Physical comedy is divided by a fine line between being truly funny and just being dumb. Certain comedians, like Chevy Chase or Dick van Dyke, could tell the difference, and execute pratfalls or other moments of physical humor with class, telling us something about their character as they fell. The challenge of tonight’s episode of New Girl was to create a series of situation that relied on physical payoffs and build ups while still keeping the reins on those character-centered moments.
And, surprise surprise, it all pretty much works out. This is even more of a shock considering that the setup for this episode seemed tenuous at best. Schmidt is tired of carrying Jess, who is unable to pay her bills because of her continued lack of employment. To force her hand, he cuts off the gas to the apartment, robbing everyone of hot water.
This drives Nick into a rage, because he was able to pay for his share of the bills to the penny this month. Of course no one is surprised by Nick’s anger, as he has struggled with anger all his life (cue two blissfully wonderful cutaways – Nick refusing to pull a door because the sign offends his sense of agency; younger Nick berating some lemonade selling youngsters).
Jess is also upset, because she is on her period, and thus is a raging ball of emotional instability, which is a poor excuse to act out, but one which Winston latches on to, claiming to be experiencing a male sympathetic period (winning line, “I got that menstruation inside me”). The scenes of Jess and Winston in comfy PJs with hot water bottles on their abdomens are weird and wonderful, even more-so because a disconcertingly Happy Nick comes to chat with them.
It turns out that while Nick exiled himself from the apartment he met an old Asian man on a park bench who never speaks a word, smiles politely, wears a solid colored hat, and may hold the secret to eternal happiness. This could be a worn old trope, but the truth is that it works because Nick does all the work for this man. There are no platitudes, no moments of Zen reflection – just Nick talking himself in hilarious circles before coming to basic realizations of dubious import (“the enemy is the inner me!”).
Of course Nick’s calm can’t hold up to Jess and Winston’s madness, so before long he is back o nthe bench, begging for more of the serenity that was robbed from him. Cut to one of three scenes of awkward and hilarious physical comedy in this episode. Nick and the old man strip down to their underwear and get into a pool, with the old man cradling Nick like a baby as an old woman plays the flute. This scene does not work on the page, but Jake Johnson’s work here is incredible, as are his various asides (“this is a moment that got away from me…”). Oddly enough, this tact works, and Nick is able to guide Jess through her issues.
Jess, at this point, was reeling from her previous failure during a job interview. He period, leaving her hyper emotional, caused her to break into laughter at the sight of a dog in a teacup, a breakdown which only became worse when she found out the poor pup passed away. “I was sabotaged by my baby box,” Jess says, “so that means I’ll never trust anything that comes out of it.”
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