Were you ever told as a child or, perhaps, an adult that in order to win people over all you had to do was “be yourself”? I’ve always found this to be interesting and in light of New Girl’s season four premiere, I think it’s even more intriguing. Following your heart and being yourself is all well and good… as long as you know who you are. But what happens when you’re exhausted from a summer packed full of weddings and still getting over the demise of your relationship? Do you like who you are after that? Moreover, do you even know WHO you are anymore, when you separate yourself from those things and the dust finally settles? What happens is this: you throw everything you are and everything you have into a singular project and then you strive for success. But frequently, there are obstacles and sometimes you fail. What Jess Day learns in “The Last Wedding” is that the whole clichéd idea of “putting yourself out there” isn’t for that other person you’re trying to woo – it’s really for YOU. And, ironically, the person who teaches her this lesson is the person whose mouth she last kissed four months ago. (More on that later.) Elsewhere in the episode, everyone is struggling with the end of summer and strives to make the last wedding of the year really count for them, especially romantically. The theme of identity is going to be one that New Girl focuses a lot on this season, I can tell already, because “The Last Wedding” seems to beg the question: “Who ARE these people now?”
Who are these crazy, weird, occasionally raunchy, sometimes childish 30-something year old friends now that they are all single again? When Liz Meriwether was interviewed about season four, she noted – astutely – that some things had gone awry in season three. I don’t think that season three of New Girl was horrible. I don’t even think it was BAD, necessarily. I think that the show was so ambitious in season two with considerable payoff that they wrote themselves into a bit of a corner. How could they ever possibly top the perfection of episodes like “Cooler” and “Menzies” and “Parking Spot” and “First Date”? Ironically, I think they doomed themselves because of that near-perfection – because audiences expected too much from a show that is still made by humans. But what I truly admired about Meriwether as a showrunner was that she admitted to those flaws. Where a lot of showrunners would have become brash and defensive or else skittish and cowardly, Meriwether noted that both she and the writers had failed to do everything well. She expressed regret over Schmidt’s characterization and a desire to move back toward the season one dynamics of the series come season four. While some worried that Meriwether meant regression, I took the statement for what it was: an acknowledgement that the heart of the show has been and always will be Nick/Jess but that the SOUL of the show and its origin story is the loft.
New Girl started out as a story about the dynamic between an intensely optimistic girl and three very different men. It’s always been this story, really: what happens when you live with people who are vastly different from you? Can you ever understand each other? Can you ever LIKE each other? And if you can… HOW? How do you form those relationships and how do you grow as a person when it seems like you already should be a grown-up? The beauty of the show is that everyone is messed up. Every character is still trying to figure out who they are, what they want, and how to get there. And though there is character progression and bursts of that “grown-up” attitude, I think these are characters who are still deeply flawed, deeply lovable, and deeply scared. They’re trying to navigate the mess that they call life, but the beauty is that they don’t do it alone: the show is always at its best when it focuses on relationships and togetherness.
So, as we spring into season four, we look toward season three with appreciation and remembrance because it led us here, to the final wedding of the summer, where all of the loft crew is trying to score. Oh, and Jessica Biel shows up, too.