At the end of the first season of New Girl, we were largely left where we started, with the four central characters all back in the apartment. Nick had decided to stay rather than move out with his ex-girlfriend Caroline. Jess was recovering from her break-up with older man Russell. Schmidt had ended things with Cece and had his penis broken. Yes, that’s right. He broke his penis.
Several months down the line and we rejoin the friends after a period of healing. In the first episode, Relaunch, Schmidt decides to host a danger-themed party to reaffirm his ‘personal brand’ now that his penis cast is off. Jess is made redundant from her teaching job and tries her hand at being a shot-girl for the evening, to limited effect. Schmidt goes out of his way to impress Cece, who arrives at the party with new boyfriend, Robbie.
The seeds for some of this season’s key narrative arcs are established in the first episode. In the next weeks, Jess will have to come to terms with her unemployment, Schmidt must suppress his infatuation with Cece, and Nick’s protective instinct towards Jess will continue to grow. This is a season in which many supporting cast members will come and go. But the core of New Girl is immutable: Schmidt, Nick, Winston and Jess muddling along in their warped little loft world.
My relationship with the New Girl characters is difficult to define. Frequently they annoy me: they’re overly loud, melodramatic and barely believable. Yet I have an affection for them which keeps me tuning in. Many criticisms of the show seem to stem from Zooey Deschanel’s image as a manic pixie dream girl, and while this does appear to be her default setting, it is an unfair judgement. Her character, Jessica Day, is more nuanced than that. Sure, Jess is super optimistic and ‘quirky’. But she also gets low sometimes, is wholly dedicated to her profession and is a reliable friend. Could I tolerate her company for more than thirty minutes? No. But she’s an almost-plausible human.
The biggest laughs, however, come from her male flatmates: Schmidt, Nick and Winston. Schmidt is a corporate narcissist whose overinflated sense of his own brilliance manifests itself in naivety. Winston is an anxiety-riddled ex-professional basketball player who mediates the group. Nick is a grouchy barman with crushingly low self-confidence. Every time he and Jess have an intimate conversation, I fear that they will end up kissing. This has seemed like a foregone conclusion since the pilot episode, and I desperately hope New Girl can resist the fulfilment of this romantic cliché.
Although it would be impossible to definitively say which of the characters is the lead, the show certainly does not favour Winston, who for the most part continues to be restricted to subplots. In a moment of introspection, Schmidt analyses the characters’ unique brands. ‘Winston,’ he says, ‘your brand is Winston.’ Although I have appreciated how New Girl’s gradual development of Winston’s character has made him a more complex and intriguing persona, I think it is a shame that he remains the character we have got to know the least. Lamorne Morris is a talented comic actor, and deserves greater attention from the show’s writers.
The opening episode of season two of New Girl is on a par with the quality viewers had come to expect from the first. It’s certainly still amusing, if not always laugh-out-loud funny. The fact is, there is almost no distinction between the first and second season of New Girl, and disappointingly, Relaunch falls back on New Girl’s staple devices: Jess talks like an old time gal, Nick gets shouty, and some combination of the cast break into ridiculous song and dance. Rather than treading new ground, the coming episodes reinforce the lacklustre but comforting repetitivity which New Girl has by the bucketload.