BY RELEVANT TV / CULTURE March 27, 2013

In the ’90s, Friends was more than just a wildly popular television show: it was the ’90s. It documented the living arrangements, social outlook and worldview of the modern thirtysomething. Simpsons might be more iconic, Seinfeld might be funnier, and X-Files might be smarter, but for slice-of-life comedy that both showed you what your life was like and what you wanted it to be, there was no beating Friends. And now, after countless attempts to re-capture that magic, New Girl is coming on strong. Here are five reasons that Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and her pals could be to this decade what Ross, Rachel and the rest were to the ’90s.

The Oversized and Underpriced Apartment

OK. Television needs to stop it with these apartments. Has anyone who writes a sitcom ever been inside a New York apartment? Friends tried to provide an excuse about Monica and Rachel’s ornate palace by saying it had been “rent controlled” since Monica’s grandmother lived in it. Whatever. New Girl provides no explanation for Winston, Jess, Nick and Schmidt’s absurd Los Angeles loft with exposed brick and enough room to play their favorite game, True American, with upwards of 25 people. Is forcing fake people to live just a little like the rest of us really asking too much?

That Place They All Eat and Drink For Free

On Friends, it was Central Perk—that coffee shop that somehow paid Rachel’s exorbitant rent and fueled the entire cast with ostensibly free drinks for 10 seasons. The six of them sat there all day, leading viewers to believe it was either perpetually Saturday or they were never working—a point of eternal frustration for many realists. In New Girl, Nick works at a bar in which the cast just seem to show up. It’s slightly less frustrating than the Central Perk idea, because at least we know the cast of New Girl maybe sometimes sort of works, but it’s still a place we all wish we had in our own lives.

The Side Romance We Mostly Care About

We never pined for Monica and Chandler quite like we did for Ross and Rachel because the show wasn’t built around them and it was never intended to be. But that’s the thing about side romances; they’re sort of disposable, and with Monica and Chandler, it could have gone either way and viewers might have been satisfied. Cece and Schmidt could head in a different direction. Either way, their romance provides a nice little sidekick for the main event, and provides a model for us when some of our friends start to couple off. Just because some members of your friend circle might be a little more than friends doesn’t mean they’re not part of the group anymore.

Nick and Jess vs. Ross and Rachel

A high stakes, chemistry-packed, tension-driven romance can catapult almost any show into the primetime big leagues. Friends laid the groundwork for the on-again off-again sitcom relationship, sprinkling the seasons with moments of charm and giving fans just enough to believe that Ross and Rachel would end up together. Sometimes, all Ross and Rachel had to do was look at each other and the earliest corners of the late ‘90s Internet would be abuzz for weeks. And the 10-season wait was worth the payoff, as just about everyone knows that Ross and Rachel ended up in each other’s arms in the last episode and presumably lived happily ever after forever and ever.

And now, we have Nick and Jess, the non-couple whose entire relationship is a series of yelling matches. The writers have done a sterling job thus far of giving Nick and Jess just enough will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry to give us viewers the hope that maybe, someday, they might. It’s a more realistic depiction than, say, the undying love-at-first sight miracle of The Notebook. New Girl, like Friends, taps into our own secret crushes and the fluid uncertainty of the modern dating model.

Friends as Family

On Friends, this was obvious from the pilot, given the show’s apt title. It resonated throughout 10 seasons, though, with an annual Thanksgiving episode where it became clear that these people were much more than six friends who hung out a lot (although, to be fair, they were exactly that). It was sort of cheesy, but the show handled it well by showing how many of the titular “friends” had difficult relationships with their own families. The message was clear: friends can be family without replacing them. Just because family is “always going to be there” doesn’t mean friends can’t too; that’s what the infectious theme song was all about.

In New Girl, the show started as a plaything for Zooey Deschanel’s quirky winsomeness, and has quickly turned into a platform for a group of roommates who, in spite of themselves, actually care about each other. The show sort of fell into this dynamic, when the relatively juvenile depiction of the roommates started to meld into that intangible chemistry for which every sitcom yearns. The show has found itself anchored by this harmony instead of the Deschanel’s vaguely grating nerdiness, and it’s begun to bleed the same message: not all twenty and thirtysomethings are going to live down the street from their families. And that’d be a terrifying prospect if they didn’t gather a group of weirdos and goofballs around them that, somehow, become their second family.

RELEVANT

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