“Have you guys seen Fame? It’s about a group of dreamers with talent to spare taking New York City by storm.”
It is statements like the above quote, delivered by Zooey Deschanel, which makes Fox’s New Girl so endearing. Jess has a way of seeing the world that is just slightly off of what everyone else can see. Jess wears her heart on the sleeve of her oh so cute pjs and somehow her adorable naiveté never feels cloying.
“Naked” finds Jess in a situation that only someone of her unique bearing could manage to make any more awkward. After walking in on Nick (Jake M. Johnson) while he was dancing naked in his bedroom, Jess does the opposite of what most would do, she pursues a discussion of the matter rather than try to pretend it never happened.
Jess’s course of action is, not surprisingly, met with resistance by Nick whose vision of the world is more like the rest of us; denial in this situation would be ideal. But Jess is different and so, in pursuing a discussion with Nick about the nakedness, the situation spirals to even more awkward and very funny places.
The best sitcoms have characters like Jess whose slightly askew view of the world creates situations from which comedy is born. I imagine writing for Jess must be fun because her cockeyed worldview opens up possibilities that don’t require the typical sitcom approach of set up and punch line.
Tropes of sitcom past can be filtered anew through a character like Jess and come out fresh and fun. Certainly other sitcoms have mined accidental nudity in the past; Friends for one got a couple good episodes out Rachel being caught naked, but the idea has a different feel when it’s filtered through a really unique character like Jess.
Let’s not underestimate the importance of Jake M. Johnson’s Nick as Jess’s straight man in this bit. Johnson goes toe to toe with Jess and is an audience surrogate for the strange experience of Jess’s complete inability to simply pretend nothing happened, as most would certainly attempt.
Nick’s naked moment with Jess leads directly to a terrible date with Amanda (Lake Bell) thus compounding an already odd start to that relationship. Amanda speaks in such an irony soaked, non-committal fashion that Nick can hardly tell if she’s agreed to go out with him or not.
After being humiliated by Jess, Nick can’t bring himself to get naked when Amanda finally does something declarative and takes her clothes off. The awkward sight of Nick and a once again fully clothed Amanda snuggling was a terrifically funny and unexpected comic result.
Elsewhere, Winston (Lamorne Morris) is trying to re-enter the job market but having been on the other side of the planet for the past two years playing basketball, he’s lost the inability to chit chat about inane pop culture; a staple of many job interviews. So, Winston sets about learning what he’s missed in the last two years.
Winston’s arc had so much promise I just wish it had a better payoff. The show just didn’t seem to know where to go with this joke and it sort of petered out. As happened in the wedding episode, the last before the World Series break, Winston and Schmidt (Max Greenfield) find themselves folded into Nick and Jess’s story late.
After finding out that both Jess and Winston have now seen Nick naked, Winston because they were in the same locker room as kids, Schmidt becomes determined to see Nick naked. It was a strange idea but it fits what we have quickly come to know about Schmidt, he’s competitive, especially about his friendship with Nick.
The episode ended with a terrific series of scenes with Jess coming to the odd but wonderful notion to let Nick see her naked to make them even. That Nick comes home with Amanda and Jess tries to hide and then sneak out of the room is an edgy version of a classic plot from an I Love Lucy episode. Once again, Jess’s slightly off the mark view of the world gives expected twist just a little something different and fresh.
- Winston needs a little more fleshing out as a character. It’s early, it will come. More importantly, he needs an arc where he spends time with Jess to further their friendship.
- Max Greenfield and the New Girl writers have done a great job weaving Schmidt’s insecurities into his storyline. I have no doubt that this will pay off down the road.
- Is there any chance of bringing Lake Bell back? Even if it’s just for a few more of those strange, non-committal statements where her inflection fails to match her intentions? Just like on Children’s Hospital, I cannot get enough Lake Bell.