With the end of New Girl season two imminent, I’ve been attempting to put my finger on why I keep watching, despite my usual ambivalence toward the sitcom genre. There are other sitcoms I watch, of course: The Office, Parks and Rec, Community, Big Bang Theory…but I don’t put in the effort to keep up with them like I do with New Girl. There’s a magical quality about the show that’s hard to define, an uncanny blend of the best TV ingredients, resulting in the ultimate sitcom viewing experience.
I think part of the reason New Girl season two has been so engaging is that it has slowly stepped away from the usual sitcom tropes and offered us a unique story, one that’s unpredictable, painful, silly and honest. As in our own lives, we don’t know what to expect next, an uncommon, uncomfortable choice in the most comfortable of genres.
One thing that sets it apart from other sitcoms is that New Girl doesn’t allow the typical sitcom formula to dictate story procedure. There isn’t a return to the ‘status quo’ at the end of every episode, like old sitcoms, and unlike many newer shows, there isn’t an overarching storyline, according to its creator Elizabeth Meriwether. This allows it to be organic and fluid, utilizing an internal ebb and flow that mirrors real life, although, in less capable hands, I’m not quite sure it would work.
New Girl also doesn’t rely on the two focal points of most sitcoms: jobs and relationships. While the characters do have jobs, lose them, and look for work, it isn’t the primary focus, and neither are romantic relationships. There are a plethora of relationships displayed on the show, even between main characters, but it hasn’t been the main, driving storyline. That could change, especially in light of the most recent episode of New Girl season two, “Virgins,” but I don’t think it will, because that isn’t the main point of the show.
A few small but important details to note are the differences between the social status and age of the characters on New Girl and other sitcoms. These guys, unlike the people in Will & Grace or Seinfeld are decidedly lower middle class in economical and social standing. They’re pretty poor, barely able to pay the rent some months, and they don’t spend their time eating fancy dinners or attending big social events. This isn’t something usually dealt with on multiple occasions in run-of-the-mill sitcoms. Nick, Jess, Schmidt and Winston are also just on the verge of discovering their identities, and they’re already in their late twenties and early thirties. Again, this is pretty unheard of, a startling portrayal of the new age of maturity. It’s quite interesting, too, that the characters in New Girl aren’t focused on specific goals or desires. They take life as it comes, finding happiness in the small moments, the day-to-day interactions with the people around them.
My favorite thing about New Girl season two is that we got to see these characters become three-dimensional. Instead of a Friends cast of two-dimensional stereotypes or The Office’s semi-enforced character ‘roles’, we get people who are all, at times, cranky, kind, quirky, mean, insightful, anxious, emotional, and goofy. Winston isn’t the ‘token black guy’: he’s a washed up athlete realizing his dream of being a radio personality, someone comfortable wearing pink and purple together, and who can’t ever find the happy medium of pulling a really good prank. Schmidt is a kindhearted, sweet guy who can cook masterpieces, hiding under the facade of a corporate ladder climbing ladies’ man. Nick’s a grouchy old man in a young man’s body, a defense against failure. He’s a writer, although he hardly ever puts pen to paper. And he’s the sort of person who would do anything for his friends, eventually.
New Girl is surprisingly hopeful for a sitcom. I can’t think of another show in this genre that contains such sunny optimism and a sheer exuberance for life. It has moved past the wish fulfillment sitcoms of the past and has begun to explore new territory, a more realistic, culturally relevant space that still has room for plenty of laughs.
New Girl season two is available in its entirety on HuluPlus.