Sunday, June 16, 2013

New Girl 1x01 "Pilot" (What It Means to Be Adorkable)

Original Airdate: September 20, 2011

I’ve always really adored Zooey Deschanel. Even when I only knew her as “that girl from Elf” or “that actress in (500) Days of Summer” or “the one who sings,” I thought she was endearing. Zooey Deschanel is the type of person who is unique and could care less how others perceive her. She’s confident with enough humility to leave her grounded, but bold enough to not second-guess her decisions. And even though I don’t know her, personally, I can deduce these things because of what I have seen and heard. The combination of these characteristics (or portions of them) is transferred onto Jessica Day, a young woman we meet in the pilot episode of the partially Deschanel-produced series New Girl.

When I learned that Zooey would be getting her own television series, I was excited. And when the promos for the pilot episode began surfacing, I was even more excited. The show had promise, I decided. Three men living in an apartment with a quirky young woman who was just broken up with rather terribly? Well, it had potential. I’ve talked a lot about pilot episodes on this blog before, but I’ll reiterate this – most people, when asked, will not pinpoint the pilot episode of a television series to be their favorite. Pilots aren’t necessarily meant for us to covet as favorites; their purpose is to introduce us to characters and situations that engage us just enough so that we will become invested in them and learn to form a relationship with them. Friendships and relationships in our lives are built upon the foundation of an initial meeting, but only truly develop when we make the continual effort to connect with that individual. The same logic applies to a television series. That’s why it’s such a struggle for television pilots to succeed – viewers (those of us with short attention spans, at least) want instant connections to characters and jokes or drama and… that doesn’t often happen. Community’s pilot was a bit rocky, in terms of comedy. The series grew though and found its footing. Doctor Who’s 2005 reboot, similarly, was a bit on the rocky side until it, too, found its stride.

Both of those shows noted above are now my favorite, and yet they weren’t always that way. In order for a pilot to engage me – or for me to want to set aside time throughout the week to sit down and watch it – there needs to be some sort of emotional connection between the audience (me) and the characters. I’m a sucker for sap and sentiment, but not without the promise of growth. I’m a sucker for jokes, but not without a solid foundation to anchor them on. I was a fan of New Girl from the pilot episode because I saw that this series had the potential to develop its characters into something special. It, like many pilots, was a bit rocky, but it knew where it was headed. One of the things that my friend Jaime and I have discussed before in regards to this series is that it never had Coach (and Winston), Nick, and Schmidt learn to like and care about Jess as a person – they just DID. And I’ll discuss this more throughout the review, but this element is something pretty beautiful. These are three characters who didn’t have to struggle against their prejudices or dislikes in order to learn to love Jess. A lot of series DO follow this format (Community is an example) and that worked for the show and made sense for the character of Jeff Winger – here’s a jaded ex-lawyer who has probably never had much of a family, learning to love these study group strangers. The loft boys may have rolled their eyes at Jess’ antics. They may have thought it was a bad idea to let her move in. They don’t always understand her. But they immediately – without having to learn this – care about her and make sacrifices for her. That’s always been a theme of New Girl, and it’s something that really drew me to the series. And I think I recall reading an interview with Liz Meriwether where she essentially said that this isn’t a series about a weird girl and three normal guys who learn to deal with her weirdness. It’s about four people, all who are a little weird, who learn how to live together and support each other. THAT is what New Girl is truly all about.

But let’s recap the plot of the episode, shall we? In the New Girl pilot, we meet Jessica Day – a young woman who is living with her long-term boyfriend, Spencer, and is… well, a bit quirky. I think that one of the biggest successful changes that New Girl has made as a series is de-quirkify Jess. That’s not to say that season two Jessica Day has no weird or zany qualities. She DOES. But what this series struggled with at the beginning was finding this fine balance between quirk and childishness. Jess has always had a childlike wonder about her – she teaches children, after all, so she’s bound to like bright colors and dresses and glitter. But the problem (in my opinion) with the first few episodes of the series is that the writers struggled to make Jess sympathetic, relatable, and believable. That’s not to say that I didn’t LIKE Jess when she was introduced – I liked her well enough and I certainly felt bad for her. But I didn’t empathize with her. She came across as TOO weird and zany to be believable as a functioning human being. But when the writers began tone down and focus her quirks (for example, rather than making everything about Jess quirky, they established habits and comfort zones for her character), Jess became much more likeable to me as a viewer.

