Everybody Loves Zooey: Is “The New Girl” Moving In For Good?

Firstly,  I like Zooey Deschanel a bunch. Deschanel was awesome in the movies 500 days of Summer (2009) and Elf (2003) and of course her band with M. Ward She & Him. So I was excited to watch the first episode of “The New Girl.

According to The Wall Street Journal, ratings for “The New Girl” were off the charts — over 10 million viewers tuned in and most of them were young. Television ratings people really like youngsters.

But this entire show is premised on the idea that she needs dudes (her male roommates) to teach her how to date and dress, therefore saving her from that rascaly quirky personality of hers that’s making her so damn unbearable to the opposite sex. I feel like I’ve already seen this happen in a Sandra Bullock romantic comedy.

In one of the excerpt clips available streaming on Hulu the new potential male roomates debate the pros and cons of having a female roommate. Pros include “smells nice” and “good at folding.” Cons, obviously — women are just so emotionally unstable!

Look, she can’t walk in heels:

can't walk in heels

I might be alone in feeling tired by all this — The Los Angeles Times loved The New Girl and its usage of “sexiness as dorkiness”:

Which is to say, with the occasional sensual growl and knowing twinkle in her eye, letting everyone know that Jess is in on the joke. Like the men around her, she has a level of self-awareness that belies her often clumsy actions, which makes their little experiment in gender studies much more intriguing than a simple “male friends help dowdy girl become a Real Woman” plot line.

Viewers will come to see Deschanel but they’ll stay for the whole package because smart writing, confident timing and characters that are both familiar yet surprisingly fresh make “New Girl” the most promising comedy, and one of the most promising shows, of the season.

Possibly, if they keep watching the show.

The New Girl is one of many new shows this season about girls — we’ve got the laugh-tracked “hipsters” of 2 Broke Girls, the bunnies in The Playboy Club, the flight attendants of Pam An, a sitcom called Whitney about a comedian named Whitney, that Are You There Vodka It’s Me Chelsea? thing — but none of them have really lived up to their hype so far. Does The New Girl?

In Fall TV’s Gender Wars: 6 Talking PointsThe Week magazine asks if this season is truly the “season of female empowerment” everyone’s saying it is.

Talking point 3:

But these heralded “lady comedies” may actually be sexist
For all of the talk of girl power, these female-centric sitcoms “rehash old stereotypes,” says Jessica Grose at SlateNew Girl and 2 Broke Girls are not “so much about girl power as they are girl strategy” — using “stereotypical ‘girl’ qualities” like flirtiness and feigned innocence to get ahead, says Ken Tucker at Entertainment Weekly. And Whitney, with its deluge of jokes about biological clocks and being “whipped,” is the most “unself-awarely retro-sexist show on television,” says Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon. And that in a season with Playboy bunnies, sexy stewardesses, and Charlie’s Angels.

cast of "the new girl"

Are these roles actually empowering, or do they just seem that way compared to what else is out there? Although women are chronically misrepresented in just about every area of entertainment media, television has always been a more equitable place for female characters. Our editor pointed out to me that in the 90s, strong women were anything but scarce: Murphy Brown, Cybill, Grace Under Fire, Roseanne, Ellen, Thea, Caroline in the City, Blossom, Golden Girls, The Nanny, Sister Sister, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Living Single — but in this 1998 article about The Murphy Brown finale, The Los Angeles Times noted:

I am woman. Hear me roar–right off the air… [Murphy Brown, Cybill and Ellen] were assertive,  outspoken, funny, strong, and now they’re gone…

In their place is a sea of comedy babes–younger, ditsier and cheerier. Dharma of “Dharma & Greg” is the ultimate flower child grown-up; Ally of “Ally McBeal” is now famous for her quirky fantasies and moments of tongue-tied awkwardness; Brooke Shields’ Susan, of “Suddenly Susan,” is struggling to find her voice and backbone…

“I kind of characterize the new ones as lovers and the old ones going out as fighters,” muses producer and writer Diane English.

