Arts & Culture

Jews Watching TV: The New Girl’s Getting Divorced

I almost cried watching The New Girl last night. No, it wasn’t from seeing the show’s Jewish character sweatily crumble to the ground from an asthma induced cramp… Read More

By / November 2, 2011
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I almost cried watching The New Girl last night. No, it wasn’t from seeing the show’s Jewish character sweatily crumble to the ground from an asthma induced cramp while the show’s black character skipped on by with a shirt that looked fresh from the wash (considering it is a filmed television program it most definitely was). It’s just, well you guys, I feel really bad about Zooey Deschanel’s looming divorce. The fact that I can’t separate that news from my watching of the show—that I can’t separate Zooey from Jess—is the upshot from having a movie star as your television star. Last night was probably its strongest episode so far yet the fact that I couldn’t avoid that distraction might reveal its potentially biggest flaw.

With 30 Rock on hiatus and Steve Carell off The Office, Zooey Deschanel is the biggest movie star on non-pay cable at the moment* and there is certain baggage inherent in being as such. It is much harder for movie star to disappear into a roll over the sustained period of a television series because everyone knows they are who they are**. 30 Rock gets around this by writing jokes that are based around Alec Baldwin’s character saying something that is polar opposite of what Alec Baldwin the human would say***.

Zooey, on the other hand, is playing exactly what we imagine/hope she’s like in real life. So when Jess giggles at seeing a penis, we giggle because maybe that means Zooey does too (and then we cry because we imagine Ben Gibbard awake at night, longing for that giggle, which will lead to the next Death Cab for Cutie album to be titled I’ll Follow Your Giggle into the Dark, which we will buy and we will cry some more). As a young show, The New Girl benefits from the added heft this brings to a new character. There is a feeling that we already know Jess because we feel we actually know Zooey.

The real test will be the character’s longevity. Will the frail-looking Jess metaphorically crumble under the frail-weight of Zooey and here twee empire? The Office and 30 Rock have been known to struggle from time to time with writing more for the actor than their character; however, generally both have stayed afloat by having insanely good writing. The New Girl’s writing isn’t at that level but there are glimmers.

One thing that has worked for me so far is when they put glasses on her. It might be so cliché that it was a joke in Not Another Teen Movie (which was THE WORST), but sometimes in television and movies these traditionally uncool garnishes can demystify even the super gorgeous. I know it won’t last—you can’t just put lipstick on a pig and you can’t just slap spectacles on a Manic Pixie Dream Girl—but it’s an adorkable admirable start.

* Ashton Kutcher is actually the biggest. But ewwwww, gross.

**If you think movie stars and televisions stars are the same, look at Juliana Margulies. She hasn’t been off television in 17 years yet no one knows anything about her. Though her Wikipedia tells me she’s Jewish so maybe we should.

***The Office got around this because Steve was Michael Scott before he was movie famous and it just carried over. Two and Half Men gets around this now by…I don’t know, being awful and having fans who don’t care.