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New Girl Recap: Let Them Eat Cars

NEW GIRL:  Russell (guest star Dermot Mulroney, R), the wealthy father of one of Jess' (Zooey Deschanel, L) students, helps her when her car breaks down in the "Fancyman (Pt. 1)" episode of NEW GIRL airing Tuesday,  March 20 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX.  ©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co.  Cr:  Ray Mickshaw/FOX

Unlike some of this year’s new sitcoms, New Girl rarely seems to be making a blunt statement about recession-era anxiety. It’s not 2 Broke Girls, or whatever the equivalent would be. (2 Broke Guys, a Girl with a Low-Paying Teaching Job, and a Dude Who Loves Wearing Expensive Pants?) Plenty of episodes have involved discussions of money, but they don’t usually include a character chanting, “We are the 99 percent!” Last night, though, class issues became a major theme when Dermot Mulroney appeared as Russell Schiller, a wealthy businessman whose daughter is in Jess’s class.

By the end of the episode, Russell and Jess had planned a date. But most of the story had nothing to do with the (honestly, kind of marginal) chemistry between the two. Instead, Russell and his wealth served as kind of a Rorschach test. Jess sees Russell as the exact opposite of everyone she’s ever dated — the kind of guy who owns sheets, so he doesn’t have to sleep on a pile of washcloths. Whereas Nick first sees Russell as a one-percenter enemy, then falls in love with his lifestyle and decides he’s actually the embodiment of all that is masculine and good-smelling in the world.

Last night’s show begins with Nick learning he has the credit score “of a homeless ghost,” as Winston puts it. His score is so low that he can’t buy a cell phone, so he decides to embrace being No Phone Guy as his new shtick. Soon we see him writing a letter to his friend Kev to see if he wants to party on Friday.

Jess, meanwhile, has just had an awkward run-in with Russell at school. He appeared after her sexual health class, catching her wearing a bowler hat and a sign around her neck that says “Mr. Monogamy” and standing under a blackboard with a list titled “Alternatives to Intercourse.” (These include “Get to know a neighbor,” “Change your e-mail password,” and “Watch Friday Night Lights.”) It’s hard to tell whether he thinks any of this is cute, but he’s not there to flirt. He just wants to inform Jess that his daughter, her student, will be trading “Dreamcess” activity time for private tutoring sessions.

Jess is upset on her student’s behalf, but she can’t oppose Russell because he’s one of the school’s biggest donors. Her boss, Tanya, instructs her to go to his office, apologize, and say the kids will never do anything creative again: “From now on, your classroom is full-on North Korea.”

Since Jess is terrible at groveling — “I would have lasted two seconds in the court of the Sun King; I think about that all the time”) — she decides instead to storm into Russell’s office with a bluegrass performance of “Fight the Power.” She’s on her way there, chatting on the phone with Nick and Schmidt about her plans, when her car breaks down. Luckily, Russell happens to see her. He offers her his own car, saying she should just return it at a party he’s having the next night.

Jess claims she’s not charmed by Russell: “Rich people are always giving you their cars. It’s like, ‘Let them eat cars.’” But Cece thinks maybe Russell is charmed by her. She wants Jess to give him a chance, but Jess says she’s only attracted to guys who are afraid of success and think someone famous stole their idea.

At the party, Jess and Nick try to make fun of Russell’s house, but Nick turns out to be powerless against the appeal of expensive yet tasteful rich-guy furnishings. An oversize desk smells to him “like leather, Teddy Roosevelt, and wistfulness.” The house smells “like Shakespeare. If Shakespeare were a damn cowboy.” And Russell himself smells “like strong coffee, and going to see a man about a horse.”

Nick seems to think Russell is the Most Interesting Man in the World, and he doesn’t seem that far off. When he finds Nick sitting in his study and wearing his sweater, he gives him a phone and a bit of advice. He was broke at Nick’s age, he says, but then he decided to grow up.

We also learn that Russell once delivered twins, and that his bathroom has a Japanese bidet. Of course, Jess immediately presses the wrong buttons and gets sprayed. Russell runs in to rescue her — “Jess, you put it up to six happy faces. I have never gone past three.” — and Jess takes this moment to deliver her non-apology. Russell assures her that he would never pull his donation to the school, but Jess still wants to leave because she thinks she doesn’t fit in. She explains to Russell that she’s not used to people who have their lives together, but Russell assures her that he’s not perfect; he doesn’t know how to talk to his own kid. Jess offers some parenting advice, and he asks her out to dinner. She makes a graceful exit by falling into his koi pond.

Winston and Schmidt, meanwhile, have a pretty skimpy (if amusing) B-plot in which Winston is pissed at Schmidt for showing off at trivia night and making him look dumb in front of Shelby, his ladyfriend. To be fair to Schmidt, he is really terrific at bar trivia. To be fair to Winston, he’s also really annoying about it — not only does he brag about his knowledge of Greek mythology, but he calls Medusa “Me-deuce-DEUCE.”

So Winston recruits Alvin, the little boy whom he tutors, to help him memorize bar trivia so that Shelby will think he’s smart. Alvin has a better idea: “What about fake glasses? It worked for me.” But Winston’s competitive spirit gets the better of him, and he winds up shouting out nonsensical answers at trivia night. (Turns out Crispin Glover was not, in fact, the first man to die in the Revolutionary War.)

When Shelby finds out what’s going on, she reassures Winston that she doesn’t care about whether he’s memorized a bunch of random facts — she just wants to be with him. It’s sweet, even if Schmidt is watching this exchange from his car and offering commentary. Winston and Shelby decide they’re officially boyfriend-girlfriend and start to kiss, prompting Schmidt to yell, “Winston, I hope you’re better in bed, because your street work is embarrassing.” It never fails: Even in an episode with limited Max Greenfield exposure, this show still feels like it’s called New Schmidt.

Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX