Back in 2011, I was skeptical about New Girl. It’s no surprise that a sitcom built to showcase Zooey Deschanel’s cutesy-cool charm might suffer some initial snap judgments, and I’ll admit, it took a few episodes for me to really fall in love. But a season and a half in, it’s clear the show’s skill in exploring – and poking fun at – its own sweetness has made it a deservedly stand-out series for FOX.
Season One started with a simple premise: what happens when a super cute, super sheltered girl finds herself newly single and shacked up with a trio of handsome (and heartwarmingly sweet) new roomies? New Girl found its voice early on, with episodes like “Wedding” throwing everyone into character-establishing moments, and those more focused on the ensemble, like “Kryptonite,” playing with the show’s perfect storm of quirky personalities (despite all else, we know we’re dealing with the kind of people who love planning elaborate pranks). As months passed, more serious storylines (Schmidt and Cece’s secret romance, Nick’s cancer scare and romance with Caroline, Jess’s rebound with divorcée Russell) tested the cast’s and writer’s abilities to add surprising edges to seemingly exhausted topics (temp jobs, paying bills, weird dates). Judging by the fact that they earned multiple Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice Television Award noms – Deschanel even took home the CCTA for Best Actress in a Comedy Series – it seems they succeeded.
With an inaugural season that ended pretty neatly, there wasn’t much to gossip about during the summer break, save for the almost-cliffhanger of Nick moving out of (and immediately back into) the apartment. But minutes into the fall premiere “Re-Launch,” Season Two was shaking things up, with Jess losing her job, Schmidt back on the prowl, and plenty of secretive, more-than-friendly feelings flying all over the place. While everyone’s got their own personal problems stacking up, it seems they’re all based in each individual’s approach to (and apprehension with) becoming an adult; “Neighbors,” in which the crew realizes they’re too old to hang with the caricatures of hipsters that have moved in next door, really hammers this in. In Jess’s case, she reacts to her unexpected firing, and subsequent loss of her identity as “Miss Day,” by over-enthusiastically cycling through a bunch of shitty jobs (shot girl, casserole slinger) and experimenting with impulsivity (starting a no strings attached relationship, under a pseudonym, with total stranger Sam). Nick, attempting to embrace both his creativity and his single-ness, ends up in a whole mess of amazing situations (meeting his future self, indulging in some aqua therapy with a new elderly friend) that lead to his relationship with stripper / red flag factory Angie. Cece tries to settle down with nerdy Robbie, but ends up drawn back to Schmidt after some medical news forces her to think about family planning. Schmidt’s best efforts to prove himself a worthy life partner (and possible father) keep getting messed up, but his resolve remains strong. Less central, but still a part of most episodes, Winston’s worked through his dissatisfaction with Shelby and emerged a determined man with his own morning radio show.
Most notably, these dozen episodes prove New Girl’s strongest moments are its most emotional. Nick and Jess’s increasingly complex relationship straddles a thin line between frustratingly will-they-or-won’t-they and perfectly platonic, a distinction the season’s third episode, “Fluffer” – in which Nick bristles at playing the role of Jess’s boyfriend without the benefits – doesn’t do much to clear up (while their mutual attraction is noted and dismissed, Nick still ends up making a sweet gesture knowing that it signals more sincere interest). Their connection has become so central that every other episode seems to depend on one of their tough love sessions to inspire some sort of personal revelation. Jess’s relationship with her other BFF, Cece, has also undergone some changes, as the girls make more demands of each other during their respective crises (“Models” finds the pair fighting but ultimately making up after a particularly slapstick scene involving a bikini-clad Deschanel and a spinning car display).
The theme of confronting adulthood has also paved the way for some pretty great cameos as everyone’s families start dropping in. Rob Riggle is amazing as Other Schmidt, an insanely competitive cousin whose forceful enthusiasm puts Schmidt’s puppy-like energy to shame. Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner, as Jess’s divorced but affectionate parents, give insight into their daughter’s unrelenting optimism when she attempts to “Parent Trap” them at Thanksgiving. (One of the season’s other incredible cameos casts Parker Posey as an brain-damaged MIT grad turned party girl.)
So, if the first half of Season Two has followed the roomies as they’ve played around with possible futures, it seems the second will see at least a few of them settling into the new roles they’ve been choosing for themselves. Last week’s mid-season premiere, “Cabin,” picked up plots from before the break while throwing in just enough action to shake things up a little more. Jess, trying to get more comfortable in her Responsible Adult Person alter-ego, plans a romantic weekend in the woods with Sam, but ends up inviting Nick and Angie to take some stress off the trip. Absinthe plus Angie’s lax morals lead to Nick realizing he needs something a little more official, and to Jess wondering how strong her bond with Sam really is (of course, Jess and Nick need each other’s harsh words to come to their respective relationship conclusions). Back at home, Schmidt and Winston attempt to buy crack in a supportive gesture / prank war gone wrong. Here’s what we can take away: Jess seems committed to building a grown-up life, and part of that means taking steps to care for herself instead of always giving in to others. Schmidt’s concern for Winston’s well-being (however cringe-worthy his motivation) shows his big heart, possibly foreshadowing the eventual triumph of good intentions over perennial bad luck? And we’re hoping that Nick, reeling from the loss of his very own Alcoholic Pixie Dream Girl, keeps getting into some tension-easing mishaps. Because at it’s core, New Girl is all about growing up without getting so old that things like bathtubs and cookies and Santa – and weird, unexpected adventures – lose their magic.