New Girl Review: “Neighbors” Review (Season 2, Episode 4)

Let’s make no mistake: in the eyes of his friends, Schmidt has never been cool. The man has an overwhelming enthusiasm for all things chic and haute. He orders sushi by the gross, he knows what kind of cheese should and should not go on crackers, he fauns over Calvin Kline pants… in short, the very fact that he pours effort and feeling into these things alienates him from people. However, that also makes him an excellent friend, because in his own small way, he’s always looking out for those around him. He can’t not care, especially about those around him.

When New Girl began, Schmidt was simply a preening, predatory would-be ladies’ man. Over the course of the show, though, we’ve seen how all of his affectations are fed by his deeper need to be accepted and to redefine himself from the overweight, awkward loser he feels he used to be. While every character has gained depth and dimension, Schmidt is the one who most embodies an infant show correcting and growing what seemed a problematic character into a series standout.

This latest episode, however, threatened to push the character over the edge. After meeting their new neighbors – a group of apathetic, hilariously caricatured 23-year-old hipsters – Schmidt suffers a sever early-life crisis. Even though his actuarial chart says he will live well into his 120s, Schmidt can’t help but feel that he needs to prove his youthful vitality to these kids. So he and Jess go over to their neighbors’ loft and do their best to blend.

Schmidt, of course, is hilariously out of his depth; which is to say the waters he has entered are too shallow. Schmidt knows things, is enthusiastic about life and the goals he has and should accomplish. These kids are stuck thinking about their Night Bikes and art and moving to Prague.

So why does Jess excel? Well, between shifts as the Casserole Shanty – the oddly plausible restaurant at which she now works – she’s been “working on things.” Things, in this case, being impressions of late-80s early-90s sitcom stars. Her delightfully off-base “Did I do that?” appeals to the carefree attitude of a group of hipsters who have no idea who Steve Urkle is. Her status as between solid employment also helps her identify with a group of young people “still figuring it out.” Whereas Schmidt is trying to impress them as a man, Jess impresses them by regressing to the level of a directionless post-grad, only with more skills (like working a dishwasher).

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