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Goodbye, New Girl: a whimsical comedy from an innocent age

The Guardian logo The Guardian 07/12/2018 Rebecca Nicholson
Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Hannah Simone sitting on a bench posing for the camera: New Girl cast in 2011: Damon Wayans Jr, Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield and Hannah Simone. © 20thC.Fox/Everett/Rex Features New Girl cast in 2011: Damon Wayans Jr, Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield and Hannah Simone.

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It’s strange to think that, like Game of Thrones and Black Mirror, New Girl only started in 2011. While the former two series have come to feel right at home in our fraught and fractured times, perfect on-screen reflections of the chaos around us, New Girl is a relic of a mythical land, an easier and breezier era in which television could be warm and silly without the need for a harrowing back story and laughter so stretched and tight that cosmetic surgeons could pack it and sell it.

Zooey Deschanel © Shutterstock Zooey Deschanel The series ended for good in the US in May, but, as with chlorinated chicken, we have had a period of grace before confronting the inevitable. So here we are, seven months later, giving British audiences the chance to see off the one-time flatmates and look into their futures, Friends-style. I always thought that the reputation of New Girl was slightly hamstrung by its twee theme song – try to sing “Who’s that girl? It’s Jess!” more than once without wanting to break something - and Zooey Deschanel’s image as the epitome of the manic pixie dream girl (as captured best in the endearing Saturday Night Live sketch Bein’ Quirky With Zooey Deschanel, in which Deschanel appears and which involves knitting an octopus sweater).

There were a few bumps in the road, some dips in quality along the way, but given that there were 148 episodes , that was to be expected. For most of its seven seasons, though, it was slyly surreal and sharp. When Nick finally told Jess that he loved her, he tried to take it back - by gatecrashing a party at New Girl fan Prince’s house. Yes, that required a little storyline-crowbarring, and yes, it was weird to see the elusive Prince in a sitcom playing table tennis. But it’s a testament to the characters’ ability to feel almost familial that they sort of, almost, pulled it off, in a way that could never have happened on Modern Family.

Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson are posing for a picture: Prince approved … New Girl. Photograph: Fox Television/Rex/Shutterstock © Fox Television/Rex/Shutterstock Prince approved … New Girl. Photograph: Fox Television/Rex/Shutterstock

Television seems less nice now, less inviting, than it did when New Girl began. Comedy is more brutal and more prone to darkness; even Broad City, usually a guaranteed shot of silliness, was forced to deal with its Trump-era malaise by including a storyline about Ilana no longer being able to orgasm. (Perhaps that is why the rebooted Will and Grace is such an escapist relief – it’s straightforwardly clownish and zingy, without too much emotional baggage .) Even The Good Place, a jolly, cartoonish romp debating the philosophy of what it means to be a decent person, has a lot of dealings with actual hell.

New Girl is drawing to a close at the right time. They had the romcom-ish happy ending episode by marrying off Nick and Jess, at last. The finale, set a month later, was left to say goodbye to the series’ most valuable player – the loft. The couple are given 24 hours to leave following a season’s worth of eviction notices, and inevitably, Jess is finding it difficult to move on. After some excellent visual gags, particularly the packing boxes dripping in glue after the tape ran out, there is a sentimental send-off with a sweet flash-forward, but not before bringing the gang back together for one last game of True American.

This regimented fun turns into an opportunity to look back on seven years with fondness, though this being New Girl, they are nostalgic not for the life-changing moments – the babies, the weddings – but the blithely mediocre ones, such as Schmidt giving Nick the gift of peppermint foot cream, that time the sink was blocked, and Cece trying out her baby voice. It was a small, wry subversion of what is to be expected from a finale, but it was perfectly New Girl, and it worked.

Related: Air-time legends: the longest-running TV series ever [StarsInsider]


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