Category Archives: New Girl

DearTV @LARB / WEEK 5

This week, your friends at Dear Television covered episodes of New Girl and The Mindy Project, both of which were helpfully titled, “Halloween.” We also began a new tradition for our syndication at The Los Angeles Review of Books: death matches! From now on, we will not only be writing about issues of gender, class, and adorkability, we’ll also be judging these shows as a Battle of the Thirtysomething Lady Sitcoms. Check us out at the LARB to see who took the crown this week…

NEW GIRL, THE MINDY PROJECT, and the HALLOWEEN SPECIAL

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Jane Hu: Shiny Red Lame Special On how The Mindy Project‘s in-costume episode was a gamble that ended up revealing the new show’s strength and depth:

While New Girl waited an entire season before taking on the Halloween special, Mindy Project aired their first last night, with only three episodes preceding it. The fact that it worked — that it was, at least for me, the best episode yet — speaks to Mindy Project’s success in setting out (and setting up) its characters so that they still speak to us even when dressed up as other characters.

And, furthermore, how Halloween Specials show us the profound joys of being recognized:

Given television’s theatrical and metavisual qualities, Halloween seems more suited to the medium than Christmas. Halloween specials remind us that characters are always already remodeled after prior characters — that they are always already in costume. Last week, Leslie Knope dressed up Rosie the Riveter in Parks and Recreation.

If one missed the reference, the costume and its attendant allusions would fall flat. Given that Parks & Rec jokes frequently rely on cultural references, however, one would suspect that its dedicated viewers would have easily recognized Rosie… New Girl and Mindy Project did the same. Jokes about Woody Allen! Jokes about Woody Allen’s tribute to the Marx Brothers! Diane from Cheers! Josh dresses up as Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, since it’s Mindy’s favorite film. But when Mindy quotes from the film, Josh doesn’t recognize it — and Josh is, like, really white.

Oh, Josh.

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Lili Loofbourow: Peanuts and the Perils of the Perfect Costume On how The Mindy Project locked it down this week:

Romantic comedies are like ice-skating (or, you know, any other sport): you know what you’re going to get, but the pleasure lives in the virtuosic disruptions of the format. QUADRUPLE-LUTZ! NO-HITTER! Kaling’s pulling this off, delivering solid formula along with some genuinely impressive moves. The show’s pleasure is as much in its grace notes as in the overfamiliar melody (“the brown Bridget Jones,” as Subashini Navaratnam put it). Scenes that should be throwaways do a little extra work.

And on how one of those throwaway exchanges helped crystallize Mindy Lahiri as a character:

When Mindy puts a jabbering kid on the phone, we all know what the next move is and what this scene is meant to tell us. Mindy will be good or bad with kids and that will show us A) how selfish she is and B) how much she wants kids (and therefore a man). That’s the point of kids in sitcoms about thirty-something women. That is the only way we’ve ever seen these chess pieces move with respect to each other. But no — Mindy actually sees this kid…Mindy’s childishness, her selfishness, her self-centeredness, all have the interesting side effect of letting her be a better friend because she’s not performing goodness. She’s refusing the Goodness Scoreboard. That’s an interesting brand of unlikeability.

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Phil Maciak: Good Grief On how New Girl is strong on character/weak on plot, and Mindy Project is the opposite:

How on earth is it possible that a 30-year-old woman, growing up in America with an encyclopedic knowledge of romantic comedies and a television addiction — Mindy Kaling, in other words, who just executive produced an episode of television based around the message of It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown — has never heard of Peanuts? Who is Mindy Lahiri? Who are any of these people?

And on how hard it is for these two shows to create original characters from the set of archetypes and stale formats given to them by television and rom-com history:

The hot doctor. The spinster with no prospects. The man who goes where he wants, when he wants. The cool witty girl who kind of kills it in bed. The douche. The psycho. The dork. In their least interesting moments, the characters on these shows exist as either embodiments or comical inverses of these types. At their best, these characters mama-bird their types — ingesting them and regurgitating them in new forms. (Sorry.)

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Get up in the comments section at LARB as we track more quadruple-lutzes, possible no-hitters, and missed Peanuts references this week!

Dear TV is now at the Los Angeles Review of Books

Hi all,

Dear Television is over at the Los Angeles Review of Books discussing New Girl and The Mindy Project. BATTLE OF THE LADY SHOWS. Join us!

Here’s an index of what we’ve covered so far:

Week 1 of New Girl and The Mindy Project

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Phil Maciak: Groove is in the Heart. Of women in comedy, and why we chose New Girl and The Mindy Project. Despite its early twee-ness,

New Girl began to feel less precious and more lived-in… and even managed to offer a super-convincing meta-argument for its ethnography of Dork-Americans.” The Mindy Project pilot, in contrast, “felt a lot like a good college admissions essay: super-tight, clear voice, well-defined thesis and themes, plenty of poignant self-analysis, copy-edited and structured to within an inch of its life.”

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Jane Hu: A Serial Takeover. Of television as a medium:

If one premise of Mindy Project is what happens to the rom-com movie when transferred to the medium of television — with all its attendant sit-com formulas — then I am more than game.

On what generational comedy means now.

A generational comedy of 30-somethings in 2012 rarely fails to poke fun at the extended adolescence of 30-somethings in 2012. Mindy can no longer “have what she’s having,” since she’s arrived at that particular meal too late. Instead, she possesses only the blueprints of a marriage plot that no longer fits her life and times.”

