With the recent change from a letter grade system to a 5-star rating system, this occasion seems less momentous. Nonetheless, it must be recognized that with this week’s episode, “New Girl” is no longer toeing the A-/4.5 star line. Five episodes that have aired in 2012 have been a stone’s throw from validation. They were so close they could smell the greener grass (very potent fertilizer). And although that handful can boast some commendable scenes, and downright hilarious lines, where they come up short of the target, “Normal” hits the bullseye.
Among those episodes that can only bask in the shadow of this week’s undisputed champ were some doozies: “Fancyman Part 2,” “Control,” “Valentine’s Day,” “Jess and Julia” and “Story of the 50.” The similarities are slim. What they share wouldn’t look like much in Venn Diagram. “Control” and “Story of the 50” were Schmidt-centric, and therefore easily won my affections. “Valentine’s Day” and “Fancyman Part 2” were great examples of how to best use their ensemble as their competing plots found a way to neatly coincide. And “Jess and Julia” was an experiment that mostly succeeded where the writers decided to pin Lizzy Caplan’s femininity against Zooey Deschanel’s in a well-executed bit of meta-commentary. If there was a trend that could be extracted it was joke volume. These episodes, like many in the second half of New Girl’s first season, decided they were going to shift the focus a tad from the guys’ reactions to Jess’ antics and absurdity to fleshing out what has proven to be a top-notch group. And boy, has the reinvention paid huge dividends
Character-derived and relationship-based humor coupled with sharp wit has become the “New Girl” writing staff’s cash crop. The proof is in last night’s fun-filled pudding. Arguably the definitive sequence of the season shows off the electricity that can be generated when all four actors share the screen. I’m talking about the epic game of “True American.” To explain the rules of “True American” would trivialize its hilarity. Basically, it’s a drinking game, where presidents’ names seem to be shouted at random, and the floor is lava—like in all the best games of pretend, ever. But what absolutely makes the scene jump out at you is how much goddamn fun they’re having. When a show can incorporate an aspect of a group of friends’ lives that seamlessly fits into the chemistry the show has been cooking you know that good work has been done in the writer’s room. Through the magic of characterization, “True American” becomes an unquestionable aspect of their camaraderie because we know who these people are together. The added bonus is Russell’s (Speaking of seamless, how about Dermot Mulroney’s stellar contribution!) disorientation as he acclimates himself to the “rules” of the game. With each beer he shotguns the more he gets it.
And the good times don’t end there. This whole episode exudes a confidence in its ability to incorporate recurring jokes into the episode’s arc. Said arc begins when Jess realizes she has been off on a week-long “sex-cation” (Trademarked by Schmidt) with Russell and misses the guys. Russell would rather undress her immediately at the political fundraiser, but he agrees to spending a night at the loft. Of course, as sitcom outsiders often do, he gets more than he bargained for. Besides a raucous rendition of “True American” he also must navigate the uncool behavior of the guys that they unleash whenever he’s around. The montage of their not-so-normal actions was particularly well-done and indicative of what makes each dude so oddball. Schmidt executes a sneak attack on Russell for a “label check” of his suit, Nick can’t keep his eyes to himself in the bathroom and Winston startles him and entraps him with “Are you scared of black people? It’s 2012.”
But despite Jess’ warnings the guys just can’t be cool. Nick and Schmidt are the worst offenders. Their collaborative awkwardness revolves around an idea in Nick’s idea notebook, a smartphone case that provides features that no app can provide: a Zippo, fork, spoon, corn holder (or a gentleman’s shiv) and more. Essentially, it’s a Swiss Army knife attached to the back called “Real Apps.” It may be the worst invention ever, but it could also be the most harmful. When Nick and Schmidt present Russell with the prototype, they inadvertently stab him (although according to Jess that wasn’t the first stabbing this month). You have to applaud the efficiency of this minor plot because it not only showcases the relationship between Nick and Schmidt, and adds to the lore of what these dreamers can concoct, but it advances the arc of Jess trying to integrate Fancyman into her less-than luxurious world.
