Justin Long isn’t New Girl’s first guest star, but he’s its biggest. Say what you will about the underrated comic genius of Natasha Lyonne or Lake Bell, but neither of them ever co-starred in a Die Hard movie. Or dated Drew Barrymore. Actually, playing a guy who’s romantically entangled with Jess Day might not be that much of a stretch for a guy who’s been romantically entangled with Drew, who once called him “the cat’s pajamas” in a magazine interview. She probably finds kazoos hilarious, too
Long’s New Girl character is named Paul Gunslinger, but he’s no Clint Eastwood type. For one thing, his macho last name is pronounced “gehns-linger.” Also, he thinks the Detroit Lions are from Des Moines, he liked Air Bud 2, and the first time we see him, he’s dressed like a man-size gourd. He’s such a he-Jess that when he walks into the gang’s apartment, Nick says “Oh my God, there’s two of them.”
Paul’s at the apartment because Jess invited him on a first date to eat Thanksgiving dinner with her three male roommates. This is a bad idea partly because, as Schmidt points out, Thanksgiving is thoroughly unromantic — unlike the Fourth of July, Independence Day, Women’s History Month, and Christmas, which are our nation’s four sexiest holidays. It’s also a bad idea because the boys want to spend the day watching football, drinking beer, and going to Best Buy in a ritual that Nick won’t allow Schmidt to refer to as Dudesgiving. Thirdly, it’s a bad idea because Paul usually spends Thanksgiving with his grandmother, who just passed away. Says Nick: “That’s a great plan, Jess. Be the girl who replaces his dead nana.”
There’s also a fourth reason it’s a bad idea: Jess can’t cook. She doesn’t even know how to thaw Hank, the “Hanksgiving” turkey she bought for the occasion. Since Schmidt is actually a skilled cook, he agrees to take over making dinner as long as Jess invites Cece and promises not to give him a hard time about his tarragon use. But even he can’t do much about the frozen turkey aside from jamming it in the dryer.
When Paul arrives, the guys eye him skeptically. Justin Long has a history of playing beta males, but they’re usually not quite this beta. One of Paul’s quirks is touching, naked honesty, and he quickly tells Winston that he’s intimidated by the idea of dating a woman with three male roommates. Winston wants to figure out exactly how irritating Paul would be as Jess’s boyfriend, so he suggests a free-association game, to which Paul says “Kazoo,” pretty much answering that question before they can even get started.
His game responses seem reasonable — property should be respected, boundaries are important — but then he makes a sex joke and whips out a real kazoo, which he toots. Interesting footnote: Show creator Liz Meriwether said she had to fight for that moment. “They tell you to pick your battles,” she told reporters recently. The kazoo was hers.
Paul and Winston eventually bond over their grandparents after it turns out that Winston was just as attached to his grandpa as Paul was to his nana. Poor Winston — Nick has never asked him his grandfather’s name. (Winston, for the record, knows the names of both of Nick’s grandpas.)
The dinner party seems to be going swimmingly until the turkey explodes in the dryer. Schmidt rips off his shirt in a heroic rescue, but now the apartment is filled with smoke like a Prince video and his Lasicked eye is freaking out. Also, Nick has concluded that he loathes Paul. It seems like the night is ruined, but then Paul rallies everyone with a speech about how much he wants to eat Schmidt’s food.
Luckily, Jess has keys to Mrs. Beverly’s apartment across the hall, so the gang decides to move dinner over there. First, though, Jess corners Nick in the hallway and chews him out for being mean. Not realizing that the rest of the group can hear her, she tells Nick that she wants to have sex with Paul big-time. “I want to take him down to Chinatown and slice him off a piece of this pumpkin pie … I want to do it standing up and sitting down, and half up and half down, and the wiggly one and the bear attack and the claws in the head and the one that figure skaters do and the what’s-for-lunch and the gimme-that-hat.”
Jess is humiliated, but she’s distracted when Cece confesses that she’s had a crush on Schmidt ever since he yelled at her for putting mashed potatoes on his nose. Too bad for Schmidt, who’s trying so hard to be a good guy. Cece tries to provoke him into shouting again by molesting his pudding, but Schmidt is so obsessed with hygiene that he’s nothing but horrified when she sticks her entire unwashed hand in the bowl.
By the time dinner is ready, everyone but Nick has come to appreciate Paul. They request a pre-dinner performance, so Paul leaps offstage with his violin to prepare — and runs into the body of poor elderly Mrs. Beverly, who’s been in the bathroom the whole time. Paul seems like a resilient guy, but the shock of finding a corpse is too much for him and he takes off.
But wait! A few hours later, he catches up with the gang in the Black Friday line outside Best Buy. And he’s got turkey sandwiches, which is really all it takes to win over the roommates. Nick, finally seeing the error of his ways, offers Paul his place in line, but the whole group decides to go to the back together.
In the same interview where she talks about the kazoo, Liz Meriwether says that New Girl is about male-female friendship, rather than romance. So it makes sense that the episode ends with the guys and Cece processing the realization that Paul might be part of their lives for a while. His character exists not just to draw out the tension between Nick and Jess, but also to make the rest of the cast feel more like a cohesive unit. (Cece seems way more integrated than last time, right?) It doesn’t hurt that Justin Long is so good at playing an annoying character in a way that is not itself annoying. He’s really Zooey Dudeschanel after all.