the world. They don’t come along often.

But rarely does a show so quickly and violently divorce itself from the audience. It is usually a slow burn, maybe one bad hookup, one bad plotline or one failed running gag that begins the descent.

For New Girl, however, the descent is more aptly described as a freefall. For its season premiere, the show drew 5.53 million viewers and a 2.9 rating in the coveted 18-49 demo. For its last show, the show drew 3.74 million viewers and a 1.8 18-49 rating – losing in total viewers to newcomer, and already vastly superior, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I watch that show.

Even accounting for the usual bump a season premiere episode gets, the drop for New Girl in a little over a month has been astounding and precipitous. It has given away 32.3% of its total audience. It has shed 37.8% of its 18-49 ratings.

I want to like the New Girl – I did for 2 full years – but the ratings drop is deserved due to two of the most disastrous, show-killing episodes I can ever remember.

The flashpoint, of course, is the relationship between Nick and Jess. The “will they or won’t they” vibe that has driven so many successful shows in the past and will continue until we stop loving drove season 2. It worked perfectly. There were funny moments. There were awkward moments. There was a sense of allure with how it was, or was not, going to play out.

To say a couple coming together is the deathknell for a show is incredibly short-sighted. Friends thrived even after Chandler and Monica fell in love. Parks and Rec is still producing high quality televisionNBC be damned! – after Ben and Leslie tied the knot. It’s too easy to say the relationship is the problem, because that would give the showrunners and writers an out.

Because they laid it out at the end of Season 2, with a dramatic moment at the end of Cece’s failed wedding that Nick and Jess had decided to make it work. This was a crucial moment for the series because there was absolutely no turning back. The entire conceit of the show is Jess living with 3 best friends – if Nick and Jess break up, there is no real logical way for her to stay in that loft. Schmidt can leave, Winston can leave, and even Coach can leave for 2 sad years – they are best friends. Jess is just the girl in the scenario. They went “all-in” and that means, for better or worse, they need to stay together.

And that’s fine. What wasn’t fine was the season premiere in which Nick and Jess drive to Mexico.

Huh?

How is that the climax? You have an entire summer to think of a plot and the best idea is to drive to Mexico and further delay the moment when the group has to come to terms with what happen? Gee, it’s almost as if the writers had no clue what to do and decided to kick the can down the road, like they were Republicans settling on a budget.

But I could forgive and forget with the Nick and Jess fiasco because I’ve seen their relationship work. It may not get there again but I know it’s possible. I could ride out that wave.

Then there’s Winston. I should give Winston the same due that the writers do – he does puzzles, poorly. And he’s colorblind. In the second episode, Winston spent most of it trying to kill a cat because his girl (friend?) was cheating on him. Winston has never been integral to the show yet Lamorne Morris acts the shit out of every crappy plotline they gave him.

No, the reason I don’t watch New Girl anymore – and why my girlfriend screamed, “Turn it off!” on Tuesday after Brooklyn Nine-Nine concluded – is because of Schmidt.

Season 2 ended with Schmidt having to choose between his ex-girlfriend Elizabeth and his ex-lover Cece. There are some overtones to this decision that I didn’t see – namely that Elizabeth is portrayed as overweight and ugly, while Cece is a model, thus of course he’s going to pick Cece.

new girl schmidt elizabeth 2013
However, the show did a good job in Season 2 of moving away from the decision based on looks, and focusing it on Schmidt’s feelings for each. It was a legitimate, old-school cliffhanger. Now of course, the woman who plays Elizabeth memorably won an Emmy for Nurse Jackie and Cece is a series regular who is best friends with Jess – so the ultimate decision wasn’t too hard to figure out. It was simply a matter of how Schmidt would choose Cece.

Maybe in an effort to be cute or an effort to surprise the audience, Schmidt didn’t choose Cece. He didn’t choose Elizabeth. He tried to date both.

And in less than an hour, everything the audience liked about Schmidt had been reduced to rubble.

Schmidt’s character is not exactly ground-breaking – he acts like an asshole, but underneath, he has feelings and he cares. It makes his chauvinistic actions tolerable. It makes his mistreatment of his friends funny, instead annoying. He’s a good guy, through and through, despite evidence to the contrary.

Then he tried to have both Cece and Elizabeth. In that moment, Schmidt was just being an asshole. He was lying to both. He was lying to us.

As if to hammer this point home even further, Schmidt was the “voice of reason” to Winston when had issues with his girl – Brenda Song, being written out to star in (ugh) Dads. He told Winston that he couldn’t stand for being cheated on and had to stand up for himself.

In addition to a liar, Schmidt was now a hypocrite. And if that isn’t a way to woman’s heart, what is?

My girlfriend was done after that brutal second episode, the one where Winston tries to kill a cat, Jess and Nick interact with the “cool kids” at her school and Schmidt two-times at an office party.

There were two things that I thought at the end of the episode that sealed my fate in the show until I’m told by @sepinwall otherwise.

First, they tried to treat Schmidt’s predicament as legitimate. At the end of Season 2, when he had to make a decision, he had a legitimate problem that the audience could sympathize with. Once he started lying to both, he lost the audience because we turned against him. He was no longer sympathetic. He was being a jerk to two female characters that the audience liked – though if we’re splitting hairs, I’d bet most would want him to choose Elizabeth, which he won’t.

But ultimately, the show wasn’t funny. The first two episodes provided little in the way of laughs. Winston trying to kill the cat didn’t make me laugh. Schmidt’s near-misses as two-timer were played for giggles that it didn’t deserve.

It’s disappointing, but I think I’ll survive. New Girl had a good run. It provided me an enjoyable 2 years.

Fox hasn’t lost me on Tuesday – I just tune out at 9pm, instead of tuning in.

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6 comments:

  1. Good read. Feel the same way about New Girl but I'm stil watching.

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  2. I kept watching New Girl for a full year before coming to this realization. The madness ends today!

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  3. Now sure what happened to the writing? It appears they fired their writers and hired some 15 year old boys. An episode about getting stoned and goofy, not so subtle jokes about sex. sad but true.
    Writing has gone down hill, I stopped watching

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  4. I agree with every single word written. Have still been watching hoping it'll turn around. It's not :/

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  5. I watched 5 shows and didn't laugh once, is this a comedy?

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  6. Schmidt is just getting a little too annoying rather than just douche-ie. He acts very homosexual at times, then very macho and mysoginistic... But Winston trying to kill the cat and the whole cat relationship is gold! It also carries over

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