The article says this kind of thing is “cyclical,” which seems to make sense. This fall’s crop of new shows seems to be somewhere in the middle — and it’s worth pointing out that generally shows about men play on the same gender-based humor, too.

I really want to like this show because I really like Zooey Deschanel — and in this “behind the scenes” clip, Zooey herself says “you never see female roles written this well.”

Am I thinking too hard or is this just another show that plays up old stereotypes we’ve seen a million times before? If it is, can it still be funny? Her style and charm do  shine through, but I don’t know that it’s enough to make up for the plot. What did you think?


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jamiej

Jamie lives in Boston and is currently a PhD student in Global Governance and Human Security at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is a freelance writer and also a team associate for the Boston chapter of Hollaback!.

Jamie has written 76 articles for us.

45 Comments

  1. I dunno, one of my friends on FB made this her status:
    LOL I love the New Girl!!!!! “I like your glasses.” “Thanks, they help me see.”

    Umm…really? That was her best example of the brilliance of the show? Guys, that’s my casual day-to-day repertoire of being sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek. Is this an actual thing? Can I use this to pick up girls? Is this even that funny??? I don’t think so.

    Verdict: Not impressed.

  2. One of the worst shows I’ve ever seen… but it is a pilot episode, so I might give it another chance. The dudes were pretty good, but I found Zooey pretty much unbearable. And the production was so bad– I felt like there was no direction, the editing was sloppy, etc.

    There was an article somewhere criticizing the show and this idea of the “adorkable” girl… how they were making the character completely idiotic and unintelligent instead of how we see real socially inept people in real life… maybe a bit weird but capable and smart in their own ways.

    But again, a lot of this has to do with Zooey’s portrayal, IMO. I felt like there was no real comedic gift or timing there at all. I couldn’t help but compare to Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon and how much better she would’ve worked in those scenes. Liz can do cringeworthy, bizarre things but she still seems real and, uh, FUNNY.

    I also just hate this trend and how its playing to those (actually completely normal) girls who like to talk about how they are such DORKS, non-stop, because maybe made it 3/4 of the way through Lord of the Rings once.

  3. I think the jury’s still out on this one, for me at least. I’m basically waiting for the roommates to stop trying to fix or change Jess and realize that she’s pretty darn awesome the way she is. If that doesn’t happen soon I’ll probably lose interest.

    I especially can’t stand the douchey roommate. I know he’s supposed to be funny, but I usually end up wanting to hit something when he goes into that mode.

    All in all I think the main thing this show needs is to find its footing/groove.

  4. I was really surprised by how much I actually enjoyed watching it. There were definitely moments of eye-rolling(I can already tell that her ‘bro’ roommate is going to bug the crap out of me) and there were parts that were frustrating to watch, but overall I was amused by it. My sister posits that most of the truly funny parts were centered around the “douchebag jar” that the male roommates must put money in if they do anything overly “douche-y,” and frankly, she’s right.

    That said, I was less disappointed by the first episode of The New Girl than I was by the racist, ableist, insulting first episode of Glee that was on before it, so I guess that counts as success.

  5. While the whole “awkward girl needs boys to make her a real girl” thing is somewhat nauseating and predictable, I do like that this show actively highlights gender performance. In Jess’ case everyone seems to be guiding her to act appropriately girly, which is obviously problematic, but she’s hardly the only character being taught how to perform gender. I find Schmidt in particular to be hilarious in his attempts to be manly and in the ways the other characters respond to him (the douchebag jar is seriously something I wish I could implement in my own life). Taken together, these two characters could provide some smart and funny insight.Depending on how smart this show is, and how smart the show assumes its audience to be, this could be a really interesting show. Or it could be very, very disappointing. I’m leaning towards disappointing, but I’ll still watch it for the douchebag jar.

  6. i’m conflicted by this show. on one hand zooey d. is awesome all the time, so i can’t resist supporting her. i feel like the premise is horrible though and the best written character is Coach, which is not the new girl at all. i don’t know, i’m just glad modern family and parks and rec are still going strong, and up all night wasn’t too bad of a pilot either.

