Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
In this recap-laden age of television, a sitcom’s eventual slump feels inevitable, if not yearned for – particularly with regard to a “hangout comedy” like New Girl. From the first episode on, commenters are wont to emerge from the depths of the Internet, ready to pounce on any misstep and be the first to proclaim that a show has lost that twinkle in its eye.
But by capitalizing on the charms of its delightful cast and embracing its characters for the capital W-weirdos that they are, New Girl has managed to avoid this fate, if narrowly, throughout its first four years. Unfortunately, with the first installments of its fifth season, premiering Jan. 5, it becomes clear that New Girl isn’t merely in the midst of a slump – the show feels downright deflated.
The fifth season finds our gang in the midst of planning CeCe (Hannah Simone) and Schmidt’s (Max Greenfield) wedding. After proclaiming (through song, of course) this new era in the roommates’ lives as “The Year Of Us,” Jess (Zooey Deschanel) hatches a plan to make CeCe and Schmidt’s engagement party a night they’ll always remember. Her idea? Hire a Bollywood dance troupe to perform. Oh, and invite CeCe’s ice queen mother (guest star Anna George) to the party as a surprise.
Naturally, Jess’ flawless plan starts to crumble when she finds out that CeCe hasn’t told her mom about the engagement. Or about Schmidt. At all. Meanwhile, Nick (Jake Johnson) finds himself grappling with the responsibility of holding the title of Schmidt’s Best Man and Winston (Lamorne Morris) struggles with his newfound fame after he’s seen rescuing a kid in the line of duty.
Despite the show’s constant reminders that the roommates are celebrating “The Year Of Us,” the title characters don’t actually spend much time together throughout the first couple of episodes. Instead, the second installment is heavy with guest stars (like Henry Winkler, Taran Killam, and Nasim Pedrad), splitting up the core gang and distracting from the fact that there’s not much “hanging out” happening in this comedy anymore.
It’s an understandable choice – by the fifth season it’s normal for any show to start running low on plot ideas, especially considering that much of New Girl had dealt with internal conflict between its main characters. However, the influx of guest stars and turn towards flashy Bollywood dance numbers feels cheap – and not like the series audiences fell in love with. It’s a disappointing shift, as one of the main draws of New Girl has been the natural, palpable chemistry between its actors. That energy is lost when they are divided, creating a void that, unfortunately, no amount of Henry Winkler can fill.
Worse, the episodes are plagued by weak plotting in attempt to service jokes that don’t quite hit the mark. In her efforts to save CeCe’s party, Jess falls down a huge flight of stairs, leaving her bed-ridden with two injured legs (which, infuriatingly, are magically healed by next episode). However, Jess quickly overcomes this obstacle and finds her way to the party anyway. It’s a silly moment that is not quite sold by Deschanel’s performance, despite her usual prowess for physical comedy.
This clunky development would be easier to swallow if it acted as an actual obstacle for the characters to overcome. Instead, Jess is out the door and there to rescue her friend on a moment’s notice, relieving all of the tension before it has a chance to build.
Furthermore, while much of the episode’s plot deals with CeCe’s conflict with her mother, the actual episode has very little CeCe in it. As Jess recounts the shade Mrs. P threw her way when CeCe and Jess first became friends as children, and Schmidt struggles to impress his future Mother-In-Law, CeCe merely stands by, having little to do with her mother and remaining completely inactive in her own storyline.