The week after première week is a tense, delicate time in the television world. Some shows have won viewers over, so the stakes are high, and everyone’s watching—hopefully in greater numbers. Some shows were flops out of the gate, but there’s always a chance for a comeback. (At least you can keep telling yourself that, The Playboy Club.) Some shows are looking to court viewers who missed the first episode, so they’re not moving too far away from what was developed in the pilot. And some shows, like New Girl, are a combination of those first and third types, with the characteristics of a rarer, wilier beast: a series that lost a castmember between its pilot and its second episode.
As Todd mentioned in our back-and-forth about New Girl’s pilot, the series’ producers had a curious reaction to the news that Damon Wayans Jr. would not continue in the role of Coach, opting instead to return to ABC’s Happy Endings. Rather than recast what was the most promising of the pilot’s three male characters, they opted to forge ahead with the original pilot and fill Wayans’ absence in the second episode, “Kryptonite.” It’s certainly not an unprecedented move—New Girl’s Tuesday-night companion, Raising Hope, simply wrote-off one of its principals between the filming of its pilot and its pick-up order—but it’s an odd one given how it affects the dynamic between characters we’ve just barely gotten to know. It’s preferable to a scenario where Wayans splits after five or six episodes, but it requires the sizable number of people who tuned in to the series première to hit some internal reset buttons. Conversely, never seeing New Girl Avec Wayans may have helped first-time viewers who caught the buzz from the première and decided to drop in on the series tonight—though “Kryptonite” definitely isn’t the best introduction to New Girl. It hits many of the same beats as the pilot, but those beats and the new jokes they contain aren’t as funny this time. In fact, when Jess tells her enchanting-yet-ultimately-vapid ex-boyfriend “All you are is a guy with really beautiful hair” near the end of the episode, I imagine the sentiment resounding with a lot of viewers.
The episode introduces Coach’s replacement, Winston (played by improv comedy vet Lamore Morris) swiftly and dirtily: He played basketball in Europe, Coach was just subletting his room, and his homecoming hangover provides the perfect opportunity for Jess to give him the wrong first impression. As do her gawky roundball skills, which bust the apartment’s TV and set the A-story into motion: Jess needs to get her belongings back from her ex, Spencer. Which better explains why she almost wore overalls on her date last week—though it also raises the question of “Where have the very Zooey Deschanel ensembles she’s sported elsewhere been hanging out?”
If New Girl is to become a Deschanel movie told in weekly, 22-minute chunks, “Kryptonite” is a fine, tolerable continuation of that thread. But if it’s ever going to become the hangout sitcom it aspires to be (the preferable of these two options, IMO), repeating the “Jess gets herself in over her head—roommates and best friend bail her out” formula ad nauseam won’t work. It’s excusable here, because it’s only the second episode and letting the roommates show their support for Jess through silly hats is a good visual gag. But sooner or later, the hangout show needs to start offering arguments as to why we want to hang out with these people. Max Greenfield’s Schmidt was possibly the best part of tonight’s episode, which feels peculiar, seeing as he’s superficially the least likable guy in the bunch. But with Wayans gone, Greenfield pops the most, even if his insufferable behavior threatens to undermine all of his funniest lines.
And how’s Winston? I’m not quite sure yet. His first bow on the series gives off the same sense of “Eh, we’ll figure this guy out later” as Nick and Schmidt’s characterizations in the pilot, and his adjustment to the new status quo in the apartment is wrapped up in a trivial battle for his old room. Morris isn’t as dynamic Wayans (But who is as dynamic as a Wayans?), but at least he gets a laugh by sheepishly defending the presence of Vanessa Williams’ “Save The Best For Last” on his pregame warm-up mix.
But right now, all that feels like a lot of beautiful hair draped over a middling, single-camera sitcom. If there’s a noticeable improvement from the pilot, it’s that “Kryptonite” ups the tempo a few BPMs—a sign that Liz Meriwether and her team are learning the rhythms of the format. (“Kryptonite” pairs them once more with director Jake Kasdan, who’s re-engaging skills he honed on Undeclared and Freaks And Geeks, hardly the zippiest of single-camera series.) The allure and star power of Zooey Deschanel can only last so long, and if New Girl doesn’t start doing a better job of filling in the world around Jess, those curious onlookers and first-time samplers aren’t likely to return—no matter how many scenes of Deschanel stumbling through soft-rock radio staples the series can muster.
- “The team logo is a fig—one single fig”
- “Actually, that’s not fair—she might be a really nice ho”
- “Rochelle—like a mermaid”
- “It’s so nectar.” “Did you just make up nectar?” “It’s a volleyball term.”
- “Didn’t you just assume he’d have a handlebar mustache?”
- “Suck it, Mr. Crabs”