  7. No.

    Just no. The worst part, IMO, which is the problem with a lot of shows, is terrible writing. It’s not funny, clever or very original. Zooey is playing at the same character she seems to default to. I don’t think she is that good of an actress, she just seems blank and cutesy all the time.

    • Did I get this totally backwards? I laughed a bunch, thought she was super cute, and am planning on tuning in next week to see what comes next. I can appreciate the “Zooey always plays the same character” argument – I personally liked her best in Elf – but she felt a bit more likable in this than in some of her other work. I think the “charm and brilliance” comes from the portrayal of an openly weird, dry-humored girl and that the boys’ resistance to this won’t change her as a person, but will ultimately change them for the better.
      And if the storyline is just that simple and easy to figure out blah blah blah, then that’s exactly what I want after an 8 hour day – I will sit there with a beer and enjoy a pretty girl being quirky. That, and it’s on before Raising Hope, so one less channel to change.

  8. I too wanted to like “The New Girl,” however, after watching the first episode, I was thoroughly unimpressed. Zoey plays the role of “quirky beauty” well, but “The new girl” lacks the depth and honesty seen in characters like Summer in “500 days of Summer.” If anything, “Jess” is a backwards representation of women- if she is an intelligent, strong female character, like the media would have us believe, then said intelligence and character strength is downplayed by uninspired, predictable quips and feigned confusion. I’d be more apt to believe “The New Girl” is about an insecure 13 year old who suddenly finds herself trapped in the body of a grown ass woman, and feels as though she needs to “act like a grown up.” I give this show two more episodes before I declare it a disappointment, but I don’t have high expectations.

  9. I liked it, perhaps because I’m familiar with ‘awkward’ friends who burst into song and its nice to see something like that on the teevee.

    I know that the premise seems like it will be all about ‘fixing’ Jess, but I think it will go in a different direction from the expected. Well, we’ll see.

  10. i thought the show was pretty funny and i loveloveLOVE zooey deschanel
    but i couldnt help thinking the entire time that it was only endearing/cute/hot/quirky/sexy because its zooey and shes ALREADY hot as fuck
    if this was real life and/or she was an unattractive geeky girl, no one would think it was sexy-charming, would they?

    ohhhh tv……

  11. The whole premise felt a little Rachael Leigh Cook in “She’s All That” to me. Strip off those overalls and, oh my god, there’s a perfectly sexy bombshell underneath! Who knew? (Besides, well… everyone.)

    But I think overall, the laughs outweighed the eye-rolls and I will definitely keep watching. At the very least… because Zooey is absolutely adorable and I like the “cute nerd” thing.

  12. I’ve only seen the commercials for this show, but my first impression was that the premise reminded me of The Wallflower manga (except in that one, the guys are counting on their ability to “remake” the girl to allow them to live rent-free, and the girl in question fights them at every step). Judging from some of the responses here, I’m going to assume that I’m much better off sticking with the reclusive Sunako and her love of horror than watching this show. Which is a shame, because I really do like Zooey D. Maybe I’ll check out the next episode just long enough to bask in her shiny presence. :D

    Also, I’m a geeky girl myself, and usually my social awkwardness just gets me strange looks — I don’t think it’s ever gotten me a girl’s phone number, so I think this “adorkable” business only works if you’re already adorable/hot, which makes that thin veneer of dorkiness just seem endearing.

  13. I love Zooey and I laughed SO HARD during the pilot, but I guess if you really stop to think about it, it’s something that wretched Taylor Swift person would dream up in about two seconds flat.

    Now if Jess literally stumbled into a hot tomboy who liked her dorky ass just the way she is and they fell in love and lived gaily ever after, I’d be a goner.

  14. Honestly, I was unimpressed, but it’s a pilot episode, and I feel like all the parts I laughed at were spoiled by all the promo, anyway. I’m willing to give it more of a chance, both comedy wise and portrayal of Jess wise. I think the biggest problem with it is that Zooey doesn’t really translate well to sitcom, I think.

    That said, the douchebag jar was the best part. I feel like my college experience would have been vastly different if I had one of those.

