jason stives serves up a triple serving of reviews…
Okay New Girl fans, we’re back on the reviewing band wagon after several weeks of hurricane/holiday-induced stagnancy. Instead of giving you guys and gals three separate articles on the last three installments I’m going to give brief round ups of all of them and what worked and didn’t work. In hindsight, missing almost a month of reviews probably was for the best because it gave me time to think over what the show worked with for three consecutive and there was a lot going on despite varying degrees of quality. New Girl’s strongest point has always been its character development and in these three episodes we got a lot of that as well as a lot of panhandling when it comes to themes and plot ideas. So let’s get to it shall we!
The aptly titled Halloween episode finally curved some dangling storylines and brought many of our characters around to some strong discoveries of who they are as individuals. Jess in particular finally put herself on the road to recovery by unconventionally pulling a Jess move and being who she has always been. Her visiting Sam at his job as a pediatrician put non sexual feelings back into Jess’ fairytale mind and all but convinced her that maybe her time with Sam could be more than just friends with benefits. When she plans to profess her love to Sam it’s evident that this is not what Sam wants and to his credit, while we are suppose to dislike him for seeing other women, he has always been firm about what kind of relationship he wants. While it did provide the closure of Jess and her sudden sexual lust it felt a bit off and expected. Jess is a character that at times you can anticipate her thoughts before the writers even put it into action. From the moment she tried just sleeping with men you knew it couldn’t last because it’s just not her. So for that this was wrapped up nicely but left no real emotional impact in your feelings towards her other than knowing that Zooey D is more than capable of showing raw emotions when they aren’t over the top.
What did work in this episode were the two smaller plot points involving Schmidt and Winston. Winston in particular finally gets TV time that doesn’t coordinate with someone else’s storyline as we see his relationship with Shelby finally crumble. Her “reigning cats and dogs” costume was the icing on the cake in an otherwise random and confusing relationship but it was the internal conflict of it not making sense that kept the storyline afloat for awhile. Winston’s plots normally involve secondhand issues like how he is terrible at practical jokes or as we saw in the subsequent story “Menzies” using Jess’ menstruation as a way of covering up his feelings so seeing some decent character development for him was well deserved. Schmidt and his pursuit of CeCe and Robbie initially felt a bit forced but between Max Greenberg’s ability to carry a sense of out of character sincerity it didn’t come off like the typical ex boyfriend trying to ruin everything plot. This story did afford one of the episode’s best lines with Schmidt proclaiming that Robbie was dressed as Mark David Chapman as a Ninja Turtle (a fact made funnier by how shockingly similar Robbie looks to John Lennon’s killer). I wish I could get a grasp of where the show is going with Schmidt and tonight felt like a road to recovery for him despite it looping him back into an arc with CeCe again.
Side note, the main four should be commended for doing spot on impersonations of a zombie Woody Allen, and yes, that even includes Lamorne Morris. Marx Brothers!
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Good not Great)
This may be a bit of stretch considering how early in the show’s run we are but “Menzies” might be one of the best comedic foil episodes that New Girl has done. Based on performances alone it provided both Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson some high energy performances and Johnson in particular shined as he finally gave a definition to his character. In “Halloween” Nick once again set himself to show why he is incapable of maintaining a relationship as he tried to woo back one of his ex girlfriends from college, Amelia. His inability to talk about his feelings and enforce his sometimes extreme foibles drives a riff between any relationships he tries to maintain as if they become his own emotional punching bag as Amelia exclaims that she isn’t an object she is a person.
Nick consistently always lets his feelings boil over at the wrong time and in “Menzies” he chose to vacate them to an elderly Asian man on a park bench than to his roommates. The fact that the old man stays silent the whole episode allowed Nick to explore his motives out loud for the audience to hear and while he states much the obvious it’s great to hear it come straight from the horse’s grumpy mouth. Jake Johnson really delivers a season best performance and throws in some great one liners as well (“I like your hat, it doesn’t have a brand or a sports logo on it. It’s just blue!”). Nick has really benefited from the amount of time he has been given on screen this season and many of the stories centered on his inability to move on with his life pay off well with this one being no different. Next to Jess’ car modeling stint this episode also showcased another great physical comedy moment with the old man cradling Nick in the pool at the spa. Johnson’s look of fear and awkwardness was just priceless and while the gag was used twice more during the episode’s run it didn’t get less funny each time.
