by Elizabeth Meriwether
First Network Draft - January 2011
Single Camera Comedy Pilot, 35 pages
"Sometimes when I'm sad I pretend to be Carrie Bradshaw and I put on weird bras and type on my computer." - Jess
This week I read Elizabeth Meriwether's pilot for her hit TV show New Girl. Originally titled Chicks and Dicks, it's a quirky comedy that pairs awkward, off-beat Jess with three male roommates. Although all have just met in the pilot, their friendship and care for each other is quickly solidified in a self-aware, fast-moving script in which a lot of the comedy comes from juxtaposition.
Like Meriwether's play 90 Days, New Girl opens with a telephone conversation, only this time the scene is intercut so we are able to see both parties - Jess and Cece, her super hot childhood friend who's now a model. Talk about juxtaposition. Contrast and unexpected twists also surprised and delighted through the dialogue, like in this exchange:
Cece: Jess. Remember in 6th grade when we were freaks and no one would talk to us? Did you ever think you'd have a boyfriend?
Jess: No, I thought I'd be the crazy woman living over your garage.
Cece: Now look at you. You're naked in the back of a cab. I'm so proud of you.
As that exchange showcases, the pilot does indeed start with Jess naked (Except for a winter coat. In summer.) in the back of a cab on her way to surprise her boyfriend. We're given the promise of nudity and sex, but, as this is network TV, we know we're not going to see much of anything. (When we get there, the script acknowledges this - "We stay above the shoulders, of course...") However, we're told in voiceover that this is going to go badly instead of getting to experience it ourselves - "That was what my breakup was like. I should've just called the cops."
The voiceovers didn't bother me because the script revealed that they were actually Jess telling the story to Schmidt, Nick, and Coach, her three soon-to-be roommates, in real time and that, technically, the cab and breakup scenes were flashbacks. Flashbacks are used rather extensively in this show, often as punchlines, and contribute to its quick pace. I think it is effective.
While the show centers around Jess, Schmidt is really the stand-out character. Sure, she has her quirks, like making up theme songs for herself and singing all the time, but Schmidt has a fresh point of view and outlook on life that makes him delicious. He's shown, in a way that doesn't feel forced, to be a character at odds with himself. He has washboard abs, which he's happy to show off, and talks about banging girls all the time, but he's also shown as a sex object (a nice gender flip of stereotypes) in his workplace:
His FEMALE BOSS comes in.
Female Boss: Hey Schmidt, nice tie. Can I borrow a tampon?
All Schmidt's female co-workers snicker and high-five.
Schmidt: You know what - I'm not a sex object. I'm just trying to do my work, do a good job...
More laughter. One of the women makes a cat noise.
Yet, later, he chooses Jess, and his clearly friend-zoned relationship with her, over a Victoria's Secret party with models - an event he's been working over the course of the the whole pilot to get access to. It's almost like Schmidt is a good guy under his layers of assholeness, and watching him struggle with this proves compelling.
In both 90 Days and New Girl, Meriwether's voice is strong. The script makes me giggle as I read it, and the words jump off the page. Her characters are fresh and she utilizes contrast to provide surprises. I'm definitely a fan of her work.