Zooey Deschanel is an acquired taste. From her status as the reigning Queen of Twee due to her stints in the indie band She and Him, to her scene-stealing parts in horrendous movies (Failure to Launch anyone?), people either love her or truly despise her. Those who love her envy the character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer, and wish Zooey would kick their proverbial asses in love. Those against her think she’s responsible for the deifying of the Etsy/DIY culture and blame her for making hipsters become mainstream. Yet even those who dislike her, can’t help but fall, at least once, for those big blue eyes, the batting of the eyelashes and the bows and bright colors that make Zooey who she is.
In fact, there’s an episode of New Girl dedicated precisely to these mixed feelings. In episode 11, “Jess and Julia”, a cynical lawyer played by Lizzie Caplan tries to get Jess (Deschanel) out of paying for a traffic ticket but ends up wanting to punch her for going through life by knitting and playing cute, because this is not how grown ups live… However by the end of the episode she’s been slightly won over by Jess’ behavior because, well, there’s only one of them in the equation who’s bitter. This episode pretty much sums up the feeling of watching New Girl for the first time.
The pilot establishes Jessica Day is exactly who we imagine Zooey Deschanel to be: a lovely woman, with more quirks than there are stars in the sky, the kind who comes up with theme songs to describe her current emotional state. We first meet Jess after she breaks up with her boyfriend and arrives at the apartment of three single men who reluctantly take her in as their new roommate. The guys, of course, have distinctive personalities that will clash/compliment with Jess’ own behavior. Nick (Jake Johnson) is a law school dropout who works as a bartender and spends the day obsessing about his ex-girlfriend, Schmidt is an office clerk in love with himself and Winston (Lamorne Morris) is a former basketball player returning to the States after a stint in Eastern Europe.
The show quickly establishes itself as a regular post-Friends sitcom in which a group of 30-somethingsgrow up together, give each other advice and conjure weird sexual tension (the main apartment in the show has one bathroom where all characters interact together at some point). What makes New Girl different—and something that arguably takes a lot of episodes to realize—is that it lacks any kind of cynicism. Being focused on Jess, the whole show takes on a seemingly passive-aggressive defiant position by saying: this is who I am, take me or leave me.
However, there’s nothing truly defiant, or passive-aggressive about the show. Any ill feelings are direct projections of the audience that has trouble believing a character like Jessica Day is real. Strangely enough, there haven’t been many accusations of the show as being misogynistic, when it can be argued that Jess is an idealized woman; a Madon-nerd/whore figure, if you will, who embodies innocence with almost animalistic sexuality (episode 8, for example, explores Jess’ odd sexuality while highlighting Deschanel’s unconventional sex appeal).
What remains true about the show is that in Jess’ somewhat delusional behavior there is a primitive wisdom our society has ignored in favor of over-thinking everything. There’s something particularly clever about the way in which Jess embraces the good—and especially the bad.
Her character’s maturity goes beyond that of her roommates without ever becoming overpowering. We understand that Jessica’s choice to remain “delusional” in a chaotic world might be the biggest revolution to a female TV character’s sexual empowerment since Carrie Bradshaw published her first column in Sex and the City. Jess grows as a human in each episode, and Deschanel portrays her with enough bubbliness and pathos to make us root for her search for happiness.
The show’s title might not make sense at first, because there’s only so far you can go around carrying the adjective “new”; however, it never meant to be just about her being the new roommate. The word “new” suggests that she is a woman reborn every time she wants to be; a creature who constantly adapts and evolves in order to survive.
The three-disc DVD set of the complete first season includes all 24 episodes with three of them featuring commentary from the cast and crew. The set is rounded up by a series of regular featurettes including one about the costumes, the writing and one featuring Lamorne’s audition tapes. Other extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes and extended scenes with never before seen jokes. Overall the set is worthy for any fan of the show.