  15. The New Girl was so boring and not funny that I couldn’t even make it through the entire episode, the only part marginally funny was the douchebag jar. I don’t get the appeal of Zooey Deschanel, the whole MPDG thing she has going on is just annoying, I’ll take her older sister Emily Deschanel.

  16. I probably shouldn’t comment because I haven’t seen the show but one of the reasons I didn’t want to see it was the devolution in her roles since she’s started. She was the big sis in “Almost Famous” and I saw an episode of “Frasier” last week where again she was a flighty hipster but in both of those there seemed some core personhood to the small parts she was playing. Summer was one dimensional and off putting and the promos of “New Girl” made her look like a cartoon. IDK, I feel like they can do more with her than they have.

  17. http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2011/09/20/140624409/new-girl-foxs-great-comedy-hope-cant-stand-up-to-the-hype-yet

    NPR did a review which I read first then watched the show, so I watched the show with hella pre-conceived notions which I found ALL WRONG after watching the show.

    The author lambasted her relationship with her model friend as baseless and also seemed to think Deschanel’s character offered zero intelligence/sagacity.

    I need to watch Whitney.

    That’s not what I got at all.

    1) Yes she’s spacey and goofy and unbalanced and a bit Asperger’s-lite, but (I have friends JUST like that) throughout the show she offered a lot of insights to the benefit of her new male roomies. She, sans-goof, let Coach know his approach to women of a milder temperament was too forceful. ALbeit she burned her hair in the process. She went tit-for-tat with the roommate getting over his ex at the bar. He tried to insult her and in the process she didn’t gaf and helped him get over his pathetic “I’ve been dumped” hump.

    2) Her friend Cee seems to be a good friend. She literally gave her the clothes off her back and threatened her new male roommates.

    Idk… I found nothing wrong with the show yet.

    Although at times Zooey seemed to be doing a bit much (I blame the writers!), but if the direction of the show allows her to be herself more, she has potential to be comedic gold.

  18. I just watched the pilot and was super disappointed, I thought it would be so good!I love Zooey Deschanel in ANYTHING – except this show. It’s true; it just reinforces a bunch of sexist bull. I’ll give it a few more chances in hopes that it gets better, but I’m not optimistic.

  19. I like Zooey, and have nothing against her as a person or actress, but I watched an episode of this on the plane and was rolling my eyes most of the time. There is something about this show that really rubs me the wrong way…in a ‘She’s All That’ kind of way. It feels like everything about Zooey’s character that makes her unique (unabashedly breaking into song, being clumsy and naive about traditional hetero normative representations of femininity, to name a couple) has just got to go if she has any hope of landing a date let alone a man, which obviously is her ultimate goal in life because that’s what women want/need in order to be happy or self-actualized…Never mind that she is drop dead gorgeous and really already embodies the acceptable ‘way’ to be feminine…I just don’t like it. And I don’t like how ditsy (not in a cute, endearing way but in a ‘how the hell did you get through life up to this point!?’ sort of way) and lacking in awareness about herself and others the character is. Yes, I’ve only seen most of one episode and I could definitely be talking out of my ass here, but I didn’t like anything about this show. The way the guys are portrayed strikes me as just as sexist in reinforcing misconceptions about masculinity. So I have now prattled on for ages, but to sum up, in my opinion this show is not empowering for men or women, quite the opposite. And it’s not funny. OK, I’m done.

  20. I’m not a feminist and I’m not easily offended but ‘New Girl’ was the most sexist crap I’ve seen in years. I adore Zooey Deschanel but I’m disappointed that she took on a role that paints her character as idiotic and pathetic. Normally I’d give a show a second chance, but not this one.

  21. I admit, I was torn too. I love Zooey and this show made me LAUGH, and I feel like if it was too sexist and unaware I wouldn’t have been able to laugh that much. But it can’t be denied that it IS based in ancient stereotypes, and I really liked that it was pointed out here how those stereotypes are the tools of power being used with these female characters, and that’s kind of disappointing and boring.

    I think in the end I will have to continue watching New Girl because my need for humor outweighs any feminist qualms. :P

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