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New Girl Recap: Model Behavior

NEW GIRL:  Cece (Hannah Simone, L) gives Jess (Zooey Deschanel, R) advice in the "Cece Crashes" episode of NEW GIRL airing Tuesday, Nov. 8 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX.  ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co.  Cr:  Patrick McElhenney/FOX

Five episodes in, New Girl feels strong. Last week’s show, with its dirty jokes and physical comedy, seemed primed to convert even the most twee-averse skeptic. Too bad not as many people watched it: Viewership was down by 19 percent. Fox blamed the drop on the show’s month-long hiatus, and the show still did better than Glee or Raising Hope. But New Girl is still going to have to work to convince people that it’s clever as well as cute, and devoting an entire plot to Jess’s hot friend Cece might not be the best way to do that. Last night’s episode was enjoyable, but it’s still a little tough to understand how Cece fits into the equation. Is New Girl a five-person ensemble comedy, or is it a four-person show with an occasional fifth wheel?

We haven’t seen much of Cece recently. Maybe she’s been off modeling, or maybe she’s just been deeply embroiled in her relationship with Gavin, otherwise known as D.J. Diabetic, an ambiguously foreign guy with insulin problems and a face tattoo. This week’s show begins with Cece at a nightclub, having just discovered that Gavin cheated on her. She’s so furious that she rips his deep-V deeper and storms out.

Problem is, Face Tattoo has been staying at Cece’s, so she has nowhere to crash. Jess offers to bring her home, where the boys are celebrating Friday night: Schmidt by wearing a kimono, Winston by mocking Schmidt’s kimono, and Nick by complaining that he’s tired from work and just wants everyone to leave him alone.

At this point, it feels like the show’s principal characters have settled into their quirks. Of course Schmidt owns a kimono, of course he calls it a “’mono,” and of course he’s not wearing underwear. And of course Winston gets weird when he’s provoked, ripping off his pants and covering himself in napkins to demonstrate the anarchy that results if everyone’s allowed to wear whatever they want.

Cece, on the other hand, still feels like a blank slate. As soon as she arrives, Schmidt and Winston both lose their cool, or whatever approximation of cool they ever had. Drunk, Cece has no boundaries, and soon she’s dancing with Schmidt and Winston, whose voice has dropped three octaves. Eventually, Schmidt runs around her in circles until he has fully sheepdogged her into his bedroom. Not to make out, though. Deep down, Schmidt is less sketchy than he thinks he is. He just believes having Cece in his bed means he’s got a shot with her, even if he’s sleeping on the couch. And he’s so excited about it that he runs around the apartment jumping off the walls and yelling “Parkour!”

Note, by the way, that Schmidt tried to get Jess to join the dance party, even though she’s just his nerdy friend and not the model he’s trying to sleep with. That’s another sign that — as Jess puts it later — Schmidt is actually a good guy, at least when you ignore all the things he does on purpose and concentrate on the things he does by accident.

The things he does on purpose, though, are just so ridiculous. After glimpsing Cece’s cleavage in the communal bathroom, Schmidt announces, “I just want to get my arm stuck down there, 127-Hours–style.” And when he finds out Cece’s parents are from India, he rattles off a list of things he likes about the country that includes cobras in baskets, anyone named Patel, and chutney, both mango and otherwise.

Cece might be a perfect foil for Schmidt’s bad behavior, but that’s sort of a limiting role. We get to see a little bit more of her personality when she tries to have a heart-to-heart with Jess about Nick. Cece finds significance in the way Nick always stands with his feet pointing at Jess, which supposedly indicates romantic interest. Jess isn’t buying it, so Cece prompts her to remember her ideal man. Says Jess: “Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men. And I could be girl Jack Lemmon!”

Now, a lot of D.J.-dating, professionally gorgeous people might recoil from having a BFF who wants to date Walter Matthau, but not Cece. She and Jess might not have much in common, but when she says Nick is a total Matthau, it’s clear that she knows how to speak Jess’s language.

Finally, Jess agrees to go on a trip to the drugstore with Nick. Now that Cece’s mentioned the romantic tension, though, Jess can’t take it. She feels compelled to tell Nick that she doesn’t use toilet paper, and she can’t stop obsessing about which way his feet are pointing. In the car on the way home, she freaks out and bolts.

Back at the apartment, Nick is furious with Jess for running away, and Jess is furious at Cece for damaging her platonic relationship with the guys.  She’s so mad that she physically attacks Cece, who yells, “My face is my job! My face is my job!” Reasons this is delightful: First, it couldn’t happen on any other show on television, unless perhaps that show was produced by Tyra Banks. And second, it reduces Cece to Jess’s level of dorkiness, reminding us once again of what might be the central moral of New Girl: Deep down, everyone’s as awkward as Jess, even if most people are better at hiding it.

Once they’ve stopped fighting, Jess explains that she doesn’t want Cece to pressure her: “I like moving slow. I like being weird and taking my time. I’m not like you! I don’t just jump in the potato sack with the first potato that I meet with diabetes!” Happily, Cece thinks this is funny, and their friendship is restored. Later, Jess apologizes to Nick with a mouthful of toothpaste, and the adorkable sexual tension between them is restored as well.

Which just leaves one loose plot end to tie up: Schmidt, who’s been cornered on the roof by his feline nemesis, the cat who was raised by birds. That night, after Jess has rescued him, Schmidt creeps into his bedroom and tells Cece that he misses sleeping in his own bed. She allows him to join her, apologizes for being a jerk to him, and even holds his hand. Of course, if he tells anyone, she’s got two people in her phone who will kill him. Literally.

Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FOX