Besides the aforementioned Winston ‘Man period’ plot point we also got some unexpected traction back into the saga of Schmidt and CeCe as CeCe finds herself being taken aback by Robbie’s belief that she is a nice girl when she thinks she is not. It’s always tough working with plots involving CeCe because CeCe tends to be a go to character for civility and rationality despite her own problems. Instinct points to CeCe’s profession as a model that makes the set up of her being a shallow and oblivious person when it comes to relationships come to life but with her that’s not the case and that’s why her feeling the need to prove she is a ‘bad girl’ feels a bit off putting. Sure, CeCe IS a model so on one end she has an image and reputation to keep up but when you consider those she has dated she clearly doesn’t hold the model stigma of dating meat heads to heart. A bad girl CeCe does make sense but when you consider her relationship with Robbie it feels a bit silly and forced and her interaction with Schmidt feels unwarranted at best despite it being Schmidt’s way of asserting that HE is the monster and not her.
Once again Schmidt’s involvement this week is prominent although very minimal at best as he is given the more comedic end of the stick in his sexual conquest of an important executive at his job played by the always lovely Carla Gugino. The sex contract was pretty spot on hilarious even down to its content (possible Mercury poisoning?) and while it continues to the flow of recent Schmidt storylines of being more Schmidt being Schmidt than him developing it felt very suitable and was very funny at best.
Tucked away in all of this is Jess finally getting back into the work force after being pressured into it by Schmidt who shuts off the water until she can produce her portion of the rent. The key here is Jess and the fact that she is menstruating and while it’s a focal point they go beyond just making her an angry woman during her time of the month and give her some great comedic moments. If you ever needed a reason to nominate Zooey Deschanel again for an Emmy down the line her crying scene while looking at a little dog in a teacup was absolutely hysterical. With her reentering the employment life Jess has wrapped up her story of woe that started in the season premier e which means we can move away from the less unstable Jess and back into the quirky, bubbly Jess we know and love.
Again, through and through this was probably the best episode of this season thus far and one of the best overall thanks in part to some great performances and consistent storylines.
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Excellent)
“Menzies” had the unfortunate situation of being bookended by two holiday themed episodes both in varying degrees of quality and of the two “Parents” felt like the one that worked the best despite not accomplishing much. Rule of thumb with most holiday themed episodes of a sitcom: when family and friends get together anything that can go wrong goes wrong, and “Parents” and its Thanksgiving theme surely looked liked it would go down this path for about half the story. Centering around, surprisingly enough, the gang having a Thanksgiving dinner the main focus is on Jess and her visiting parents, who are divorced and understandably don’t get along (sarcasm afoot in those last few words). Instead of worrying about the tension that may build at the dinner table Jess uses this opportunity to try and get her folks back together ala “Parent Trap” style as it’s referred.
The most obvious reason this story worked so well was its guest stars with Rob Reiner and Jamie Lee Curtis as Jess’ parents being the perfect match for dysfunction and quirkiness. Curtis in particular shines brightly and her playful sexual banter with Nick basting the turkey was so well done and cut very well within the episode. The thing about this episode that comes off a bit grating but was really the only logical direction is how frank the intentions of the story is down to everyone basically declaring the obvious answers to the story. Jess’ parents are broken up and the plan to remain that way despite a fling in the bathroom (which also showcases Zooey D’s most uncomfortable look of success ever) but of course it’s not about if her parents are divorced.
The obvious message here is family is always around whether its roommates in an apartment or divorced parents and while that is always a nice message it was a very blunt plot device that felt a bit too cheesy but then again consider the show at hand. Regardless that plot worked very well as did the one involving Schmidt and his visiting cousin (played with big galoot gusto by Rob Riggle). The competition between Schmidt and Big Schmidt as well did have an obvious theme of old school machismo (or Pre-Clinton masculinity) isn’t as important as it once was over a cultured and sensitive form of masculinity. The result comes down to Big Schmidt kissing Winston which somehow proves his superiority but his subsequent declaration of missing his ex-girlfriend proves Schmidt’s way to be right all along.
While it may sound like nitpicking of the traditional tropes of this episode it works well within its own context and if anything that is something New Girl tends to get right is the ability to rehash traditional themes with its own twists and values. These two storylines worked really well side by side and there was still time to throw in the offhand shtick like the stuff between Nick and Jess’ dad where we learn they are too much alike which is no surprise giving Nick’s pension for being an old man. Overall, a step up from the Halloween episode but also a bit of back peddling on the originality of its premise compared to “Menzies.”
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Pretty Good)
All in all New Girl has been able to avoid a lot of the trappings and stagnation that it did this time a year ago. If you include the second half of the first season earlier this year 2012 has been a solid year for this show and despite the occasional run of the mill premise it has stayed consistent and here is hope that this continues into the rest of its second season.
All Photos Credit: FOX