The B-plot gave Winston his due air time after his Theodore K. Mullins revival last week. His former basketball coach sets him up with a job interview as an assistant to radio shock jock Joe Napoli (played by real radio personality Phil Hendrie). Of course, this means leaving Elvin behind, abandoning his nanny post. Elvin is actually relieved that he doesn’t have to hold him back and offers help on his resume: “It’s 2012, Winston. Typing is not a special skill.” He ends up securing the position, but Napoli mercilessly teases him about his subpar basketball career. Coworker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (the real one) even passes him a note saying that he will die there, with a signed autograph at the bottom.
Drunken Russell says his power play should be to dip his balls in Napoli’s daily shakes. Winston decides on the passive approach of quitting. Elvin isn’t having it though, and tattles on Winston to his mom, Gina, that Winston is a pothead. Elvin’s devious smile slayed me. I’d forgotten how much I loved the kid when we met him way back at the Christmas party. In a subtle twist, Winston remembers that he had indeed dip his “beans” in Napoli’s shakes, and scrambles to replace them. However, Napoli already got his mitts on one. Winston knows the risk, but confesses to his gross retaliation. Napoli, somewhat predictably, is impressed by his prank and wants to pull it on Kareem next.
Jess insists on having her first fight with Russell even though peace has been “their thing.” She expresses that despite her unsafe elevators—the cables were too thin, but they signed a waiver and got $100 slashed off their rent—and the whacky men that come with the space, her life is just as important as his. I liked that the conflict wasn’t addressed until the end, and that the rich/poor tension wasn’t overt like in Fancyman Part 1. This time it was an underlying issue. She knew that “True American” wasn’t going to be as sophisticated as a round of golf, but she isn’t a hoity toity person and he either gets all of her (including her south of normal buddies) or none of her. And clearly, silver-haired fox that he is, he wants Jess bad, and we get the reward of watching Schmidt’s jealousy and Nick’s man crush play themselves out for at least another week. I wholeheartedly approve.
I could have included nearly 70% of the lines in L.O.L.Ls this week, but that would be obnoxious. But the quality and efficiency of the jokes deployed was astounding. Whether it was a joke acknowledging Schmece’s ongoing sex parade (I envy him so much) and Jess’ lack of acceptance, or a genius recall of their plumbing troubles—a slapstick treasure where Nick wildly jerks the wooden end of plunger inside the disposal, his fellow men anchoring him like a bobsled team behind him—”New Girl” pulled out some of their best weapons from a exceptional arsenal. For proving its mettle as “True Americans,” displaying great command of its characters and world, and for not overemphasizing a trite conflict so that no joke, reference or continuity would be sacrificed, “New Girl” earns its stripes, and 5 stars.
L.O.L.Ls: Laugh Out Loud Lines
– Schmidt: “How was your sex-cation with Russell?” Jess: I did have a lot of sex, thank you!”
– “Yeah, you may have birthed the idea, but I midwifed it. I midwifed the crap out of it. It was a messy birth.”
– Nick, greeting Russell at the door: “Hey, I can show you around, I can show you our world. ‘Cause way up here, it’s crystal clear.” Jess (whispers): “Nick, you’re doing Aladdin again!” Nick (whispers back): “Again?”
– Jess: “Stop copying Russell.” Nick: “I’m not copying him, I love him.”
– “Jess, this room is not for comforting. This is Darwin’s jungle, where open-minded people do weird things to each other.”
– “I’m not gonna get Winklevosse’d because of your sloppiness!”
– Schmidt: “The name is the game, friend-o…That’s why they call it basketball, not peach basket catch-it-up!” Nick: “You just came up with that?!”
– “These are hangover eggs. They either keep you from throwing up, or make you throw up real fast. High risk, high reward.”
– “And if you wanna get with me, you have to get with my friends. And that is a Spice girl song.”