Sep 24, 2013

New Girl: “Nerd”

By Josh Oakley


Nick has spent the last two seasons being a sad sack, the specific kind of screw-up that writes wretched zombie novels and talks to mute old men in the park. Though he has a stable job, his emotional life always lacked calibration. Jake Johnson thrived in this role, playing every pit of misery as sublimely pathetic as possible. He showed moments of strength, but continued to backslide for one reason or another. That is, until he and Jess made things official. Now Nick is the one running from roommate to roommate, attempting to stop mayhem from erupting. And I’m not sure how well this role fits him.

The issues that Nick has to resolve involve Jess and Winston, as Schmidt spends much of the episode on his own. Jess has begun teaching at a new school, and wants to fit in with the “popular” teachers, a clique consisting of Dreama Walker (from the underrated Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23), Angela Kinsey & Mark Proksch (both most well-known from The Office). Nick suggests getting drunk in order to gain their approval, and the bid works. Unfortunately, Jess spirals into a life of behaving badly in order to maintain a relationship with the teachers. This culminates in an effort to break into the principal’s jacuzzi (or, jacooz). Nick follows Jess to the principal’s house, and gives her a speech that says a number of cute, little things that never really gels into an overall message. Combined with his “I would have noticed you” at the episode’s end, it becomes unclear just what “Nerd” was meant to establish about their relationship. Is it that he has become the sane, stable one? Or that she doesn’t need to be popular because she has him? Perhaps that no matter how crazy either of them get, the other will tag along? Maybe it’s a bit of all three, but whatever the intent, it all kind of waffles towards the end.

Winston’s story, on the other hand, begins haphazardly before actually working on the character’s emotional state, for the first time in what feels like ages. Winston is cat-sitting for Daisy (Brenda Song), who was introduced to great fanfare in “Cooler” before being mostly forgotten in the second half of season two. Here, the line is severed for good, both because Daisy was cheating on Winston, and because Song has to go be on Dads. Dads strikes again.

Once Winston realizes that Daisy has cheated, he decides to kill her cat, a thread that is never as humorous as last week’s puzzle exploits. Though “Nerd” works more towards the character of Winston, which is terrific news, it fails to fully balance that with the great jokes it gave him in “All In” (though tonight’s “You smoke? I’m just kidding, but man that’d be cute if you did” was fantastic).

Schmidt remains stuck in the hoary trope of “dating two women at the same time without letting one know about the other”, but at least this week’s outing toys a bit with the general outline. Both Elizabeth and Cece wind up at Schmidt’s work party, and he spends the night attempting to keep the two apart, and creating covers when they run into one another. Max Greenfield continues to excel this season, but the plot doesn’t coalesce until its conclusion. When Cece and Elizabeth speak to each other, all hell should break loose. But, both fate and Schmidt’s planning makes it so both women behave ridiculously towards one another. It’s a fine little moment, but it unfortunately promises more of the story to come. The horror in Schmidt’s eyes, when he realizes how much both Elizabeth and Cece care about him, does seem to be leading the character to an emotionally fulfilling place. Let’s just hope we get there, and out of this sitcom cliché, soon.

At the center of all the business tonight is Nick. Despite the bad advice he gives Jess (“drinking to be cool” is the only thing Nick knows to be true), he is largely rational here, helping Jess greatly, and potentially stopping a feline murder. The season is still in its early stages, and “Nerd” largely continues setting up, with Jess’ new job, the loft’s new cat, Winston’s lost relationship, and Schmidt coming to terms with his bad deeds. The main problems that plague this episode will hopefully fall away quickly, but after two weak episodes in a row, I’m beginning to grow a bit concerned. Some of this has to do with a more mature Nick, but the larger fear stems from two installments that lack the fervor and great heights of the show’s second season. There are still glimmers of that magic throughout, but the moments never cohere into an emotionally fulfilling whole.

Grade: B-

Miscellaneous:
  • Kinsey, Walker and Proksch were largely wasted. If they do return, I hope the show does more with them as individuals, opposed to the whole they encompass tonight.
  • Schmidt’s new workspace is “a perfect 2/3rds replica of Don Draper’s office.”
  • The best bit of the night was everyone forgetting to hit a button in the elevator, which was funny the first time and then crescendoed beautifully. The worst bit was Schmidt lactating for cats, which was weird the first time, and grew more unpleasant as it went on.
  • “What are you, a 14-year-old hockey player?”
  • “Sometimes firemen are women!”

1 comment:

  1. I loved that slow-mo flashback of Jess trying to befriend the “mean” teachers that was so great, and it was hilarious that they used "Bouncin' Back" by Mystikal in the background, too

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