In an interview with Written By, New Girl executive producer Brett Baer explain his theory:
When we tested the show, after we put the pilot together, it was strange how people were responding. We were all surprised by how connected people felt to it during the focus group testing. I was thinking long and hard about it, and I said to Dave [Finkel, another New Girl producer], “What we’ve done here is create maybe the first post-post-9/11 show.” The comedy in the past 10 years prior to our show had an edge to it. It was satirical. There was a cynicism about the comedy. What our show came along at the right time for—this weird alchemy that happened—is that we were willing for the first time to go, It’s okay to feel again. I might be completely boneheaded and wrong, but it’s the first show that actual tries to emotionally connect on that level.”
Brett, you are completely boneheaded and wrong. Well, not necessarily boneheaded but definitely wrong. In the quote Brett argues two things: 1) New Girl is a post-post-9/11 show 2) It is the first. The first point is arguably true – the second point is inarguably false.
First, let me say I love the term “post-post-9/11 show.” It’s so evocative, so highfalutin. And I do think what he’s speaking to is a real trend. There has been a movement, especially recently, towards lower stakes, lighter hearted sitcoms. This definitely could be an unintended reaction to the glut of post-9/11 pessimism or just as easily be a reaction to the dominant sitcom trend. Cynicism didn’t first appear in sitcoms 11 years ago; it was more like 25 years ago. When Married… with Children debuted it was both controversial and in a way progressive. It presented a family in which seemingly they all hated each other. A couple years later, Seinfeld debuted with its cast of narcissists and the explicit goal to avoid both hugging and learning. The influence of these shows is still felt greatly in the very popular and very dated CBS sitcoms of the last decade where no one seems to like each other. Still, sure, you can point to Arrested Development, The Office (especially, the British one), and 30 Rock as shows with a satirical bent and a certain sort of post-9/11 seriousness. And conversely, New Girl takes itself much less seriously and is quite friendly about it. The show, and the human ribbon drawer that is its lead, does present an especially shining face.
But it is not the first shining face that has been beamed onto our TV screen since September 11th, 2001. That actual first face belonged to Amy Poehler. As Vulture put perfectly last year, Parks & Recreation pioneered “the comedy of super niceness.” Since its second season the show has projected an honest tenderness rarely seen on television. Sure, there is a satirical component to the show but it has always been much more about the characters than their respective policies. And it doesn’t stop with Parks, here is a list of post-post-9/11 shows that came before New Girl: Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Modern Family, Community (though the show can be sad and/or dark, it’s actually quite idealistic), and Happy Endings. Speaking of the Happy Endings, I’m reminded of a quote from Max from this season: “You know that I love low stakes, classic 80’s sitcom danger.” What we’re seeing with Happy Endings and New Girl (and Best Friends Forever – Never Forget), and what we’ll likely see a lot next fall with shows like The Mindy Project and Animal Practice, is a move towards easier, if not shallower comedies. These are sitcoms that aspire to be just as funny as the all-time classics without any of the need to be as great. Is one better than the other? Not necessarily, it’s a matter of taste and timing. And, apparently, our current time is post-post-9/11.