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New Girl

I swear to God, at least two people who barely know me have asked this question, and since I couldn’t think of anything else to write about it, why not make it this?

Zooey Deschanel, my lady love since ~2002*, will be starring in a weekly sitcom called New Girl. This seems ideal, and yet—here’s where the blog-specific controversy kicks in—the creator and executive producer is my arch-nemesis, Liz Meriwether, writer of a script entitled Fuckbuddies. Now, Fuckbuddies made me angry, but one terrible script isn’t quite enough for me to cast aside my beloved Zooey. The fifteen endless, painful minutes I spent trying to watch No Strings Attached—that’s enough to cast her aside, and then some.

I didn’t expect No Strings Attached to be good, mind you. I tried to watch with an open mind, despite my blinding hatred for the screenplay. Things were different immediately, which was a good sign. Unfortunately, what changed ended up making it worse.

I’ll say two positive things about Fuckbuddies and Meriwether: the overlong script read at a fast clip, and Meriwether has a distinctive voice. Unfortunately, her authorial voice sounds as if she (as I described it three angry years ago) “tape-recorded an improv group whose main game involved asking the audience for three things: a generic scene from their favorite romantic comedy, a non-sequitur not commonly associated with romance, and five or six “shocking” obscenities the troupe has to work into the scene. After taping these improv scenes, Meriwether transcribed the dialogue and cobbled together Fuckbuddies, 124 pages of schlock masquerading as sharp, edgy wit.” Still, I breezed through the script, so at least the punishment of enduring it was quick.

Ivan Reitman directed two great comedies (Ghostbusters and Dave, notably) and a handful of good ones. He also made Father’s Day and My Super Ex-Girlfriend (full disclosure: I saw 80% of My Super Ex-Girlfriend on a plane, without plugging in my headphones; I got the gist of everything, so props to Reitman for knowing how to communicate a story visually, but it still sucked, even without hearing the bad jokes). Also, even though I mostly liked Evolution, I’m still angry at the scene where the two women confuse a baby alien with a dog. It’s a special effects movie, so obviously the actors were staring at a tennis ball or maybe a dot on the wall, but when the CGI’ed the alien, it couldn’t possibly look less like a dog, and it makes both characters look retarded. It also makes the movie look careless…

…which, coincidentally, is No Strings Attached‘s main problem. Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman flail in vain, trying to wring laughs from material that is in no way funny on the page, but Reitman has lost the impeccable sense of timing he brought to earlier films. I’m not just talking about acting, because we could have the “did he direct the actors or just stand back and let them do their thing?” argument until the cows come home (but I’d win by pointing out that he made three comedies with Arnold fucking Schwarzenegger, and they’re mostly good, which means he knows how to make actors appear funny). If you pay attention to the way his films are cut—keep in mind, he produces all his films, so there’s a high probability he has final cut or something close to it—the comedic rhythm comes from impeccable editing. In comedy, energy, pacing, and timing are everything. You lose the rhythm, you lose momentum, and the whole movie lurches to a stop like a runaway freight train that got too bored to keep moving. Kutcher and Portman have energy—it’s about all they have in this movie—but Reitman lets every shot and every scene hang a few beats too long. He pulled off the impossible feat of making a boring screwball comedy. Because, let’s face it: even the worst screwball comedy (Town & Country, 2001) races to the finish line with a level of energy its terrible writing can’t begin to match.

I say this, of course, after watching only the first 15 minutes. Maybe the film builds up a head of steam, but it seems pretty unlikely. Also, I tricked Tarini into watching the whole thing, and she confirmed my suspicion.

Am I punishing Meriwether’s show because Ivan Reitman ruined her script? Not really, because the script was ruined to begin with. The fact that somebody with Reitman’s talent and legacy signed on to such a shitfest could have only helped it. Nobody could have known he would have made a bad script worse. He usually makes bad scripts passable.

That, my friends, is why I’m giving New Girl a pass. If Ivan Reitman, of all people, can’t make Fuckbuddies approach the level of mild entertainment, I have very little faith that anonymous TV directors will make her sitcom watchable. To paraphrase Meat Loaf, I’ll watch Zooey Deschanel in anything (even (500) Days of Summer), but I won’t watch that…

*In this particular context, “lady love” means “one of the standouts among the multicultural bevy of attractive women, both famous and not, who regularly appear in my elaborate, rather alarming dreams.” [Back]

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