Last season, New Girl had to struggle to get past the awkward pre-season marketing and the baggage of Zooey Deschanel in order to prove itself one of the funniest and most character-driven comedies this side of Community and Parks and Recreation. Yes, you read that right. Despite what naysayers might have you believe, this show is an astute character comedy that rewards investment in a group of characters who are layered, authentic, and wildly hilarious.
At the outset of the first season Jess Day (Deschanel) had just found out that her boyfriend of many years was cheating on her, and moved out of their house and into a loft with three strangers. Throughout the first season the show toned down the quirky “adorkable” nature of Jess and fleshed out her relationship with her roommates. Not only that, but it avoided overtly trying to set her up with any of them (though she does have an obvious chemistry with Nick (Jake Johnson)).
Tonight’s two-episode season premiere brings Jess back into a state of personal chaos through the loss of her job as an elementary school teacher. As plot twists go, this one is fairly rote, and honestly comes out of nowhere. It is a pure invention in the name of dramatic tension. The genius of New Girl, though, is that it works. The average show would have her staging some kind of dramatic comeback, or find a new and more fulfilling job somewhere else. One of the best things about this show, though, is that it treats the economic uncertainty of a generation with a kind of blackly comic honesty.
Nick, for instance, skipped out of law school and became a bartender. He fears any eventual break down of his home or body because he cannot afford a plumber or medical insurance. This inherent darkness is played for laughs, because his own obstinacy and his pride in his position are the only real things holding him back.
So when Jess loses her job, there is a blackness that comes over her. Not only is she now going to be poor, but the measuring stick with which she measured her worth is gone. In a fit of desperation she agrees to be a shot girl serving drinks at roommate Schmidt’s “rebranding” party.
Previously, Schmidt has broken his penis having rebound sex with a crazy Russian super model. As weird as that sounds, the moment where he triumphantly throws down his newly-removed penis cast on a kitchen table and declares himself back in action is weirder. Still, this is classic Schmidt.
This is a vain, egotistical man who believes in himself not so much as a person as a brand to be marketed to the world. Still, beneath his carefully manicured exterior of narcissism is a genuinely good guy. Also, most times he is hopelessly inept and predictable in his attempts to be cool. When he says his rebranding party will have a theme, everyone immediately and correctly guesses “danger.”
The party is a crucible in which two damage characters hope to forge themselves anew. Schmidt even invites his ex-girlfriend, Cece, as a means of bringing himself back to the table. Jess, meanwhile, morphs herself into the perfect shot girl, losing her quirky, off-kilter personality to become a riotous center of drink-dispensing attention.
Their respective victories are short lived though and lead to moments of self-actualization. Jess realizes that she can’t become something other than she is in order to feel whole. She goes to say goodbye to her old school, but puts behind her the notion of total reinvention in a professional sense. This realization is of course aided by Nick, who is comfortable and happy in his life, even if it is something that is technically beneath him. Jess, however, realizes that doing a bad thing well is worse than failing at something she loves.
Schmidt, meanwhile, finds his whole sense of self value destroyed when he realizes that Cece has a new boyfriend who is… just kind of average. After all the trouble he went to in order to “rebrand” himself, she is going out with someone who just a great guy. It’s Schmidt’s self-centered attempts to project an image that is not himself that keeps him from getting Cece back, but he’s still too busy looking in the mirror to notice.
Nick and Winston have a B-plot about making a certain kind of drink that gets parties especially jumping, and how Winston (Lamorne Davis) can’t handle them, and while the comedy beats are pretty stellar there isn’t as much interplay between the two plots as there could be.
Winston suffers a similar fate in the second episode, but Schmidt is the one lost in this morass. Winston’s mother has come to visit, she hates Schmidt, Schmidt is smitten with Winston’s sister… predictable misunderstandings and awkward situations ensue. Lamorne Davis as Winston is an inspired comedic performer, but he’s almost always wasted in this show. His plots are rarely elemental to the story, but he still shines in every scene he is in. Hopefully we see more of him in his job as assistant to a maniac sports DJ sooner or later.
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