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Lili Loofbourow: Party Girl vs. Rom-Com Girl.  Both shows are trying to fight their respective stereotypes by exposing difference where you expect sameness–in New Girl, by putting Parker Posey next to  Zooey Deschanel, the other indie queen, and showing the mismatch.  In The Mindy Project, a different rescue is attempted:

If you’re a girl, the romantic comedy has been one of the few places where female protagonists a) exist and b) are allowed some kind of interiority… Kaling is building on this starved generation’s super-detailed knowledge of the romantic comedy corpus, and on its hunger for some kind of legitimacy.

Week 2 of New Girl and The Mindy Project

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Jane Hu, When Worlds Collide. On space and the sit-com:

 I started to see all sitcoms — all stories really — in terms of worlds that undergo continual threats of invasion. The basic axiom of narrative is, after all, how a constant (premise, group, space) must recalibrate itself to a sequence of incoming events, persons, or data.

New Girl is more conventional in pretty completely excluding the world of work from the show and focusing on home, unlike The Mindy Project, which has yet to explore Mindy’s apartment. Then there’s the question of social space: Jess and Mindy approach those spaces, and whether they mix, differently:

Jess struggles in keeping her relationship with Nick (friend and roommate) separate from her relationship with Sam; Mindy, however, has no qualms with worlds colliding. Well aware that all good stories rely on just-believable chance encounters, she encourages them.

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Lili Loofbourow, Romney-Dad: Conservatives Back in Comedy. On the lack of true eccentricity in New Girl:

New Girl is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs where the dwarfs have been attenuated: Nick is Slightly Grumpy, Schmidt is Slightly Dopey, and Winston is Kinda Doc.

New Girl’s peculiarity is that its B story is almost always more interesting than its A story.

Here, in the middle of an ugly electoral season, the show pauses to dwell on Romney’s possibilities as the ideal father, and it’s brilliant. Romney would be a perfect sitcom dad — if sitcoms still had dads.

The Mindy Project has its token conservative too, and it’s the male lead.

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Phil Maciak, Moby-Nick, Or The Whale Belt. New Girl seems to be saying,Buy in to this vague, implausible stalling tactic for a season, and we’ll get them in the sack eventually.”

“Fluffer,” as a kind of summit meeting about the state of this relationship, was a canny piece of writing, but I’m not sure it plugged the holes it sought out to plug.

More importantly, though, class! the  major players on The Mindy Project are RICH. Is Schmidt’s whale belt a Class Transcender?

So what kind of magic belt is this? Is it a kind of hipster-post-racial utility belt? Not quite. The simple answer is that the belt fits at the center of the Kanye West/Mitt Romney Venn diagram, and the thing these two men have in common is the thing they also have in common with Mindy Lahiri and Danny Castellano: they are rich. Rockefeller and Roc-a-fella.

WEEK 3 OF NEW GIRL AND THE MINDY PROJECT

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Lili Loofbourow, Of In-Groups and Out-Groups. What happens when characters try to work outside their social systems?

In both cases, the protagonists end up choosing their original in-group over the more desirable out-group, but both episodes stage the seduction of wanting badly to belong, even as you understand that your winning has nothing to do with your own merit.

But, as usual, the show continues to forget about Winston.

I hope the show finds its sweet spot with Winston, because I feel like he’s fading into a joke accessory — he’s the guy whose weirdness only lasts one episode: he likes fruity drinks! He doesn’t get pranks! He wears a peacock earring!

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Phil Maciak, How to Crush ItCan a douchebag outrun his douchebaggery? Or can it only be that

he’s not any better than you thought he was, there’s just more in there.

Should Mindy pay up at the Douchebag Jar?

The Mindy Project […] sometimes doesn’t seem to have any distance from what it depicts. The camera on The Mindy Project is very subjective, and I think it might have d-bag goggles on.

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Jane Hu, A Toast to the Douchebags. What do we really mean when we say douchebag?

From the New Girl pilot, Schmidt was dubbed “feminine” as much as “douchebag,” and that women don’t find Schmidt sexually attractive might have something to do with how he reminds them of what society expects a woman to be.

For Mindy, the club becomes a ballroom:

The modern girl’s fairy tale still involves ballrooms, red carpets, a gate at the stairs, and a carriage ready to take one home.

WEEK 4 OF NEW GIRL

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Phil Maciak, Dance, Monkey, Dance. Is New Girl using its fat suit for cheap laughs?

They lean so hard into it that you are tempted to think they are making fun of the trope. But, of course, that’s what critics like us say when shows we perceive to be smarter than the conventions they employ go ahead and employ those conventions. And there’s no way out. No matter how much self-consciousness we ascribe to New Girl or Mindy or Girls, Fat Schmidt is still getting laughs for being Fat.

Sometimes, love just hurts so bad:

To know someone well enough to tease them the way Nick teases Schmidt is to have a kind of intimacy.

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Jane Hu, Soul Cakes. Guys — are we giving New Girl too much credit?

Sometimes, a fat suit is just a fat suit. It seems that for New Girl — a show that certainly doesn’t lack attractive bodies — fatness has become a throw-away gimmick.

How stereotypically gendered are the New Girl characters’ relations to food?

Schmidt gets Nick a cookie, which he eats, and then regrets, because of what giving a cookie means. Jess bakes Cece a birthday cake, which she, as a model, can’t eat, because of what a cake does.

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Lili Loofbourow, Go Back to Start, Do Not Pass Go. New Girl seems to be trying to wean itself off serial storytelling, since

A story about twenty-somethings (or thirty-somethings) is a story about precariousness, fluctuation, change. People marry, they move, they go out of town for jobs. The point of the roommate story is that it’s always already nostalgic. You go into a roommate situation knowing that it will end.

Finally, we might have missed the view from The Mindy Project a bit this week:

The other really interesting difference that’s already emerging (and will only intensify, I expect) is that The Mindy Project is aggressively structured through one perspective.