Gaby Dunn is the creator of 100 Interviews, where she collects stories of people like state quarters that are now discontinued. The project was capped off when she talked to a guy with a lot of plastic surgery, which—as we all know—is the natural end point for most projects. It’s being turned into a book.
She’s the only person we’ve ever met who isn’t predisposed to liking Zooey Deschanel, so we asked her to write about “New Girl.” She still likes it.—Ed.
I watched the first two episodes of ‘The New Girl’ and I didn’t hate them. I wanted to hate them for so many reasons.
1. I don’t care for Zooey Deschanel. I think her whimsical bow-wearing baby persona infantilizes women and I’m just not on board.
2. The idea of beautiful, long-haired hipster dream girl Zooey being “awkward” just because she’s wearing glasses is a trope I was sure we’d retired with “She’s All That.”
But I watched the first two episodes and I did not hate them.
Zooey’s character, a teacher named Jess who gets dumped by her cheating boyfriend in the pilot episode, is kind of like a child in a trench in World War I. She lays on the couch crying and singing to herself. When the boys take her out for the night, she approaches a potential beau with the creepy opening line “Hello, sailor.”
My concern is that I’m still not sure if a character like Jess is sustainable. Each episode so far has ascribed to her a new weirdo fixation like the writers are just piling on every quirky attribute they haven’t yet been able to squeeze into their indie movie script and making them all stick to Jess.
She likes British accents! She sings to herself! She wears granny panties! She drinks pink wine! She wears weird hats! No, no, she wears fake teeth! No, she wears homemade t-shirts!
Here’s the thing though: Jess is a likable character without all these false quirks.
The only times the show wavers is when the writers treat Jess like she’s someone the boys need to babysit. In the first episode, the dudes find out Jess is being stood up on her much-needed “rebound” date just as they’re about to get into an exclusive party. Even though they’ve just met her, they ditch the party and rush over to rescue her from being at a restaurant alone.
Maybe it’s just a weird aspect of sitcoms where people act like cellphones don’t exist, but couldn’t they have just texted Jess to come over to the party? Why did she need this big show of bravado?
Why does she need a group of grown men to sing to her like she’s a fussy toddler? Girl, handle your life. Come on.
Or how about when Jess tries to join in on their in-apartment basketball game and for some reason, her arms turn to rubber and she throws the ball right into the TV screen?
There’s a difference between making Jess into an “awkward” girl who needs some direction — an ugly duckling waiting to become a swan — and making her so indistinguishable from an actual human that she needs three guys to keep an eye on her 24/7 or else she might accidentally swallow a bottle cap and choke to death.
Steer “New Girl” toward smart rather than easy. Make me forget Jess is played by someone trying too hard to be “nerdy” and “different.” Awkward doesn’t mean the same as brainless or co-dependent. She’s a beautiful girl who—even on her worst, snot-nosed, tear-stained day—is still a million miles ahead of a real “awkward” girl.
If anything, Jess is super confident with a good sense of self and a weird sense of humor. This is showcased beautifully, and perhaps with a wink to Zooey’s place as the Queen of Hipster Whimsy, when her level-headed roommate Nick tells her, “I could be more like you, Jess, and live on a sparkly rainbow and drive a unicorn around and just sing all the time.” He’s gently mocking her but Jess responds, “I think you should sing all the time.” Nick clarifies that he was being mean, but Jess presses him on why he can’t act like she does.
Instead of really getting into a meta defense of Zooey’s actual persona, Nick brushes it off with, “I have a penis.” It’s so beside the point and misses what could have been a great opportunity for the show to really decide why Jess is the way she is.
The best example of Jess being a “pretty girl/awkward girl” that’s hard to buy comes in a later episode when she’s changing clothes for a wedding the roommates are all attending. She initially picks out an ugly yellow muumuu to wear, and when the boys nix it, she takes literally about two seconds to change into a sexy “slutty” dark purple dress.
It’s legit a Rachael Leigh Cook glasses-on-glasses-off scenario and it’s played out and tired.
Then one of the roommates, albeit one who goes by “Schmidt” and is supposed to be a douche-nozzle, tells her, “We’re not trying to be mean, we just don’t want you to be yourself.” But when Jess’s self is on, she’s awesome and a 3D human being. And when she’s off, she’s a mentally-challenged puppy that acts like no one I’ve ever met.
Jess is funny (and pretty!). I just wish she — and everyone else on the show — was also in on the joke.
I guess what I’m saying is, I can’t believe I wrote this much about ‘The New Girl.’ Please send help.