Deschanel Departure Leaves Quirky Gap in Fox’s ‘New Girl’

3.5 stars

Tuesday night was the last time—disregarding TV’s syndication of (500) Days of Summer, Yes Man, Elf, and now New Girl itself—that Zooey Deschanel could be found in a living room near you. When Deschanel’s Jess walked out of the loft at the end of Tuesday night’s episode of New Girl, leaving behind a heap of advice for her friends in her typical fashion, she marched into an invisible arc of secluded jury duty. Deschanel herself is on maternity leave and now New Girl—as always—is forced to reinvent itself.

It’s weird that New Girl is in its fifth season. The show is like your friend who lives back home, yet somehow still cracks you up. And there’s nothing wrong with either! New Girl was born before the era of the transcendent comedy—Transparent, Master of None, You’re the Worst—the flesh-and-blood sitcoms that mix commentary and comedy in one fell half-hour swoop. But before those shows were filling up your queue, there was New Girl, hunting spiders and playing True American in a wildly spacious loft. In its second season, with the chemistry between Deschanel’s Jess and Jake Johnson’s Nick Miller, New Girl reinvented and embraced the screwball comedy of old—capturing the ‘will they won’t they’ and ‘they can’t ever be together but they must’ dynamic of romantic relationship. The third season proved that the Jess-Nick union wasn’t as fertile a union as their ‘hardening caulk’ of a courtship. The third season was entertaining, but the fourth proved that New Girl can still be really, really funny (see “Wedding,” “Micro,” “The Crawl”). That’s a hasty summary of approximately 90 episodes of television. With juicy syndication rights in hand and Deschanel en route to maternity leave, New Girl could mail it in, or at least had the opportunity at hand.


 


 

The ultimate answer to that fateful question will be answered—in New Girl fashion—in quiet understatement. No one makes big moves in the hallway of a loft in the quiet of the night like New Girl. Which brings us, finally, to the episode in question. In “Jury Duty,” Jess is off to jury duty, and all of a sudden has to juggle her judicial disposition, the sudden appearance of John Cho, and now a feud between her best friends Nick and (his best friend’s fiancee) Cece. Sitcoms can be confusing. Nick is fed up with Cece because she is hot mess incarnate. And Cece is fed up with Nick’s Wet Pants story—how the bottom of a guy’s glass at the bar breaks and gets his pants wet. It’s one of those typical New Girl plots—Jess is up to something quirky, the gang is up to shenanigans in the loft. Here, they’re tackling an age-old dilemma. How do I be friends with my best friend’s girlfriend/fiancee? What do you do when relationships change?

And as Jess seals her fate and departs with her uncompromising dedication to the judicial system, Nick and Cece compromise. Cece admits that she may never know Schmidt like Nick—Schmidt’s college roommate and best friend—knows Schmidt. Though, she adds, he may not never know Schmidt like she does physically, to which Nick responds, “You’d be surprised.” There’s also a funny bit in which Nick and Winston try to say “at the same time” in unison, which doesn’t sound all that funny, but director Eric Appel lets the moment run as long as awkwardly possible to let the joke build and burst.

The show won’t be the same without Jess. But the show that it’s been so far this season has been a shadow of its screwball season two high and the hardboiled comedy of season four. So maybe Megan Fox, who replaces Deschanel on the call sheet and Jess in the loft for the foreseeable future, will jump start the show and transform it into something new all over again. New Girl grew out of the quirkable Deschanel project long ago into the still delightful ensemble comedy it is now. But anyone who loves the show has surely wondered how it’d run without its star. Jess is still the heart of the show, but it should be fun to see how far it might go and what it might find without her at the center.

Featured Image by Fox Broadcasting Company

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Ryan Dowd was the Arts & Review Editor. He's amassed 16,323 (at last count) unread emails. He'll work on it tomorrow. Follow him on Twitter @RPD_1993.