Most shows wouldn’t be able to survive without their main star. New Girl isn’t one of those shows. Zooey Deschanel took a break from filming for a few weeks after she gave birth to her and her husband’s daughter, Elsie Otter, but fans everywhere were concerned with how the show could possibly continue while she was away. The show runners decided to have her character Jessica Day be sequestered by a grand jury case and have to be isolated in a hotel room for weeks. But without Jess’s presence, the most important member of apartment 4D, how could the show succeed?
Guest Stars Add Interest
New Girl is no stranger to guest stars. From Jamie Lee Curtis to Jessica Biel to Taylor Swift, there have been plenty of celebrities and fan favorites that have made cameo appearances, and, so far, despite a missing Zooey, season 5 has been no exception. The arrival of new faces distracts viewers who are missing their favorite quirky girl and sets up new plot points for a hilarious show.
After Jess leaves for jury duty, the boys decide to turn their apartment into a sort of hotel to make some extra money. One of their guests include a weird writer of erotic fiction played by SNL alum Fred Armisen, who, by the end of the first episode, dresses up in Jess’s clothes and a long brown wig, pretending to be her. But the guest star hijinks don’t end after Armisen departs. In the episode “Bob & Carol & Nick & Schmidt,” Nick’s cousin, played by comedian Bill Burr, and his wife, played by Lennon Parham, come to town with a bizarre request: they want Nick’s sperm. And, of course, popular actress Megan Fox turns up soon as a bold pharmaceutical rep with tons of moxie to spare. She moves into Jess’s old room and becomes the show’s temporary New Girl.
The Gang Takes On Jess’s BFF Duties
Jess has many roles in the group, and her absence is felt by everyone. While some shows might shy away from distributing a single main character’s quirks to others, New Girl doesn’t miss the opportunity to show how crucial Jess is in all of her friends’ lives; it goes without saying that they struggle to fill the void she’s left behind. Schmidt has to stop a fight between Cece and Nick, as both gets increasingly on each other’s nerves. Cece tries to comfort Winston during a breakup, and tries to cheer him up with tea and a pep talk like Jess would. Winston goes wedding dress shopping with Cece, an activity she’d planned on taking Jess to. While they all ultimately fail to live up to the expectations set up by Jess, her friends’ attempts to each temporarily assume the backbone of the group show how close they’ve come since the series premiere.
Jess Still Appears—In One Way or Another
Even though Deschanel doesn’t technically appear in each episode, the show still manages to make Jess’s presence known. Not only by showing how much her friends have learned from her over the years—even if they fail to actually help each other as Jess would—but also by using clever ways to show that she’s still the heart of New Girl. After all, this is a show where the main character leaves behind a bowl with her face on it, containing notes of advice that her friends can read in times of need. And we hate to admit it, but from behind, Fred Armisen makes a convincing Jess, hair bow included.
While Jess has been sequestered, the gang has spent more time in her room than ever before—even, at one point, wearing her ski clothes to warm up. After Cece’s wedding dress disaster, the gang heads over to Jess’s hotel and stands outside on the sidewalk while Jess stands at her window, backlit and at a distance so all you can see is her silhouette. Even though her part was clearly not played by Deschanel, it’s’ a great way the show included her character, allowing her to communicate with everyone, even if via a notepad and marker.
In tonight’s episode—New Girl’s 100th—Jess is finally back from jury duty. In the promo, we see Jess and Reagan hugging and a very surprised Nick. Instead of being upset that the boys rented out her room, Jess seems as happy-go-lucky as ever, in true New Girl fashion, seemingly oblivious to the relationship between her former love Nick and her “replacement” Reagan. Who knows how she’ll react when she finds out what she’s missed.
Tune in to Fox tonight at 8/7c to find out.
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How ‘New Girl’ Survived Without Zooey Deschanel: Images courtesy of Giphy & Entertainment Weekly