Goodbye, "New Girl". . . Hello, old dudes!

The departure of Zooey Deschanel's "adorkable" show marks the end of a sitcom era for Fox, and for TV in general

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published May 14, 2018 7:00PM (EDT)

Hannah Simone, Max Greenfield, Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson and Lamorne Morris on "New Girl" (Ray Mickshaw/FOX)
Hannah Simone, Max Greenfield, Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson and Lamorne Morris on "New Girl" (Ray Mickshaw/FOX)

You had to know that the day would come when Jess (Zooey Deschanel), Schmidt (Max Greenfield), Nick (Jake Johnson) and Winston (Lamorne Morris) would move out of that weird cool loft they called home on Fox's "New Girl."

Seven years is a long span for anyone. For adults in their early thirties, seven years marks the bridge between the relatively carefree time of early adulthood and acceptance of midlife responsibility.

That's only one of the reasons "New Girl" had an expiration date smacked on it from year one. More obvious was the inevitability that the show would outgrow its title, though Deschanel's Jessica Day was constantly finding herself in fresh situations that gave the title definition long after Jess settled into the established harmony of the messy boy's club she moved in to.

From the moment Jess crosses the apartment's threshold in the first season, she becomes the resident Manic Pixie Dream Girl (thanks again, Nathan Rabin!), a lively Margaret Keane painting brought to life complete with a twang-and-piano theme song sung by Deschanel herself. The season 1 opening credits only added to the show's meringue-fluffiness: light, sweet, harder to do than it looks and impressive when pulled off to perfection.

Soon after her arrival sunshiny Jessica Day, recovering from a recent heartbreak, helps keep everybody's friendships in bloom, injects regular doses of sexiness into the place owing to her close friendship with a model named Cece (Hannah Simone) and forces Schmidt to increase his contributions to the loft's famous Douchebag Jar.

There is no denying the infectious quality of the new girl's cuteness, and for a time a share of America fell under her spell.

Cuteness is a fleeting state, highly perishable even when it's repackaged as "adorkability," as Deschanel's je ne sais quoi was described while she was in season.  Thank goodness Jess was permitted to fall into a consistency of professional prowess commensurate to her experience; thank goodness the show's creator Elizabeth Meriwether naturally evolved the character from that "girl" to a more recognizable version of a grown woman, albeit one as immature as the men around her.

At any rate, eventually the purported "newness" of Jess ceased to be the source of the comedy. By then, too, much of the show's first season audience had found other diversions.

Does this matter as Jess and the gang head into their final hour, this Tuesday at 9 p.m.? Probably not as much as we might have thought when "New Girl" first premiered. It was never a boundary-shattering, creatively adventurous series, and it never came across in a way that indicated its writers held such lofty aspirations.

But it was a comfortable, breezy show that sailed on an innocent, ribald brand of humor. It also helped us to appreciate the comedic gifts of Greenfield, Johnson and Morris — Greenfield most of all. Whenever he's in his douchey prime, Schmidt is a work of magnificence.

Mainly the show appealed to a type of viewer that valued sweetness and quirk. Don't knock that crowd — remember, it included the late, great Prince, who was such a devoted fan of the show that he asked to do a guest star appearance which, in turn, he slayed. That third season episode, which aired in the wake of Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, was seen by a staggering 26.3 million viewers.

And now? Just shy of 1.5 million on average have been tuning into the eight-episode swan song season for "New Girl," less than a quarter of the 8.22 million viewer average the series boasted in its first season. Compared to the curtain calls for other veteran, formerly "zeitgeisty" shows, the exit for "New Girl" is likely to be a muted one.

To those of you who, like me, used to watch but fell away from it for any of a variety of reasons, allow me to propose one last live tune in for the finale. This isn't said due to a hint of any significant surprises that will grant the show a place in TV finale hall of fame, mind you. Seeing Schmidt and Cece as a parents is as heartwarming as we knew it would be. Knowing Winston has landed in a place of stability, with a stable relationship and a kid on the way, leaves his story in a satisfying place as well.

I've seen the two-part series closer, and I can tell you that "New Girl" ends in a way that's entirely predictable and traditional and fine and good: Nick and Jess started out as the loft's "will they, won't they" couple, and now they're getting married.

