New Girl returns on Tuesday night, leading off a re-ordering of Fox sitcoms, with Grandfathered, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and The Grinder following, each with new episodes. In addition to giving freshman shows Grandfathered and Grinder comfortable berths between two seasoned shows, there’s a certain thematic coherence at work here. Each of these comedies is built around an optimistic character who is surrounded by friends and those who would thwart her or his optimism, and who meets a challenge to that worldview every week.
It’s a strong return episode for New Girl, which has decided to jump straight into the marriage preparations of Schmidt and Cece. It is a measure of how sturdy the ensemble has become that Zooey Deschanel’s Jess can be sidelined with an injury and the half-hour still moves right along with funny subplots about Nick picking up Cece’s never-before-seen mom (guest star Anna George) from the airport (hint: mistaken identity) and Winston enjoying some local celebrity after a heroic act he performs as a policeman.
Grandfathered keeps plugging along, trying to figure out how much to emphasize the grandfather side of John Stamos’ character Jimmy, and how much to boost the wacky-shenanigans-in-his-restaurant aspect of the show. Tonight’s entry splits the difference and centers on Jimmy enduring a visit to the doctor. You see, he hasn’t seen one in 20 years — thus the episode title, “Perfect Physical Specimen” — and Dr. Phil makes a surprisingly good cameo as Jimmy’s poker-faced physician.
For a show that won a Golden Globe, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has certainly proved to be not particularly special, and tonight’s episode becomes interesting only when always-terrific guest star Kathryn Hahn turns up as Charles’ ex-wife.
Like New Girl, Brooklyn isn’t shy about pushing its star — Andy Samberg — to the sidelines and letting the supporting cast take over. But the show settles too often for corny physical humor: If you ever wanted to see Andre Braugher almost break-dance, tonight is your opportunity.
Returning guest star Timothy Olyphant is the reason to watch The Grinder this week, who shows up to make time with Natalie Morales’ Claire. This leaves Rob Lowe’s Dean feeling jealous and miserable, which means he makes the life of hapless Stewart (Fred Savage) miserable as well.
The Grinder hasn’t fulfilled its original promise to be as tightly packed with the kind of sharp jokes and fraternal tension set up by its excellent pilot. It’s still undergoing first-season growing pains, trying to find more to do for, say, the inventively clever Mary Elizabeth Ellis as Stewart’s wife Debbie.
But Olyphant is really good — he plays a version of himself as a needy lover whose ego is easily wounded. If Olyphant ever wants to stop trying for that feature-film career, someone could probably build a viable sitcom around him.
New Girl, Grandfathered, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Grinder air on Tuesdays starting at 8 p.m. on Fox.