Watching New Girl you quickly get the sense of a very good sitcom coming together and forging a personality. That was definitely the feeling I had while watching the delightful New Girl episode “Bells” in which this terrific ensemble gelled like never before in the series short history.
Jess (Zooey Deschanel) has come home to the apartment she shares with Nick (Jake M. Johnson), Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Winston (Lamorne Morris) with a little surprise; The Ensembells. The Ensembells are a group of four troubled youths who Jess has formed into a handbell group in order to keep them out of trouble and detention.
Jess’s roommates are surprisingly cool about their guests and, especially about their instruments. It’s Winston however, who really takes to the ‘Ensembells’ picking up the instrument and showing off a talent that even he didn’t know that he had.
Meanwhile, Nick and Schmidt have been bickering over money; specifically the way Schmidt uses his to show off. When one of Jess’s kids overflows the toilet Schmidt wants to call a plumber while Nick wants to fix it himself; Nick’s previous McGyver like solution to the toilet problem involving pop bottles and turning on the sink before you flush has finally proven inefficient.
Nick sees Schmidt’s offer to pay for a plumber as more of Schmidt throwing his money around and thus refuses. When Schmidt hires a plumber over Nick’s objection it begins a war that escalates to absurd degrees that include Schmidt dumping all of Nick’s food out of the freezer that he bought and Nick stacking that freezer along with the couches that Schmidt purchased in Schmidt’s bedroom.
Meanwhile, back in Jess and Winston’s story, we find that Winston has taken to the handbells out of boredom and a need for competition. His drive however, causes him to repeatedly insult the kids while teaching them to play “Eye of the Tiger” and eventually forces Jess to kick him out of the group.
I’ve been saying for the past few New Girl episodes that the show needed to bond Winston and Jess and the ‘Ensembells’ finally did that. While they spent most of the time clashing the finale demonstrated enough of an emotional connection between Jess and Winston to give us the first real impression of their friendship.
Throughout “Bells” New Girl demonstrated a quality that all potentially great sitcoms have; a unique rhythm. The characters on New Girl interact and bounce off of each other in ways that are unexpected and very funny. None of the main four characters in this terrific ensembell, ahem, ensemble, is a type from another sitcom. Each character is unique, distinctive, and most importantly, funny.
Max Greenfield’s Schmidt specifally seems like a potential break-out character. Schmidt’s douchebag tendencies never fail to get a laugh, from his cardigans to his odd choice of food to his Madori Sours, everything Schmidt does is comically douchebag and yet Max Greenfield manages to make Schmidt lovable.
Jake M. Johnson is generally the straight man observing the nuttiness around him. But as he showed in “Naked” and here in “Bells” when he gets crazy he gets just as funny as anyone else. I like Nick as the observer of the craziness around him, the force that grounds each story, but when Nick has to get nuts he can be just as as effective and even funnier.
Winston is the least defined character on New Girl thus far but that is likely because Lamorne Morris joined the cast late; he replaced Damon Wayans Jr when Wayans’ sitcom Happy Endings received a late pick up by ABC forcing New Girl to recast after the pilot had already been wrapped.
Morris has been playing catch up for the past few episodes and “Bells” marked the first time Winston spent an extensive amount of time with Jess and the two clicked quite well. Morris cemented my appreciation for him with his daft attempt at bell practice while at work at his temp job. Morris with a paper bell on his head and several paper bells spread over his desk was a terrifically funny bit.
And then, most importantly, there is Zooey Deschanel’s Jess. Jess is the heart of the series but “Bells” showed that Deschanel can share the screen as well as she can carry it. In early episodes Jess’s quirkiness overwhelmed all around her and it seemed as if the guys’ job was to react to her. “Bells” shifted that dynamic and allowed Jess to remain quirky but the other characters didn’t have to simply react to her.
This is also a function of these characters now have grown used to each other. Part of the slight, not at all off-putting, awkwardness of the first episodes of New Girl was that these three guys would so quickly take to Jess and she to them. She was a stranger and these guys took her in and made her part of their lives in oddly quick fashion.
That was a function of needing to get this story and these characters established quickly so that we could get to the jokes but it was nevertheless somewhat awkward and off-key. Now, several episodes in New Girl has found its unique rhythm and if the show continues to develop in the way “Bells” demonstrates we will be talking about New Girl as one of the best shows on TV.