TV

'New Girl' Is More Like 'Recycled Girl'

Renée Scolaro Mora

The promos for New Girl suggest that it’s something new or at least mildly unusual. But its first episode looks like more of the same.


New Girl

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Zooey Deschanel, Jake M. Johnson, Max Greenfield, Damon Wayans Jr., Hannah Simone
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: Fox
Director: Jake Kasdan
Air date: 2011-09-20
Website
Trailer
Amazon

Jess (Zooey Deschanel) is "adorkable." Quirky and socially awkward, accidentally sexy, she croons her own theme song to bolster her courage, and has terrible luck with men. Forced to find a new place to live after a painfully embarrassing breakup, Jess answers a Craigslist add and ends up moving in with three single men: Nick (Jake M. Johnson), Schmidt (Max Greenfield), and Coach (Damon Wayans, Jr., who only appears in the pilot).

The promos for New Girl suggest that it’s something new or at least mildly unusual. But its first episode looks like more of the same. The men are certainly familiar, variations on the thoroughly worn out perpetual adolescent type. And as charming as Deschanel may be, in her wool socks and patterned skirts, isn't Jess just as another version of Lisa Kudrow's child-woman Phoebe? "Recycled Girl" seems a more descriptive title.

To be fair, a pilot episode is burdened with all the set up, and in 30 minutes, that tends to be reduced to blunt-force character introductions: Coach, a personal trainer, yells a lot, hides his feelings, and doesn't know how to talk to women. Schmidt is constantly fined by his roommates for being a "douche bag" and doesn't know how to talk to women. Nick is a bartender and therefore somewhat wise, and though he is the least foolish of the three, he also -- surprise, surprise -- doesn't know how to talk to women. Despite her goofiness, Jess tries to help in this department, handing out sage bits of wisdom, like telling Coach to yell less and Nick to ask his ask ex-girlfriend why she broke up with him.

The three guys are simultaneously horrified by Jess and compelled to help her get over her depression over her breakup. They are motivated less by compassion than their own discomfort at being forced to share space with a sobbing girl constantly watching Dirty Dancing. Schmidt takes charge, ready to coach her on the fine art of the rebound hook-up at Nick's bar. That Jess will make a mess of this is a foregone conclusion, so the question is how her three roommates will respond to her.

Of course, the answer to that question is equally predictable, since the point is that this mess of a woman is here to teach them to be better men. To that end, they must befriend and champion Jess. And so, here's the bright spot: while New Girl may offer yet another serving of ridiculous men, at least their improvement does not come by way of the equally tiresome overbearing woman.

Jess' lessons are straightforward because she is incapable of cunning or manipulation. And they are honest because she has no filter. Her instructiveness, like her attractiveness, is mostly accidental, because she doesn't seem to notice the flaws she unwittingly helps correct. Still, it's an obvious problem that the show suggests that men are more open to a woman's insights if she's both beautiful (and no amount of "dorky" accessories is going to hide this in Deschanel) and vacuous.

It's worth noting that the tiny bit of backstory we get on Schmidt is a scene in which he's doing a presentation at his workplace in a conference room full of women who are mocking him to the point that he's near tears. This is offered as one excuse for his sexist behavior. The other contributing factor is hinted at when Jess, during her interview for the apartment, admits she thought a woman wrote the ad describing the place as "sun-soaked" and "beigey." His response is absurd hyper-masculine posturing (and warrants another fine owed to the douche bag jar). But in both scenarios, women pose some sort of threat to him and are therefore to blame for his bad behavior. Poor Schmidt.

And poor us. While the boys might think Jess is "different" kind of girl, and so, worth listening to, we recognize her all too well. The question the show can't even ask has to do with how threats posed by women tend to be contained by language -- and not only men's use of language (consider the dust-up last week when South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley referred to a reporter as "little girl"). Jess's task is made twice as hard because she must instruct while not seeming to, while seeming to be instructed.

Jess must also learn her own lessons and grow up herself. Though she can't make this change too visible, else she loses her appeal and value to the men in her life. As they see it, she has to learn to be a good girl from them. None of this is very new at all.

4

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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9

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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