I can’t even take how much I love this trailer for American Horror Story: Coven and all the crazy nonsense it promises for the new season. Voodoo! Gators! Minotaurs! Wacky Evangelicals! Angela Bassett talking to the camera like this is House of Cards or something! Kathy Bates recreating her accent from The Waterboy!
Wednesday night can’t come soon enough.
This past week, I got way more worked up than should ever be necessary over a blog post. Over at Jezebel, Kate Dries proclaimed that we’re all probably taking sitcoms too seriously. This declaration came in response to an excellent Indiewire piece by Alyssa Rosenberg, wherein Rosenberg addressed the progression of New Girl‘s Jess Day and The Mindy Project‘s Mindy Lahiri over the course of those series’ short runs. What Dries appeared to take issue with in particular was Rosenberg’s suggestion that New Girl‘s supporting characters hadn’t yet been as fleshed out as Jess. Here’s what Rosenberg wrote:
The third-season [New Girl] premiere has some weird notes reminiscent of its rocky first year, like giving Winston and obsession with puzzles and newly-diagnosed color-blindness, the kinds of traits that acted as placeholders for Jess’s actual personality before New Girl figured out who she is as a person. Three years in, you’d think they’ve have done the same work for all of her supporting characters. And Schmidt seems to have lost some of his specific anxiousness and returned to his bro-y origins as he tries to delay choosing between Elizabeth, his not-thin college girlfriend, with whom he’d recently reunited, and Cece, his newly-single model ex-girlfriend.
And here is what Dries took away from this totally reasonable suggestion that character development might be important on a TV comedy:
The multi-platform nature of television watching has demanded a much higher base quality level for the product being pushed out, which is great for television watchers and reviewers. But I wonder if that means that we’re trying to demand too much from our sitcoms, to the point where the stuff that’s good about them is being criticized because it’s not serious enough.
This is the same nonsense people have been lobbing at all critics in all media for years. It’s just a show/film/album/painting—don’t take it so seriously. But that nonsense feels especially weird coming from Jezebel, of all places, a blog that’s constantly under attack for taking representations of gender, race, and sexuality in popular culture too seriously. Holding a text in any medium accountable is vital for the health of that medium, but Dries seems to be taking the stance that creating a well-crafted story with developed characters is somehow antithetical to a sitcom being funny, as if those things are mutually exclusive (never mind that sitcoms have been telling great stories about fully-developed characters for over sixty years while still managing to be funny).
Long story short, Dries probably wouldn’t think much of my New Girl review this week, because while I found “Nerd” a laugh-out-loud hilarious episode of television, I have some bones to pick with the writers’ treatment of the Winston and Schmidt storylines this season.
On television, and especially on sitcoms, second seasons are all about growth. Any rookie series lucky enough to garner a Season 2 tends to use that opportunity to expand the show’s world, shade in its characters, complicate its premise, and/or open up an assortment of possibilities in ways that may have seemed unlikely or even downright impossible in Season 1. New Girl was no exception. The series’ debut season took a while to find its footing, but once the show nixed the D.O.A. character of Coach, softened Schmidt’s douchebaggery, and cranked Jess’s twee-o-meter down from 11 to a cool 8.5, New Girl managed to flesh out its unique and relatable characters and to develop an easy, authentic comic rhythm unlike anything else on television. Still, the plots of Season 1 trod familiar, if not unwelcome, sitcom territory, focusing primarily on the romantic pursuits of its young, attractive cast in much the same way that other young-singles-hanging-out shows like Friends or How I Met Your Mother have done. The second season of New Girl , then, worked to expand the show’s repertoire tremendously, and it did so by turning to that primary objective of second seasons—growth—as a theme.
Much of this growth came in expected forms. The show’s world opened up, for example, to introduce viewers to characters’ families, which in turn served to reveal new facets of their personalities or to more fully explain what we knew about them already. Storylines, too, ventured into new territory, often to downright surreal places (remember the time that old Asian man cured Nick’s emotional ailments with water massage?). But where plot was concerned, Season 2 of New Girl was squarely focused on materially, psychologically and emotionally growing up these characters, and last season’s finale, to my thinking, did an excellent job of delineating how far those characters still had to go.
I’d be lying, then, if I said I wasn’t at least a little disappointed by “All In,” the Season 3 premiere episode, which spent a half-hour spinning its wheels. At the beginning of any new TV season, it’s important to check in with characters, reminding returning viewers where things left off and catching up any new viewers, but “All In” didn’t have much else going on. The majority of the episode was spent unpacking the conflicts set up in last season’s finale. Nick and Jess are “all in,” committed to making their new relationship work but also terrified of screwing everything up. Schmidt, meanwhile, can’t decide who he wants to be with—Cece, who called off her wedding for him, or Elizabeth, who he was with first. But we knew all that stuff back in May, and this episode did little—if anything—to advance either plot. Nick and Jess run off to Mexico to escape their responsibilities and regular selves but, after some wacky misadventures in resort hotel-crashing, end up right back at the door of their loft, afraid but ready to see what comes next; Schmidt lies to both Elizabeth and Cece, telling each woman he chooses her, because it’s too difficult a decision. So again, what do we know at the end of this half hour that we didn’t know four months ago?