Entertainment

‘New Girl’ seemed like the perfect pandemic binge watch for my wife and I — until it became a panic watch

SPOILER ALERT: The following includes spoilers about a show that officially ended more than three years ago and is no longer on Netflix. So, if you get irked, well that’s on you, eh.

For the second half of December, it was my second most worrying number.

Granted, that first one represented true tragedy as, each day, it climbed. Sigh.

Conversely, the other digit that haunted me in December was a consistent 31. As in: last day to watch, Dec. 31.

In normal times, Netflix’s removal of the TV series “New Girl” would barely register with me. In fact, before my wife, Nancy Payne, introduced me to the quirky sitcom last summer, I had conflated it with “Two Broke Girls,” a subaverage show with a laugh track so forced and pervasive its executive producer should have been Pavlov. Guilty by name association and all that, I unfairly surmised.

But “New Girl” is different. Was different. Now it’s disappeared into the streaming ether, possibly resurfacing at some point on Disney Plus, a platform I am as inclined to subscribe to as I am to contribute to Jeff Bezos’ space mission.

“New Girl” is a solid sitcom with a skilled cast, anchored by Zooey Deschanel, whose character producers aptly described as “adorkable.” More on that later. Maybe. Because this is really about how “NG” was perfect entertainment for a couple needing the right kind of diversion from the unrelenting gloom of that aforementioned first number. A show we both enjoyed. Equally. Consistently. A respite from the shutdown world outside as we sat next to each other on the couch, having supper behind folding thrift store TV tables — not always but, uh, frequently — pausing only to scold our mooching terrier-poodle.

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Finding this kind of TV viewing common ground for a couple — and, hence, that necessary pandemic distraction — isn’t easy. (And neither of us is, as Nancy explains, “‘Tiger King’ people.”) Just ask that couple where one party hangs on every nuance of “Downton Abbey” while — sorry, whilst — the other wonders why it can’t include even one measly car chase.

While there are shows Nancy and I agree on, too often they include some kind of reminder of the real world outside. (I’m talkin’ to you, Apple TV’s “Invasion.”) The final season of “Superstore,” which was set in our pandemic reality? Good luck seeing past their masks and not thinking of the world right now.

“The Office” is brilliant. But with every flip of a phone or screeching of a fax machine, it’s a nostalgic, heart-wrenching reminder of a life long gone. “New Girl,” which ended in 2018, was just recent enough to allow us to believe it was all happening in real time, that the cool loft in which Jess and her three (sometimes four) roommates resided, was only a short drive away.

Neither is it surprising that “New Girl’s” brain trust was largely women; they deftly managed even the silliest scatological humour in smart, enjoyable fashion — catered equally to all genders and cultures.

That “NG” lasted almost 150 episodes was especially reassuring for both of us. Like Ted Lasso with a booster shot. And unlike another long-running series, “Modern Family,” which devolved from funny, touching TV to contrived community theatre stage play — featuring facelifts and Botox — “NG” actually got better and more relatable.

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At an episode or two a night (OK, sometimes three), “New Girl” could take Nancy and me well into 2022 — and maybe past when that other number stops climbing and starts dropping. Or so we thought.

We were barely into Season 4 when I freeze-framed that image on our TV — with that “Last day” warning — and made that slow walk to the kitchen where Nancy was unpacking a takeout order. “We’ve got 13 days to watch 62 episodes,” I said, before swallowing hard. “I crunched the numbers. Twice.”

And so began the mad binge, wondering if we were up to the task. Plunking down for really long stretches in front of a TV isn’t our jam.

By New Year’s Eve day, and not yet into Season 6, we knew we’d been licked. We regrouped, (I) wiped away (my) tears and developed a new strategy; the internet provided a show recap, right up until the eight-episode final season.

We started at 8 p.m., confident our calculations to the series finale were correct. (If we completely ignored the dog.) We had some help. The last season wisely moved the storyline three years ahead, allowing for more exposition in the first instalment of our binge. Once we got past the surprises — “Wait, what?! Winston’s cat died?” — which were softened by the not-so-surprising changes (“Of course Nick and Jess became a couple!”), the transition was smooth and fun, despite the sitcom staple of the precocious three-year-old, daughter to Cece and Schmidt, who were married in Season 5’s finale — the last episode we watched before the binge.

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We wrapped up at 11:50 p.m. Whew. Shortly after, “New Girl” was gone. Even the episodes I’d surreptitiously downloaded to my phone, thinking I’d cleverly stuck it to the Netflix Man, had expired. Those bright orange exclamation marks next to their titles seemed to smugly proclaim, “Hey pal, we warned you.”

DG

Denis Grignon is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to the Star.

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