new girl

How New Girl Can Save Itself in Season 5

Relax, New Girl! Photo: FOX

For New Girl fans, it’s been a bumpy ride.

At its best, New Girl is a sweet, smart, and blithely goofy slice of TV comfort food; but at its worst, it’s inconsistent and impossibly frustrating. It dips over and over into worn sitcom tropes not because it needs to (it doesn’t — it’s as fresh and fun as anything else out there) but because, for whatever reason, it feels like it has to ([cough] network notes [cough]). Recommending New Girl to a friend is like playing Russian roulette with your taste — if they watch a “Cooler” or a “Spider Hunt,” they might come to view you as some sort of good-TV sage, but if they watch a “Mars Landing” or a “Goldmine,” they definitely won’t trust you when you try to recommend Bob’s Burgers for the umpteenth time.

Now that it’s been renewed for a fifth season, New Girl finds itself at a crossroads. Does it continue a mediocre limp to the finish line, Office style? Or does it embrace what works and go out on top, like Parks and Recreation? It contains some of the smartest, funniest performances in recent sitcom history. It might be too late for it to ever join the Great Sitcom Hall of Fame, but it would be a shame if it didn’t at least come to be regarded as a sleeper gem that generations of future comedy nerds will pass around to their friends.

Not all is lost, New Girl. As we approach the season-four finale tonight, here are five ways that New Girl could save itself in season five:

Learn from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
When it comes to content, New Girl and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are about as different as two shows can get. But, as an astute commenter once pointed out, “New Girl functions best as a sort of Diet Always Sunny.”

All of the best New Girl episodes could just as easily switch their titles to “The Gang Goes to/Does/Tries/Has [blank]”:

“The Gang Goes to a Wedding”
“The Gang Gets a Landline”
“The Gang Gets High and Goes to a Police Barbecue”

I love the characters, but I don’t really care about their individual stories. For instance, I desperately want Schmidt and Cece to get back together, but that’s mostly because I hate it when there are tensions between any two members of “the gang.” I just want to watch Jess, Nick, Schmidt, Winston, and Cece (we’ll miss you, Coach) go on raucous adventures together. No lessons need to be learned, no consequences need to be had.

Please, season five. Make this the year “The Gang Gets It Right.”

Do not get Jess and Nick back together.
They’re supposed to be the couple we’re all rooting for, but for the love of Winston’s missing cat, I don’t even want them to flirt again. Season three was torture. When they started throwing wistful looks at each other in “Panty Gate,” I cackled the broken, hopeless laugh of Walter White at the end of “Crawl Space.”

My biggest complaint about the way New Girl handles relationships is that it gives them absolutely no breathing room. Once two characters get together, they must immediately say, “I love you,” move in together, consider the future, and break up. If I had a friend who had been as serious with as many guys in as rapid succession as Jess, I’d tell her to go take some “her” time. Jeez.

I’m not delusional. I know that realistically, season five will find us back watching two 30-somethings avoiding talking about their blatantly obvious feelings, playing sitcom-y games with each other, and falling into sitcom-y misunderstandings. But I’m not going to give up hope. Jess Day wouldn’t want me to.

Get Schmidt and Cece together — and keep it that way.
It’s fairly obvious that Schmidt and Cece are headed toward a season-four finale reconciliation. I’m really excited for that — if only because it means an official end to the overuse of Fawn Moscato, a story line that made an otherwise-fun minor character into an overwrought caricature (but more on that later). My one concern is that, in classic New Girl style, they will be immediately broken up for no reason besides the New Girl showrunners apparently believing that adult relationships are either constantly leaping from milestone to milestone or ending abruptly.

Schmidt and Cece are great together. They even each other out. They clearly are happy together. I was impressed that New Girl gave Cece a realistic amount of time and space in which to process her feelings about the cheating. But their separation feels too drawn out when their reconciliation is such a foregone conclusion.

I’m calling it now: The season-five finale is Schmidt and Cece’s wedding. Make it so, and all will be right with the world.

Don’t overuse secondary characters.
Remember what I said about Fawn Moscato being a fun character whose one-note joke was run over and over again into the ground? Yeah, New Girl tends to do a lot of that. But New Girl isn’t the only offender of minor-character overuse. In fact, that’s sort of a benchmark of great, long-running shows that think they run out of stories they can tell with their main cast. Even The Simpsons, which somewhat avoided this trap by having each of its secondary characters spend time in the spotlight since day one, is now low enough on stories that it’s fallen into this trap.

You can’t simultaneously have a character be a one-note joke and then turn around to ask us to invest in their well-being as a fully rounded individual. I don’t need to buy into the pathos behind Fawn Moscato’s dead shark eyes any more than I need to know what specific cereals are in the loft kitchen’s cabinets. I know it’s empty, but it’s a sitcom; it doesn’t matter.

Outside Dave, Tran, Mike the Bartender — I love them all. So much of the comedy comes from not knowing what these lovable weirdos do when they’re not onscreen.

Don’t replace Coach.
Damon Wayans Jr. was season four’s MVP. His absence will be felt. There may be temptation to replace him, but there are plenty of characters to juggle already, and Coach had a once-in-a-series compatibility with the existing Loft Gang. I guess my point here — and the point all of these suggestions seem to be making — is that New Girl is at its best when it’s not overthinking things.

New Girl, take a summer break. Have a few drinks on a beach. Watch a sunset. Realize that you are a 22-minute, once-a-week mind vacation. Proceed accordingly.

Oh, and, uh, maybe think about going back to that original title sequence.

How New Girl Can Save Itself in Season 5