It Still Stings: The Rise and Fall of New Girl

Maybe we should have just stayed in the elevator.

TV Features New Girl
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It Still Stings: The Rise and Fall of <i>New Girl</i>

Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our new feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones, where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:

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When I think of New Girl, I slot the show among series like Friends, with sprawling storylines on the freedom—and terror!—of young adult life. It’s your 20s, embarrassing and exhilarating, set against a laugh track. While each show appeared to chase nothingburger plots for kicks and giggles, the silliness occasionally morphed into startling realness. A seemingly wackadoodle episode from a week prior could suddenly solidify into a core message about capital C concepts: family, loyalty, love, sex. These turn-on-a-dime revelations elevated New Girl’s TV comfort food vibe with surprise doses of nutritional value.

However, the last season of New Girl stripmined this seriousness out. And as with all good comedy, when tension disappears, the authentic laughter slips out the door as well. The root cause for New Girl losing its luster manifests in a few areas. Economic pressure spurred this process along: Season 7 almost didn’t exist. With Fox posed to cut the cord with numerous shows on its docket, New Girl almost fell into the abyss. Zooey Deschanel and Hannah Simone’s pregnancies during Season 6 only encouraged New Girl’s axing by the network: no one wants to accommodate maternity leave at odds with production scheduling. Only after a personal call from creator/executive producer Elizabeth Meriweather to Fox execs, individual email pleas from the cast members, and a redesigned season pitch that would shorten the number of episodes from 22 to 8, Season 7 was greenlit.

A Hail Mary pass works in football. The QB’s anxiety only needs to power the ball into the endzone—mere seconds of uneasy airtime, the ball hovering. But with the airing of the redesigned New Girl—a Hail Mary pass in itself to avoid cancellation—the same uneasy, suffocating energy seeps into the eight episodes that powered them into being. From the get-go, the time jump signaled storytelling laziness. Fans left the series seeing Nick and Jess embrace in the elevator, a will-they-or-won’t-they moment left unanswered for seasons. The flash forward then robbed viewers of watching the romance unfold. While the Season 7 premiere confirmed the basics (yes, Jess and Nick are together!) that choice only caters to the basest pleasures for fans. It scratches the itch. The question is answered. But with an all-star ensemble cast like New Girl’s, the character development was the point—not the plot point.

The negative impact of swapping the healthy comfort food of New Girl’s origins to a lukewarm, microwaved TV dinner of Season 7 cannot be overstated. There’s no time to savor the characters. Arguably, the main cast even morph into caricatures: Winston, terminally goofy; Schmidt, a meme of neuroticism; Cece, power mama. Nick and Jess, confusingly, regress in maturity. Squint, and stock character outlines bolden on the screen—a disturbing twist for a show that resisted race and ethnic reductions of its diverse cast. The pivot away from a character-driven focus to one of plot also represents a stumble. Revelations hit the viewer with a mallet. Winston and Aly are pregnant! Cece and Schmidt’s baby is three! Cece and Schmidt want another baby! Nick and Jess are getting married! Furguson is dead! The oversaturation of “content” over story development suffocates the viewer with a flavorless plot buffet. There’s no time to feel an emotional payoff. New Girl tries the jump scare method of emotional catharsis and fails.

A small gem of that finale season remains in Winston’s greatest prank. As “Engram Pattersky,” a fake landlord of the loft, he fools Nick and Jess into thinking they are getting evicted along with the rest of the friend group. As the boxes pile up in a ghostly loft, he pulls the rug out from under their feet: you’ve been pranked! It’s a plot point simmering over the season, the old blueprint for what made New Girl shine. With the loft hollowed out, it’s too easy to see the Friends finale mirrored duplicate; everyone ready to place their keys on the counter. In the LA loft—large and spacious—rather than New York’s compact dimensions, you feel the airiness more. The tension can dissipate to the far corners of the room, the high ceilings. For a moment, even at Season 7’s strongest, I wished we were back at Season 6’s elevator finale. Nick and Jess race from different floors of the building, meeting when the chrome doors slid open. Within the elevator, the audience wasn’t privy to their possible happily ever after—but it would have been enough. Within the confines of the elevator shaft, at least we knew they could rise up together.

Correction: This article previously stated Nick and Jess were engaged at the start of the season, which was incorrect. The engagement occurred during episode 6. We apologize for the error.


Katherine Smith is an editorial intern and writer at Paste Magazine, and recent graduate of the University of Virginia. For a deeper dive into her current obsessions and hot takes follow her at @kat_marie_tea

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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