A co-worker of mine scoffed at me the other day when I told him I watch New Girl. This co-worker, mind you, is male and openly enjoys Friends, so I did not expect this type of judgment from him. Then when talking to another co-worker about my unabashed crush on Zooey Deschanel, she replied “I heard her new show is terrible.” I sheepishly admitted to liking it, excusing it as a guilty pleasure. Truth be told, if New Girl starred one of the Olsen twins rather than Zooey Deschanel I would not give it the time of day and probably follow suit with my co-workers but it did star Zooey Deschanel, so I watched, enjoyed it, and then I set my DVR for 9pm for every Tuesday night. Here is the thing though, I don’t know if I should feel guilty about enjoying New Girl.
First off, let me dispel the “terrible show” comment. If it was terrible show I would tell you. I never missed an episode of Entourage and freely admit, that was a terrible show. I even watched two seasons of I Love New York on VH1 and never tried to defend it to anyone. I have no problem confessing to liking terrible shows, but New Girl is not a terrible show. So now that, that is out of the way, let’s move on.
I partook in the first episode of New Girl, in my room, alone, with the door shut, and the volume low enough it would not seep through the walls. I did not watch with my pants around my ankles, but I did not want anyone to know I was giving this show a chance. I do not see myself in the doldrums of broad comedy television, watching Two and Half Men and Jay Leno. I pride myself in hip, irreverent comedy like Community and Jimmy Fallon. So why did I (and apparently others) automatically assume New Girl fell into the former rather than the latter. I think, without trying to sound too misogynistic, the simple reason, the main character is a woman. I am not trying to say woman cannot lead a comedy, they can, Bridesmaids proved that and Clueless is one of my personal favorites, but how many sitcoms revolve around a female lead. When you add the train wrecks, Are You There, Chelsea and Whitney, it only gives ammunition to the haters. It also does not help that all three of these female led sitcoms came out in same season, tying them to each other, fairly or unfairly. I think this properly explains why New Girl could be perceived as a guilty pleasure, but it does not explore whether or not it actually is a guilty pleasure.
When Justin Timberlake dropped his first solo album Justified he reeked of boy band heartthrob, no guy who had any shred of machismo would declare himself a Justin Timberlake fan, but he proved pretty talented and by the time Future Sex/Love Sounds dropped there was no shame in not changing the radio station when Love Stoned came on. New Girl finds itself in the same territory now, can it make the leap from the perception of lame to artistically accepted. To determine this, I will put it up against my favorite current guilty pleasure sitcom, How I Met Your Mother. First let’s look at what makes it a guilty pleasure. One, it plays as a Friends retread, substitute Central Perk for MacLaren’s Pub, substitute Rachel and Ross for Robin and Ted or Robin and Barney, depending on the season, and lose Phoebe, you basically have the same show. Secondly, the entire show constructs itself around a gimmick it brazenly puts in its title “How I Met Your Mother.” Next, it resorts to a laugh track to give its audience cues on when to laugh. And lastly and possibly most important, my mother likes it. So let’s weigh that against New Girl. I do not see New Girl as a Friends retread, while Jess and Nick definitely have a “will they/wont they” relationship, the group dynamic in New Girl follows a totally different sentiment than Friends or How I Met Your Mother. Second, I would not say New Girl clings to a gimmick, people still tune in to see how Ted will meet his wife, whereas Jess being the new girl only sets up the situation but does not carry it, essentially she stopped being the new girl after the first episode. Next, no laugh track, a bigger deal than you may suspect, while some really good sitcoms utilize canned laughs (Seinfeld, most notably), no sitcom goes for broad appeal and abandons a laugh track. New Girl passes its first few tests but my mother stands at its horizon and unfortunately my mother likes it.
So, Is New Girl a guilty pleasure or just a pleasure, or is it a guilty pleasure now, with the potential to be a pleasure? After all this, I still do not know. I do know that if I bring up New Girl at a poker game I will at have my manhood questioned, but they would hate on Clueless too, and I do not feel guilty about liking that. In the end, the same guys who scoff at New Girl, actually enjoyed all eight seasons of Entourage, which is fine so did I, but they also thought it was a good show, so what do they know? Maybe it will be looked at as a guilty pleasure but I won’t feel guilty as long as it stays clever, playful and funny.
*EDIT: My Mother and Father just said about New Girl, “they talk too fast” and “I don’t get a lot of the jokes.” New Girl can officially be upgraded from ‘guilty pleasure’ to ‘pleasure.’