Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pilot Season: The New Girl (Or How Cute is Too Cute?)

It’s a good year to be a woman on television.  This year the women stole the show and the pilots that are coming out are overwhelmingly tipped in our favor, at least when it comes to gender ratios.  Prime Suspect, 2 Broke Girls, Unforgettable, Charlie’s Angels, Secret Circle, Pan Am, Hart of Dixie…I could go on.

But the lingering question, of course, is whether or not these shows actually are any good.  Yes, a lot of them feature women leads and hooray for that!  (Seriously, HOORAY!).  But are they good?

Well I’m watching them so you don’t have to.  We’ll see.

THE NEW GIRL (FOX, Tuesdays at 9 EST)


The New Girl follows Jess (played by Zooey Deschanel) as she is, moments in, dumped by her boyfriend, and forced to move in with a group of lovable lunks and salvage her self esteem.  Originally only agreeing to live with her because Jess is a girl, and thus has hot girl friends, the lovable lunks (there is no point at this juncture trying to learn their names) become distressed when Jess cries over her lost relationship and seek to fix her.  Wacky hijinks ensue, a touching ending is reached.

Yup. That's what my Saturday nights look like.
So, it’s not particularly original, and at times the forced cuteness of Deschanel’s Jess became cloying and I wanted to smack some sense into her, but overall, the show was inoffensive.  It had a few valid points: that the display of emotion is not a form of weakness, and can actually be a great emotional strength, and that choosing to live in a way contrary to social norms is frequently rewarding even if it is challenging for those around you.  But it also had some clunkers.  Jess is a woman and thus sobs and watches Dirty Dancing when she’s sad*.  When trying to teach one of the lunks how to talk to women in a non-judgmental way, Jess talks about shopping for jeggings.  He yells, “Who cares?” at her after a few moments of feigned interest.  Sadly, I felt the same.  If jeggings are the height of conversational depth for this gender, I want out.

But the real knot at the heart of New Girl is Jess herself and the age-old** question: Can feminism be feminine?  How cute is too cute?  As a personal proponent of hygiene and pretty dresses, I find myself occasionally contemplating this.  While I disapprove of bras insofar as they perpetuate the male gaze, I like them.  They’re comfortable.  I think heels do make my legs look slimmer, and I’m excellent at walking in them, thank you very much.  But I have my moments of rage as well.  I have owned that Che t-shirt, in the obnoxious green that looks good on no one and certainly didn’t help me.  I spent much of college in overalls, tie-dye and offensively ugly sweaters.  I flirt with shop attendants when my computer breaks because I can’t be bothered to fix it, but I get angry when someone implies I can’t put up a shelf.  How cute is too cute. 

Deschanel’s Jess is precisely the kind of woman who irritates me because I suppose I see a little too much of myself in her.  I wish we could all be fantastic paragons of feminist virtue, but we’re not.  Jess has to be rescued from a blind date gone awry by her three male roommates, and then sits on the couch with them eating ice cream and watching the aforementioned Dirty Dancing.  She can help solve their problems, but she sometimes needs to be saved.  I’m not sure I like that, but I have to admit that it’s true.

Need a hair tie?
As for the show itself, it’s funny, for certain values of funny.  I’ve little doubt it will get better over the course of the season, as the characters settle into their roles and some real stories are allowed to develop.***  Pilots tend to be the worst episodes of a show, what with all of the producer and network interference, and the issues involved in setting up a story.  But I only hope that they will be able to develop Jess in such a way that she answers once and for all the question of how to be feminist and feminine.  This may not be it, but it’s a start.

*I have never seen this movie and never intend to.  It is so far from my thing as to be unfunny.  Baby can stay in the corner as long as she likes.

**Well, since the 70s.

***And maybe, just maybe, they’ll give the lunkheads personality enough for me to bother learning their names.  For now, I know them as Beardy, Took-Off-His-Shirt-One, and Wayans-Brother.  Frankly, I think men should be offended by their portrayal in this show as a bunch of mindless drones willing to put up with almost anything in the hopes of getting to meet some models, but that’s a complaint for another article.


  1. I caught the last 5 minutes of it while waiting for "Raising Hope." I didn't laugh once, and went "aww" for about a second before going "Yeah I don't buy any of that." So it's a pass for me.

  2. Why don't you like Dirty Dancing?

    It took me a while with New Girl to get a handle on Jess. Before I watched it I thought they were going in that faux geek way (I don't mean that girls can't be geeks. I'm a girl and the biggest geek that ever lived. I'm talking faux geek like referencing LOTR and thinking because you've heard of one of the highest grossing movie franchises (and book series) you are lol so geeky) but instead it turned out to be this dork of a girl that is completely comfortable being a dork and the fact that she's a dork is why she is so endearing to all of her friends. She's not kitschy or playing up things that are in or acting unique. It's her ordinariness and genuine sweetness that makes her so loveable. She's so lacking in neuroses or manic pixie dream girlness. Being a dork (she's not cool/savvy) is both why she isn't part of the Cool Crowd and doesn't have that many guys realizing how attractive she is while also being how she knows that her friendships are real.

    On bras, I love them in every way. I think a lot of breasts look better in them (mine sure do), they make a lot of outfits look better, and as a bisexual my female gaze appreciates.

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