A confession: I was not a fan of New Girl when it premiered. Fox leaned hard on its description of Zooey Deschanel’s character, Jess, as “adorkable,” which is too twee even for network promotional materials. She was presented as inept and ill-equipped to function in the adult world without the help of her three male roommates: Nick (Jake Johnson), Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Winston (Lamorne Morris). The guys were flatly drawn, and the show was too reliant on an underdeveloped take on Jess’ appeal.
By the end of the second season, I’d changed my mind — and the show had grown a lot. Some storylines worked better than others, but I remained a fan through the season six finale last spring, which seemed like it might be a satisfying close to the whole series if it turned out to be canceled. Then, a delightful thing happened: New Girl was renewed for an eight-episode final season, which begins — as the first episode title announces — “About Three Years Later.” And I realized: this is how I wish every comedy I loved could end.
A serialized, character-driven comedy like this is perfectly suited to a short final run that can offer a look at what these characters are like after the conflicts and questions that drove most of the series (what about Schmidt and Cece? what about Jess and Nick? will Winston ever find love?) are resolved. And, set free from the constraints of having to make a season never knowing whether it’s the last and never knowing how many things have to be saved for later, writers are free to let everything go. A successful show of this kind catches its characters at a point of change in their lives, so one of the challenges is that if they are learning anything, they eventually pass those points — which doesn’t mean they never change again; it just means that the arcs they were on when we met them wind down.
So a short set of episodes like this, with no pressure to create stories beyond itself, can be relaxed and playful. It offers people who stuck with the show for six full-length seasons the very thing that not every show needs but some deserve: an ending that ties up the loose ends.
There have been many fine comedies that have tried to do full final seasons, but they tend to include some thumb-twiddling, because an ensemble the size of your average network comedy doesn’t need 22 episodes to wrap up its stories without manufacturing ways to kill time. It needs … about eight.
I haven’t seen all eight of these episodes, but I’ve seen several, and they’re a lot of fun. A number of characters do return for last visits, giving it a wrap-party feeling, but they’re not jammed into a single moment as might happen in an overstuffed finale.
This is a good idea, this coda season. And it’s a reflection of what the people who make the show seem to have learned over the years they’ve been making it: it was never about an adorkable woman and the men who orbit around her. It was always about a group of friends who are trying to figure out where they want to wind up. Seeing what the next phases of their lives will look like is a lot of fun.