Unfortunately for Jess, she comes home early from a trip to find Spencer cheating on her with another woman. Obviously heartbroken, Jess now has to find a place to live and finds a Craigslist ad for an apartment. She meets Coach, Schmidt, and Nick who live in a well-lit loft together. The three men have known one another for years, but Jess’ introduction proves a nice parallel to Nick’s current situation. And, indeed, Schmidt brings up this parallelism – Nick has just recently been dumped by his longtime girlfriend Caroline six months ago and has not handled it too well. What’s really great about New Girl, as I mentioned earlier, is that no character on the series is really portrayed as the “straight man.” I suppose that it could be argued that Cece fits this archetype the most, but even she has her weird and crazy moments. These characters were always portrayed as broken and flawed, which is likely the reason that the men gravitate toward protecting and caring for Jess: she’s broken, but then again, so are they. Anyway, I do like the Nick/Jess parallelism and this will come more into play later in the episode, but it gives them a special and separate bond from the very first moments.

Even after Jess tells her heartbreaking break-up story, the men (more specifically, Nick) want to know more about her before they agree to let her move into the loft. After Jess reveals that she’s emotional, sings to herself, and (most importantly) currently lives with her best friend who is a model and has friends who are models, the men hold a pow-wow. Schmidt votes to let her in, solely because her friends are models. Coach doesn’t want to have a woman imposing on his man-time when he comes home from work. This leaves Nick in the tie-breaker position. And I think it’s interesting to see the order that these men decide in because there will be a parallel later: Schmidt is the first person to vote Jess into the loft, but for very selfish reasons. Coach doesn’t want her in the loft, but it’s not because he doesn’t care about Jess as a person – he just cares about himself a little more. And Nick? Well, Nick is the last person to comment on the situation and doesn’t even end up making a solid decision.

Schmidt is the one to make the executive decision, once Nick reverts to a rather catatonic state and decides to let Jess move into the loft. So really, Nick/Jess shippers, in spite of the fact that Schmidt has ruined a lot of the pairing’s interactions or potential interactions in the past, you have him to thank for the existence of the pairing in the first place (technically)!

Unfortunately for Schmidt, this idea kind of backfires when the men walk in on Jess watching Dirty Dancing and sobbing hysterically. … Insert “I have made a huge mistake” GIF as the men look at one another and then at Schmidt. What Jess really needs, Schmidt decides, is a rebound guy to get her out of her break-up funk. Though this is initially suggested as a plan to get Jess out of the guys’ hair, Schmidt actually delivers the idea to her gently – he notes that he will be her guide back into the dating world and will help with whatever she needs. It’s sweet and sentimental and not at all what we’ve come to expect of Schmidt until that point.

Meanwhile, Schmidt is pestering Nick to get the guys into a party by calling Caroline and asking her to get them in. Nick, however, is adamantly against calling his ex-girlfriend and asking for favors. As it turns out, Nick DOES call Caroline… when he’s drunk. He also uses a terrible British accent to confess that he still loves her. I truly do enjoy the fact that both Nick and Jess are in the exact same place emotionally when the series begins – both have been dumped, rather tragically, and both are still mourning the loss of what-could-have-been. Jess is ready to take a new step in her life, while Nick is still stuck in the past, dwelling over what went wrong in his relationship. For all of her faults, Jess doesn’t spend too much time lamenting her relationship with Spencer. She puts herself out there – her whole self – and attempts to get back in the game. But Nick? Well, as Jess warns later on, Nick will become a bitter old man if he cannot get closure from his relationship with Caroline.

While getting ready to go out for the night, Coach approaches Jess and asks for her advice regarding how to approach and talk to women. As it turns out, Coach’s boss noted that he doesn’t quite know how to deal with female clients. So Coach practices his conversational skills with Jess, which I think is endearing. As I said before, none of the men in the loft ever had an aversion to Jess. They were apprehensive of her presence, yes, but all of them embraced her within weeks and approach her for advice. These aren’t people who are learning to appreciate their roommate – these are people who already DO.

The men then take Jess out to try and meet a guy for her, but things aren’t going QUITE as planned when Jess’ quirkiness begins to scare off her potential rebounds. But the men are still supportive of Jess – they don’t give up on her or see her as a lost cause; they genuinely want her to be happier than she is and go to great lengths (they take time out of their night at the bar) to help her achieve that. They even let her have her moment at the end of the night. Schmidt continues to beg Nick to get them all into the Wild Wild West charity auction party (really to impress his frenemy TODD... I mean Benjamin), but the bartender refuses, not entirely understanding why Schmidt wants to attend the party in the first place. Later on, Nick and Jess have a conversation that is quite telling and also the moment I began to root for them as a couple.