Sadly this joyous event happens at the same time that they realize they have to leave the place where they first met. There are guest appearances, including Dermot Mulroney, Rob Reiner, Jamie Lee Curtis and June Diane Raphael. There are hijinks and unexpected developments designed to produce aw-shucks sequences, as is the norm.

This finale also marks the end of an epoch for Fox, in that the comedies arriving in its immediate wake will no longer be driven by wackiness or youth or even a female star. As we reported last week, the presumed tentpole of Fox's fall comedy line-up is its revival of "Last Man Standing," starring Tim Allen as a late middle-age guy who never would have let Jess into the loft's testoster-zone in the first place.

This is not a joke. Here's the official description from Fox, in case you never watched "Last Man Standing" when it aired Fridays on ABC: "A fan-favorite for six seasons, 'Last Man Standing' stars Allen as Mike Baxter, a married father of three girls, who tries to maintain his manliness in a world increasingly dominated by women." Later, ladies. He-Man's back in the house.

Over the years Jessica Day and Deschanel herself have inspired discussions about feminism, specifically whether Jess should be considered a feminist figure or if Deschanel fits the bill. Deschanel replied to this with a famous shot across the bow delivered in 2013 when she said, in annoyance, "I want to be a f--king feminist and wear a f--king Peter Pan collar. So f--king what?"

She had a point. The problem was that America grew tired of Deschanel's signature twee-ness, an inevitable product of trend saturation. The actress seemed to be everywhere you looked for a time, either in the flesh or in the form of Jess Day imitators wearing thick glasses and A-line skirts. (Bonus points if this was done while strumming a ukulele.)  Jess, with her endless supply of dresses and her kooky domestic habits — including, on the occasion of a past Thanksgiving, attempting to thaw a frozen turkey in the dryer (Hey girl! Whatcha doin'?) — would seem to represent everything Mike Baxter detests.

And Fox must be wagering that as Mike Baxter goes, so goes our nation. One camp's regressive brand of humor in the midst of a culture-wide rise in feminism is another's way of speaking to an underrepresented audience. On a Monday morning conference call held in conjunction with the network's Upfronts presentation, Fox executives shot down any implication that Allen's appeal among conservatives inspired the network's interest in his show's revival.

Fox TV's Group's co-chair and CEO Dana Walden did admit that the success of "Roseanne," along with the passionate support for Allen and the show since its cancellation at the end of 2016, reminded them "we have a huge, iconic comedy star in our Fox family in Tim Allen." ("Last Man Standing" is produced by 20th Century Fox Television.)

Between that and the network's success with adding NFL football to its Thursday line-up, it appears that for the time being, "Last Man Standing" will be setting the tone. And if that tone happens to be in the same register as the Fox News Channel's target audience as opposed to Fox's longstanding 18-to-49 demographic, that's simply an effort to be a more successful broadcaster.

In all honesty, as I stated previously, "New Girl" has long been past its prime. Walden points out that Allen's sitcom was pulling in an average of 8.5 million viewers over the course of its final season on ABC. On a Friday night, no less. "New Girl" also is among the final remnants of an age of sitcoms following the adventures of young urbanite apartment dwellers (although if you don't count "The Big Bang Theory," it's pretty much the last one).  One day a successful ensemble comedy about young adults living together will make it on some network's prime-time schedule, but thus far it does not appear to be a defining trend of the upcoming season.

Fox isn't completely remaking its schedule in the image of "Last Man Standing," mind you. But its new comedies do have a, shall we say, interesting common theme. See if you can spot it: Sunday nights include the debut of "Rel," starring Lil Rel Howery as a man who starts over after he learns his wife is having an affair. (In the plus column, one of its executive producers is Jerrod Carmichael.) Paired with "Last Man" on Fridays is "The Cool Kids," starring David Alan Grier, Martin Mull and Leslie Jordan as three men in a retirement community who consider themselves to be top dogs until a woman (Vicki Lawrence) moves in to "challenge their place."

Based on its trailer, Lawrence's character starts out as an interloper, not someone these men would give a chance or a warm welcome. Maybe she'll emerge as the character who gets the best lines and the last laugh. Let's hope she's written intelligently because from the way things stand, Fox really will be need of a few good women.

Salon Talks: Noël Wells

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

MORE FROM Melanie McFarland

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Editor's Picks New Girl Tv Zooey Deschanel