Nominated for five Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe, a People’s Choice, an Art Director’s Guild Award, and winner of a TV Guide and Teen Choice award — all within its first year of being on the air — FOX’s New Girl has, needless to say, hit the ground running. But what is it that makes the show so successful?
Like another iconic TV show featuring a group of unlikely roommates living in big, brightly colored apartments (ahem, Friends), New Girl speaks to a targeted generation of up-and-comers looking to make it or break it in the big city, with only their roomie friendships to help them through. The difference is that today, that generation is older — and, I’d argue, more immature.
Created by Liz Meriweather, the gal behind the film No Strings Attached, New Girl centers around a group of four roommates in Los Angeles: Jess, the only female roommate (played by Zooey Deschanel); and three longtime friends — Nick (Jake Johnson), Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Winston (Lamorne Morris). The premise is simple: A quirky young woman (as noted by her blunt bangs and penchant for polka dots) breaks up with her longtime boyfriend and finds herself in need of a new apartment. So she moves in last-minute with the ragtag group of guys (all equally as quirky, but sans bangs and dots). Awkward moments accrue. Hilarity ensues.
While the characters and setting are different, the show’s premise is nonetheless based on a familiar principle. Isn’t there another show that features young roommates forming lasting friendships while navigating the ups and downs of the real world? Another show that boasts a female lead who has broken off a major relationship at the very start of the first season? That features a relentless “will they or won’t they” romantic relationship? Both Friends and New Girl even feature unique, recognizable and earworm-esque theme songs. Sure, there have been other TV shows that center around roommates and their antics (How I Met Your Mother, Big Bang Theory and Seinfeld come to mind), but none specifically capture the hopes, dreams and high-fiving, "I'll be there for you!" camaraderie of the youth generation that Friends did. The question that lingers is, is New Girl just a Friends clone?
Maybe. But if so, it’s Friends for the new millennium.
There are two distinct differences between the two series. First of all, the characters on New Girl are noticeably a bit older (late twenties and early thirties) than the gang was in the first few seasons on Friends. Second, when New Girl first began, the characters had already dabbled in, or established themselves in, the working world: Jess was an elementary school teacher, Nick was a law-school-dropout-turned-bartender, Winston was a professional basketball player, and Schmidt had a semi-successful job in corporate America. By the time the second season rolls around, however, three of the characters find themselves in transition: Jess is laid off as a teacher, Nick is still ambivalently bartending and Winston is grappling with what to do post-professional sports career (he babysits for a while, then finds himself working at a radio station). All of the characters deal with relationship drama and can’t seem to make one work.
While the characters on Friends dealt with similar issues — career and relationship issues — they didn’t go through a communal “finding oneself” stage at the age of 30. In fact, this focus on unemployment and “finding one’s passion” in one’s thirties — i.e., later in life than previous generations did — is a sign of the times: It’s less likely that college graduates today will remain working in the same field, let alone at the same company, that they start in. And today there’s less of a drive to kickstart a career immediately (for the purpose, one might argue, of providing for an eventual family), and more of an emphasis on self-fulfillment. I’d even argue that the antics of Jess, whose childlike personality comes complete with wide eyes and a penchant for elementary schoolers, is meant to embody the current trend of twenty- and thirty-somethings staying “kids” longer.
New Girl is reminiscent of Friends in many ways, and young viewers relate to the show just as they did to Friends because it underlines the major life issues that we young adults are dealing with. It’s just that today, these themes of young adulthood are slightly different.