This week New York wrote about how the casting of Zooey Deschanel, and the success of The New Girl in general, might have completely rewritten the rules of who will act on television. This trend, though exciting on the surface, threatens to put an end to television’s current paradigm—the one that has lead to its renaissance—by making it no longer a writers’ medium but an actors’ one. It’s especially dangerous if shows begin to rewrite themselves to placate to these stars and pander to the audience’s expectation of them.
The New Girl premiered this past fall with one giant flaw (the supporting cast was unfunny and amorphous) and one strength that was incorrectly identified as a flaw (Zozo’s Jess was too precious, awkward, weird, unsexy). Unfortunately, they’ve since rectified both those perceived problems. Schmidt is arguably this year’s funniest new character, Nick has become a fantastic curmudgeon, and Winston, well, there is still some work to be done there. Yet, all that remains from the original Jess is her naiveté; her quirks have been relegated to tags at the end of scenes or slight diversions. Jess used to be a very specific character, unlike really any that has been captured on television before and now she is someone we’ve seen a lot, especially recently, Ms. Zooey Deschanel.
It’s why most of Jess’s inadequacies were washed away in favor of something a bit more Zooey-friendly, specifically that she is “too girly.” Last week, Jess was pitted against the Lizzy Caplan portrayed Julia, in an argument about girliness. Though there is something to that debate, it was pretty hastily dealt with and, more importantly, seemingly done as a defense of Zooey Deschanel the famous person—with her HelloGiggling mafia and her unbelievably named company, BFF Productions—not Jess the character.
The New Girl’s new girl wasn’t originally based on Zooey; it was seemingly based on the show’s creator, Elizabeth Meriweather. Need proof, watch this very Jess like thirty-second clip with Meriweather:
Jess wasn’t designed to be just “weird for a pretty girl” but instead someone actually uncomfortable with herself. The latter version peaked in episode four and her inability to say the word “penis.” But that wasn’t working out because attractive woman, especially on Fox, apparently can’t be the lead of a show if they are not actively sexualized. Subsequently, Jess’s edges and tensions were smoothed and she became more dateable. So much so that by episode eight that same timid character found herself having sex in an elevator. The show, now another four episodes later, is descending faster than said elevator.
Last night’s episode might have finalized the transformation of a unique character with genuine flaws into a classic damsel in distress (Now with bangs!). The thirty minutes boiled down to Nick having to protect Jess from her obliviousness towards the gruff landlord’s sexual advances. In an unsurprising third act twist, the three found themselves in Jess’s bedroom in the very early stages of a ménage à trois. This is not a situation the character would have been in earlier in the season. It simply feels like Fox trying to assure that the audience gets it serving of movie star in the most digestible manner.
Look, I think Zooey is wonderful and gorgeous and a great comedic actor just as much as anyone with a Brooklyn area code. She’s our Mary Tyler Moore and she’ll totally “make it after all,” even if we don’t treat her and her character with kid gloves. That’s why I beg the television Gods to make Jess more annoying and awkward and damaged and unlikeable again, and trust we’ll be able to fall for her on our own, purely on the merits of how honest she’s portrayed.