Nick and Jess are discussing Jess’ “crazy” and then Nick reveals that he doesn’t know the reason WHY Caroline dumped him. They have a heart-to-heart that reminds me (if I flash-forward) a lot of their conversation in “Injured.” When Jess calls Nick out on not being able to move past his break-up with Caroline, Nick counters by saying that he should be more like her – happy and singing and carefree. Though it’s meant to be sarcastic and mean, Jess doesn’t take his words to heart and notes that he SHOULD sing. Though Nick may look at Jess through a cynical and jaded eye – both in this episode and “Injured” – he eventually recognizes that she’s HAPPY; and perhaps, he should heed some of her advice if he ever wants to try to get closure with Caroline. Immediately after their conversation (and some mild flirting… I SAW IT, OKAY?), Nick decides to take Jess’ advice and text Caroline to get them into the party. He’s ready to cross a hurdle. And he has Jess to thank for urging him forward.

Jess, meanwhile, meets a guy named Peter who seems to like her for who she is and asks her out to dinner the following night. The boys are all really proud of Jess for putting herself out there and for moving forward. And I think that it’s really endearing how supportive they were in their own ways throughout the break-up process and how happy they are that she seems to be happy.

Sometimes I forget what a wonderful friend Cece is, but then I’m reminded of the pilot episode of New Girl when she first appears at the loft and meets Jess' new roommates. Cece can occasionally appear selfish or vain, but the truth is that she cares about Jess more than pretty much anyone on Earth (apart from maybe Nick at this point). And she makes that abundantly clear to the three strangers who now live with the woman. She will do anything to protect Jess and the term that I would use to best describe her is: “fiercely loyal.” Cece warns: “Jess is by far the best person that I know. So if you let anything happen to her, I’m going to come here and crazy murder you.”

(The reactions of the men to this line are hilarious – Nick nods, understanding his role in Jess’ life and this responsibility; Coach nods as well but he still seems to be transfixed on Cece and (more likely) how attractive he found her saying that line; and Schmidt? Well, Schmidt admits to not having heard a word she said.)

Cece goes to talk to Jess and finds her sprawled out on her bedroom floor, having fallen off her stilettos. The young woman then expresses doubt in going to her date but Cece, darling Cece, reassures Jess so well by saying: “Babe, you got hurt. That doesn’t mean you stop trying.” It’s such a small, simple line. And the moment prior to it where Cece instructs Jess to call her if her date goes horribly awry is small and relatively inconsequential as well. But those lines are the mark of a best friend. Cece isn’t always the most mature or responsible adult; in a few episodes we will see exactly how irresponsible she can be. But she cares deeply about Jess and wants to always protect her. Her encouragement is exactly what Jess needs to persevere with the date.

In addition to giving Jess encouragement, Cece lends her the dress that she was wearing when she arrived, and Jess emerges from the room to show off her outfit for the guys, each of whom give her their approval. (And Nick looks extra impressed, but maybe that’s just those infamous shipper goggles at work…)

The guys appear at the party, where Nick runs into Caroline, who got them into the Wild Wild West event. After a bit of small talk in which Caroline insinuates that Nick should really stop drunk dialing her, the woman asks Nick if he wants to grab a drink. Nick agrees but then, after a moment, realizes something – Jess’ words resonate with him. He needs to know the reason that Caroline broke up with him months ago, or else he will never truly find closure. And though he mocked her and dismissed her at the bar, the truth is that Nick truly LISTENED to Jess’ advice. Furthermore, he took that advice to heart and practiced it. He realized that behind all of the crazy singing and the bubbly attitude, Jess was truly wise. Also, it’s kind of cute that he nearly copies Jess’ phrase word-for-word when talking to Caroline. His former girlfriend’s answer as to why she dumped him was relatively simple: she wasn’t even sure he cared about her until their relationship was over. The look on Nick’s face is quite telling. He feels… relief. The break-up now makes sense to him because he was able to get a sense of closure. Now he can truly move forward in his relationship with Caroline and in other relationships.

But TODD (er, Benjamin) and Peter then show up at the party, inciting confusion from the guys. Peter was supposed to be on a date with Jess, after all, at that moment. Nick confronts Peter and asks him if he called Jess or if he merely stood her up. When Peter scoffs at the notion of actually CALLING Jess to cancel their date, all of the boys are appalled. But the beauty of this next moment is this: they all have a choice to make. They can join the party they worked so hard to get into all week, or they can go help a friend – a practical stranger – and miss their big night.

For Nick, there’s an added stake: Caroline. The woman asks him if he’s ready to go grab that drink they had talked about and Nick – precious, beautiful Nick Miller – declines her invitation. This is something that Nick has wanted. He, in that moment, still isn’t entirely over Caroline and may have a shot of at least starting over as friends with her. But instead, he runs (literally, watch the scene) to Jess because he knows how much she must be hurting. And in that moment, the most important thing is not ensuring his own personal victory but helping out Jess.

