Archive | 4:30 pm

Fall 2011 Review: New Girl

21 Sep

(Here at Television, the Drug of the Nation we’ll be doing one review for one show on each day of the week, each week.  For example, one Tuesday we might review 2 Broke Girls, and then the next week Terra Nova or The Playboy Club.  So, if your favorite or least favorite show didn’t get reviewed yet, not to worry)

Coming into the first episode, I had two thoughts about New Girl.  First, I felt that no one debut this season was being sold so much on the back of one person, in this case, on the shoulders of star Zooey Deschanel.  Second, while I didn’t think much of the show a month ago, as it got nearer, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, I started to get a little bit more excited about it.

As for the first at least, Zooey Deschanel did a good job but what I was surprised by was how much I liked the supporting cast as well, which consists of her three new roommates.  (Unlike a complex drama, I can sum up the first episode plot here in one sentence:  Zooey, as Jess, comes home to her boyfriend, finds him cheating, moves into a new place with three dudes, and is still depressed about the break-up).  Her model best friend is also on tap to be a main cast member, but she was only in the show for a minute or two, so it was hard to get a feel for her one way or the other.

The three roommates consist of three kinds of archetypes, a poser-y white guy quick to take off his shirt and call people bro, an athletic trainer who wears gym shorts and yells a lot, and a guy still depressed about a girl who dumped him months ago who dials her up when drunk.  Over the course of the episode though, these archetypes quickly fade into real people, with maybe the slight exception of the take-off-the-shirt guy, named Schmidt, but even he is normalized by the fact that his roommates make fun of him constantly (the trainer, who everyone seems to call Coach, makes him put money in a Douchebag jar every time he acts like well, a douchebag) and even he seems to not take himself too seriously.  There’s a degree of self-awareness, and a much more accurate acknowledgement of what archetypes are; they’re one side of someone’s personality, but if you dig deeper, and often not very much deeper (this was 20 minutes of tv, after all) there’s generally a person who is more or less like anybody else beneath.  I’d rather characters a little less developed in a pilot (again 20 minutes of TV) than characters who are instantly labeled by a few choice phrases and actions, pigeonholing them for the future.

Like the two new Whitney Cummings sitcoms, 2 Broke Girls and Whitney, New Girl is all about a 20-something female with a strong personality which she asserts as a force on all those around her.  Unlike those two shows, New Girl is single camera instead of multi camera, doesn’t use a laugh track, and is good.  Not to pile it on to 2 Broke Girls on top of what I’ve said before, but every character aside from the two main ones was a thin stereotype.  I know it’s just one episode, but in just twenty one minutes or so of New Girl all the characters managed to seem like real people (second time I’ve used the phrase, I know); by the end, when the roommates ditch their party to hang out with Jess who had been stood up by a guy, it already felt like a warm moment which was earned and not overly cheesy, and I already liked all the major characters.  That’s impressive.

Even within the episode, the show took a few minutes to find its footing.  Jess’s depression became a little much, and she has this tic where she talks in kind of a weird voice which became a tiny bit grating.  The show becomes a lot better when she starts smiling a little bit and having fun, and hopefully she’ll be getting over her depression in future episodes.  These are relatively minor complaints; it’s by no means a slam dunk instant classic, but what is?  It’s very very hard to produce a sitcom that’s great right out of the box – even the best often need a few episodes to find their footing.  Whether it will find said footing and become a really top tier sitcom or just slide along at being generally enjoyable enough to make you smile and laugh a couple times an episode, I don’t know, but to even put itself in that position after one episode is pretty damn good.

Important note:  The athletic trainer roommate Coach played by Damon Wayans Jr. in the pilot is being replaced, as his Happy Endings got unexpectedly picked up for a second season. It will certainly be interesting to see how the new roommate compares to the old.

Will I watch it again?  I was legitimately 50/50 before I saw it, but yeah, I think I’m going to.  The first episode got stronger as it moved forward, and although anything can go in any direction, I think it’s more likely to get even stronger as the season moves forward than not.

The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame: Nestor Carbonell

21 Sep

(The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame is where we turn the spotlight on a television actor or actress, and it is named after their patron saint, Zeljko Ivanek)

A personal favorite of mine, Nestor Carbonell has been there and back on television, likely to be found somewhere on your set (people don’t call them sets very much anymore I”ve noticed) during each of the past fifteen years.

Carbonell’s first television role was, like many others, in a Law & Order episode, in 1991.  Next, he  appeared in an episode of Melrose Place and two of A Different World in 1992.  He also appeared in single episodes of Reasonable Doubts and Good Advice.  Carbonell got his first shot in a lead role in 1995’s Muscle on the WB.  Muscle was a parody of ‘80s primetime soaps (think Dallas or Dynasty), and was set in a fictional gym in New York.  Carbonell starred as a gigolo named Gianni who used the gym pick up clients.  The show also starred Alan Ruck and Michael Boatman, who later played best friends on SpinCity.  The show lasted thirteen episodes, the only series of its two hour block of new series, including The Wayans Bros., The Parent ‘Hood and Unhappily Ever After, not to get a second season.

Carbonell rebounded quite nicely with a main role on Brooke Shields show Suddenly Susan as photographer Luis Rivera.  Carbonell appeared in all four seasons of the show, running from 1996 to 2000.  During that period, he also appeared in episodes of The John Larroquette Show, Veronica’s Closet and Encore! Encore!.  In 2000, he had a recurring role in Showtime series Resurrection Blvd., about a family of boxers.  He appeared in an HBO movie, The Laramie Project, in 2002 about the Matthew Shepard murder.  He starred as Batmanuel in the ill-fated live action version of The Tick, with Patrick Warburton as the title character.  After its cancellation, he appeared in single episodes of Ally McBeal, The Division, Monk, and Scrubs.

He next co-starred in the brilliant conceptual Century City(expect more on this show in the near future) about a team of lawyers in the year 2030 dealing with all manner of futuristic issues.  Sadly, the series lasted just nine episodes.  He appeared in episodes of House M.D. and Justice League and then as a recurring character in 11 episodes of Lifetime’s Strong Medicine as a well-meaning millionaire with embezzlement issues who marries one of the major characters.  After that he continued the single episode circuit, with appearances in Commander in Chief, Day Break, Andy Barker, PI, Queens Supreme and three Cold Cases.  Over the run of the series, Carbonell voiced character Senor Senior Jr. in 12 episodes of Disney Channel original Kim Possible.  In 2007, he played the firsr born son in the Jimmy Smits led family rum-and-sugar empire drama Cane, which lasted 13 episodes.

In was in 2007 in which he got the role he’s probably most famous for, ageless and mysterious Richard Alpert on Lost.  Slated to appear in seven third season episodes, the early cancellation of Cane opened Carbonell up to rejoin Lost, and he appeared in a couple of season four episodes, nine season five episodes, and was a main cast member for the final sixth season.  Alpert first arrived on the island in the mid-19th century as a slave on a ship, and later he becomes a key other member, and doesn’t age for some reason.  All of this is kind of explained in one of the very last episodes of the series, and as the series wraps, Alpert starts aging and makes it away from the island on the plane with Kate, Sawyer and some others (not Others, just other people).

After Lost, he appeared on two episodes of Psych, one of Wilfred, and now is co-starring as a federal agent out to protect Sarah Michelle Gellar (one of her two characters anyway) in Ringer.

Carbonell also went to Harvard and is cousins with 500 home run hitter and steroid user and denier Rafael Palmeiro.  Oh, and not TV but it bears mentioning he played the mayor in the Dark Knight and will reprise the role in the next Batman film.