New Girl Review: “Nerd” (Season 3 Episode 2)

Jess is struggling in her new job. She confides to Nick that even though she has been teaching at this new school for a week, she has yet to make any new friends, perfectly setting up this week’s New Girl as a “Jess trying to impress someone” episode. This is comedy gold and has led to some of the show’s most memorable moments – getting drunk in the log cabin, finding a dead body in the park – and is now deployed again, to ease us into Jess’ new circumstances.

It turns out that teaching in high school is exactly the same as going to high school; same drama, same cliques, same nerds. The “cool” group, quickly identified as such by Nick, regularly make fun of the “nerds” (the headteacher Dr. Foster, played to awkward perfection by Curtis Armstrong, being one himself) and Jess finds herself on the receiving end of their barbs. She turns to Nick for advice (never a good move) and he concocts a plan to get them on her side – come to his bar, because there’s free drinks for teachers! What can go wrong? It’s such a delightfully Nick plan, and it works really well. Too well. Jess ends up completely wasted, doing a dance in the toilet bowl while performing a moving rendition of “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes.

This is another area in which New Girl excels – presenting most of the cast with superior versions of themselves, or at least aspirational figures. None of the cast are the leaders of their peer group, or respected in any way – Jess is playing catch-up with the other members of her social circle; Nick is a borderline alcoholic loser; Schmidt is desperate to be loved but too scared to really let himself go, or break it off with either of his partners. To potentially complicate his involvement in Schmidt’s ongoing love triangle saga, he discovers that he himself is being cheated on. This, of course, leads him to consider potentially committing cat murder, in delightfully old-fashioned ways. The threeway argument between Nick, Jess, and Winston, with Nick trying to put out two respective fires, is a further sign of the new Nick we’re seeing. Paradise Nick has become Maturity Nick, Grown-Up Nick, Don’t Break Into Your Boss’ Jacuzzi Nick.

The teachers Jess is trying so hard to please are Molly, Rose and Dan (Dreama Walker, Angela Kinsey and Mark Proksch), and though their roles are small, the fact that they are never seen apart makes their lack of background, or character evolution, secondary – they aren’t teachers, they are an archetype. They represent everything Jess has ever wanted to be. Cool. Collected. Sorted. Successful. Something of an anomaly in the world of New Girl, but the show is evolving before our very eyes, in terms of humour and maturity. The writing is much tighter than it used to be – sure, there’s a few throwaway gags that run through the episode – Nick and Schmidt being so involved in each other that they miss their stop in the elevator; the same happening when Winston arrives; cats love Schmidt’s nipples – a story that goes untold; Rose’s killer grip when vaulting people over fences – except they now feel less improvised than they previously might have.

As a personal sidenote: the sight gag involving Schmidt and the cats was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in any TV show ever. The image is so perfect, with so many unanswered questions, and all the better for it. A classic New Girl moment.