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New Girl Recap: You’re the Turtle

NEW GIRL:  Nick (Jake Johnson, L) and Schmidt (Max Greenfield, R) discuss their friendship in the "Models" episode of NEW GIRL airing Tuesday, Oct. 23 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

New Girl has been justly praised for its sweet-and-sour blend of dirty jokes and genuine feeling. But last night might be the first time in the show’s relatively brief history that the emotional content felt better calibrated than the humor. The episode delivered some solid comic moments — if you like pratfalls, you probably loved Zooey Deschanel trying and failing to walk around a rotating dais in heels — but the most memorable parts had to do with the characters’ relationships.

Of course, that’s a bit of a backhanded compliment. “Models” dealt wisely with the unanswerable question that hovers around many a long-term friendship: “If we just met today, would we still be friends?” But the plot dragged a bit, and some of the zaniness felt forced, especially after the speed and genius juxtapositions (casseroles and Prague!) of the previous episode.

Would Cece and Jess be friends if they met today? It’s a question that works on the meta level, since it’s another way of asking whether the closeness between their characters makes sense. The show has done a pretty good job of establishing how and why gawky Jess wound up being best friends with a professional model — they met as kids — but last night was all about the degree to which she doesn’t fit in Cece’s adult world.

At Cece’s birthday party, Jess is defensive around her model friends, and for good reason. The only one who can carry on a conversation appears to be Nadia, whose idea of small talk is making semi-racist jokes about Romanians. Also, in an unfortunate (and Simpsons-esque) turn of events, Jess turns out to resemble the simian mascot from a Russian cracker ad, which means Nadia just wants her to dance and sing “Monkey, monkey, where you keep the crackers?”

New Girl has to be careful about Nadia. In small doses, she’s hilarious, but it would be easy for her to turn into that hoary television cliché, the wacky foreigner. Actually, here’s another meta moment for you: maybe that’s the reason she’s fixated on Wilmer Valderrama, because he’s best known for playing a foreign exchange student. (As you’ll recall, this Valderrama thing has been going on for a while. Last season Nadia listed him as one of her favorite things about America shortly before she broke Schmidt’s penis.)

After way too much monkey dancing at the party, Jess snaps and attacks Cece for making such a non-serious, non-intellectual career choice. Cece responds, seriously and intellectually, by smacking Jess in the boob. Jess, naturally, smacks her back (have we seen an episode this season that hasn’t involved some form of slap fight?) and they leave things on terrible terms.

The next morning, Cece is way too hung-over to work at the product placement sequence, I mean car show, so Jess fills in for her. Good for New Girl’s writers for acknowledging that even at her dorkiest, Zooey Deschanel looks like a model, and also for giving Jess a line about how she mostly works in Japan — just like Chantal from Gallery Girls! Also, speaking of meta jokes, can we talk about Jess’s inability to wear false eyelashes? Zooey Deschanel appeared in an issue of People earlier this year without her usual falsies, and let’s just say the makeup department of New Girl must go through a lot of glue.

Trying to model teaches Jess how to see things from Cece’s perspective, but that’s not really the point. The point comes later, when Jess asks Cece point-blank if they’d be friends if they met as adults. Cece gives a characteristically elegant no-nonsense answer: “I don’t know, but we’re friends now.” Keep that in mind next time your childhood BFF starts ranting about politics and/or baby poop on Facebook.

Schmidt’s fight and reconciliation with Nick, by contrast, is a lot more dramatic. It makes sense that Schmidt, as someone who tries desperately hard at every aspect of his life, wouldn’t understand why Nick doesn’t put in an equal amount of effort. Of course, Nick’s level of effort is pretty anemic —Winston says good night to him every single evening, and he never says good night back. Contrast that with Schmidt, who goes into Nick’s room once a week, cleans it, and then returns everything to the way he found it. (Let’s not even get into the turn-down service.)

It’s telling that the fight starts not because Nick is such a lazy friend, but because Schmidt is such an overly generous one. When Schmidt buys Nick a cookie for no reason, Nick freaks out over this display of affection. I could have lived with maybe one less scene of them hashing it out, but the climactic showdown — in which Nick gives Schmidt a Jewish star made out of a black-and-white cookie, then cries — was amazing.

“You gave me a cookie, I got you a cookie!” Nick howls repeatedly, until it’s barely a collection of words. Jake Johnson’s delivery really made this scene, in exactly the same way that Zooey Deschanel’s body language sold the Ford modeling scene that came just before it. New Girl is usually a highly verbal show, despite the slap fights. It was a bold choice to give us two relatively non-quippy, actor-driven moments back to back, but I think it worked.

Ultimately, Nick and Schmidt make up with a hug and some flashbacks that suggest they’re friends for the same reason Cece and Jess are — because of their shared history. In this case, it’s a history that consists of sitting in a college dorm room laughing hysterically as Nick throws food at Schmidt. But that’s sort of the magic of longtime friendships; you get past the basics of shared interests and into the weird stuff that really bonds people, like boob fights and dry ramen.

Photo: Greg Gayne/FOX