Last Night’s TV: New Girl

E4, 9pm

When New Girl started out it was desperate to be quirky and different, partly due to star Zooey Deschanel’s similar aspirations you suspect. This is no longer the case however, as the ever-improving sitcom has found itself in much more comfortable territory approaching its Season 2 finale.

The first series of New Girl was very much a learning curve for everyone involved. Despite being created as a vehicle for Zooey Deschanel, it quickly became apparent that her character Jess was being overshadowed by Max Greenfield’s flamboyant and far more interesting portrayal of the self-obsessed, OCD-ridden Jewish extrovert Schmidt.

Indeed the problems didn’t end there. After losing Damon Wayans Jr. once the pilot had been shot – who incidentally will be reprising his role of ‘Coach’ in some future episodes – the replacement character of Winston (Lamorne Morris) never quite felt at ease in the set-up during Season 1. Similarly Nick (Jake Johnson) often seemed an afterthought rather than a central part. As a result storylines usually revolved around Jess’ doe-eyed approach to life rather than forming any sort of coherent plot with the other three leads.

Changes were needed and were quickly but subtly made by the time the series returned for its second run. Schmidt has been further developed to include an emotive back-story, giving him room to dominate proceedings while Jess and Nick’s new relationship smoulders in the background. Hannah Simone has been allowed to stand on her own two feet as Cece and even Winston has been given a new darker edge that balances nicely against the previously relentless kookiness.

There’s no doubt the producers owe a huge debt of inspiration to other sitcoms, namely Friends, for the changes. Indeed much is liberally borrowed from the successes of David Crane and Marta Kauffman’s hit show.

Bit-part recurring characters are now regularly used to pad-out the environment, with the parents often stealing the show as per its 90’s predecessor. There’s also the deliberate New Girl-isms, phrases and in-jokes – devices straight out of Crane and Kauffman’s scripting arsenal. And rather less subtly, Jess and Nick’s will-they-wont-they relationship clearly owes more than a nod to Ross and Rachel.

But to be honest, it works. As a viewer you feel much more part of a gang rather than just watching-on to someone else’s comedic quirkiness. The longer narrative arcs suit the characters as well, allowing the comedy to shine through rather than trying to tie-up too many loose ends in 22 minutes. Occasionally episodes fall flat due to an overuse of slapstick, but with a plethora of different writers and directors this is to be expected with US sitcoms.

Where the third series will go is anyone’s guess. Friends notably excelled in the period of Monica and Chandler getting together, but plummeted once they united. With only a handful of lead characters, when two are coupled the narrative possibilities are severally reduced, so you can only hope the writers find a way around that.

The likelihood is it will be Schmidt and Cece brought to the forefront once again to keep up the show’s appeal, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. Although, as long as we don’t end this season with a Ross Gellar type cliffhanger, we’ll all be happy.