Remember what I said earlier about the scene between Nick, Coach, and Schmidt in the bathroom when they decide to let Jess move in? The order in which they decide is pretty important (Schmidt, Coach, and then Nick last). Notice in this scene that Nick – while being the LAST one to want Jess into the apartment – is the FIRST person to run to her aid. Similarly, Coach was the second person to have an opinion about Jess being the new roommate and the second to run after her. Schmidt, meanwhile, was the FIRST person to vote Jess into the loft (for purely selfish reasons), but the LAST one to run after her in the end (again: his selfish motives were the one thing holding him back). It’s kind of beautiful, albeit likely unintentional, parallelism.

Jess is feeling pretty (rightly so) pathetic at the restaurant, continuing to eat bread and realizing that she’s been stood up. I had seen this moment on the promotional trailers for the series before the episode aired, but I truly felt pain for Jess in this moment when I saw the scene in the pilot. Jess, poor Jess, had just been reassured by Cece and by her roommates that she was on her way again – that she was going to have a good first date and would be able to get over the pain that Spencer caused. But sitting there, alone, after being stood up by the first guy who showed her any interest must have been heartbreaking for Jess. She was completely and utterly devastated because the fears that she had echoed mere hours earlier to Cece had come to fruition. And there’s nothing scarier than that.

Jess then gets asked by a hostess to give up her table. And then, just as Jess is at her lowest, Nick and Schmidt and Coach burst into the restaurant to save the day. Nick reassures Jess – Peter was a jerk and a clown, he insists. It’s then that Jess realizes the gravity of the situation and is touched that the men would give up the party of the year just to be with her. And then, Nick delivers a sweet sentiment by explaining that all three of the guys really care about and like her. As I said earlier, this pilot is so beautiful (and the show is, too) because this isn’t a story about people learning to tolerate Jess. It’s a story about people who automatically care for one another and who continue to grow in those relationships.

Jess is so touched that she begins to cry and Nick – beautiful, precious Nick Miller from the streets of Chicago – does something that’s a pretty impressive callback from earlier in the episode: he begins to sing “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” which is, of course, from Dirty Dancing. And, of course, earlier in the episode Jessica Day was the person who insisted that Nick should sing more. It’s funny that Coach and Schmidt have absolutely no idea what Nick is doing when he begins singing… but JESS does. She immediately looks up from where she had buried her face in her napkin. And his singing begins to cheer Jess up (something Nick always desires to do), and soon Nick is able to convince the other men to begin singing as well.

I don’t know that I’ll ever understand WHY this moment is one of my all-time favorite pilot moments, but I think it mostly boils down to this: these three people care immensely for someone they just met and will move heaven and earth to help her. They’ll embarrass themselves in public for her. They’ll miss amazing parties for her. They CARE about her and it’s never more evident than when they sing to her. And perhaps it is the fact that the men don’t know the actual lyrics to the song (or that Coach is singing about bears in his house), but I find it so endearing that they’re TRYING to make Jess’ night. And regardless of whether or not they know the words or melody, the point is that they made their best effort to make her smile. And it worked.

Unfortunately, the hostess doesn’t feel like the off-key and raucous singing is adding to the atmosphere of the restaurant, so she kicks everyone out. Later in the apartment, the boys actually sit around and watch Dirty Dancing with Jess (Nick even admits that it’s a good movie). But here’s the kicker: everyone could have returned to the Wild Wild West charity auction. Nick could have enjoyed a drink with Caroline; Schmidt could have hit on some ladies; Coach could have enjoyed the party atmosphere. But they didn’t. The guys chose to curl up on the couch with their female roommate and watch her favorite movie because, as Nick affirmed earlier, they actually LIKE her. And the truth of the episode is this: once Jess needed the guys, they completely forgot about everything else – about Caroline and other women and parties – and focused on the person they cared most about: her. And that? Well, that’s kind of a perfect way to end a pilot, don’t you think?

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- “Pros: they smell nice. Cons: every once in a while, the mood changes and you’re not sure why. … Pros: they’re really good at folding.”
- “Are you gonna murder me because you’re a stranger I met on the Internet?” “Yes.” “He says no, Mom.”
- One of my favorite moments from the pilot is when Coach points at Jess and yells at her to stop crying, which only incites MORE tears.
- “She’s going out to find a rebound. Who’s that girl? It’s Jess.” “Did you just make up a theme song for yourself?”
- “You know what happens to people who keep it all inside? They get old, they get sad, and they get weird.”
- “We are reverse Mormons. One man just isn’t enough for her.”

Don't forget to join me for #SummerRewatch this Tuesday night at 9 PM EST when we re-watch "Kryptonite." :) As always, have a great week guys! And I'll see you around!


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