‘New Girl’s’ newest season starts off strong after last year’s lull

The fourth season premiere gives each "New Girl" character equal attention. Via Fox Flash

“New Girl” (2011-present) has offered a promising start to its fourth season. Creating a third season can be a difficult time for shows — often following a great second season, where writers are finally comfortable with their characters and the storyline has picked up steam. Falling face first into this trap, “New Girl” unfortunately became too comfortable in its system and successful second season, and the writers began began to get lazy. Characters became caricatures, storylines were stripped-down and overly basic and cheap relationships were written in. While the third season had its moments (it wasn’t quite as bad as “The Gas Leak Year,” fans’ way of referring to “Community’s” (2009-present) disappointing fourth season), they were simply few and far in between.

This season begins at a wedding, serving as a useful barometer for comparing the different stages of the show. “New Girl” has had three wedding episodes so far. The episode entitled “Wedding” (season one, episode three) is an example of a great episode — the group attends a wedding where their zany antics lead from one comical situation to the next — while still developing the characters. The second wedding episode, “Elaine’s Big Day” (season two, episode 25), is also very memorable, unfortunately, for different reasons. The episode centers around Cece’s  (Hannah Simone) wedding to fiancé Shivrang (Satya Bhabha).  A finale episode, “Elaine’s big day” tries to do a little too much, ultimately devolving into one large mess and ushering in a similarly chaotic season three.

In the season premiere of season four, “The Last Wedding,” the writers attempt to recapture their past success by sending the cast to yet another couple’s nuptials. This time, the bride and groom-to-be are unknown characters which allows the gang to roam free around the party, unlike at Cece’s wedding. The show even pokes fun at Cece’s wedding episode when Jess begins to throw out all the wedding invitations they’ve kept on their fridge and they come across Cece and Shivrang’s invitation.

For many series, back-to-its-roots episodes often fall flat, emphasizing just how far a show has declined. However, this is not true of “The Last Wedding.” The writers took a gamble, and it paid off. They were able to capture the appeal of the “New Girl’s” critically successful early years and recreate it with now-established characters.

First and foremost, the new season is more daring. The gang decides to end the “summer of sex” with a bang when Schmidt (Max Greenfield) proclaims that no one is going home alone that night. The previous season presented a decline in risqué content, settling for a safer romantic plot. Furthermore, the characters begin to regain their shape as three-dimensional beings — Schmidt especially — and the show was able to step back over the shark it jumped when Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) first started dating. These two characters were able to share a heartfelt moment on the floor of a bathroom stall without delving into the cheesy. In the past season, any heartfelt moment often felt cheap and insincere, yet this is no longer the case. Finally, what made the show so great in its early years was the equal screen time shared by the characters. This was done especially well in this episode, allowing each character his or her fair share and preventing any one character from becoming just a punchline.

The group finds itself in an especially raunchy situation when Schmidt teaches Jess how to use a Tinder-esque app called Dice. While the episode was funny and the writers took more risks, the plot was an example of the show’s faults. Cheap references to current popular culture, in this case Tinder, make the show look like your grandma trying very hard to stay relevant.

Season four takes a step in the right direction for the series’ future. Save for a few bad habits picked up along the way that are carried into this season, the material so far appears hopeful. Those viewers sucked in by the first two seasons and who have soldiered on through season three, many simply by force of habit, may finally be rewarded for their patience.