Let’s take a moment to appreciate Nick Miller. While Schmidt was New Girl’s breakout star from the beginning, Nick’s rise has been more of a slow burn. It’s not just that he’s generally funny or appealing, although that obviously helps. It’s also that he’s a man on a mission.
About halfway through Season One, right around the time that he started waxing poetic about Fancyman Russell’s leather furniture, Nick locked into a quest that’s led him to some of the show’s strongest plots. Over and over, he’s befriended older men — Russell, Future Nick — in order to learn something about himself. Unlike Schmidt, Nick isn’t trying to find a surrogate father in order to make up for some childhood trauma. He’s just looking for a model of manhood that won’t force him to go back to law school, or demand that he let go of his prematurely crotchety persona.
Last night’s episode was technically about menstruation, but Nick’s relationship with his latest role model, a grandfatherly Asian man named Tran, upstaged all of the PMS jokes. Partly, that’s because the PMS jokes were easy to upstage. New Girl isn’t afraid of raunch, and it’s certainly not afraid to get a little weird, so you’d think an episode dedicated to Jess’s visiting aunt would be dirty and bizarre — you know, in a good way. But while a few of the lines were indeed strange and evocative (Jess: “I feel like I laid a million eggs and all of them are hatching”), many others seemed lazy (Jess again, approximately five seconds later: “I feel like I want to murder someone and also I want soft pretzels.”)
Jess has been out of work for long enough that she’s now even poorer than Nick. After she tries to pay the gas bill with her library card, Schmidt shuts off the hot water as a lesson in tough love until she finds a new job. This sets up an old fashioned sitcom challenge: Can Jess get her PMS under control long enough to make it through an interview? Of course she can’t, and soon she’s wailing over a photo of a tiny dog in a teacup in front of her potential new employer. Zooey Deschanel is usually excellent at this sort of broad comedy, but this scene was so cartoonish that you could practically see the plump blue teardrops flying off her lashes.
Winston, meanwhile, has sympathy PMS: “I got that menstruation inside of me.” Jess, the house’s alpha female, has sucked him into her cycle — or maybe he’s just sad about Shelby. And maybe Jess’s problem is really her job situation, rather than her hormones. Maybe, in fact, they’re both using PMS as an excuse because they can’t face what’s really bothering them. That does make more sense, first because Winston is a man, and second because you’d think Jess’s roommates would have noticed if she regularly turned into a weeping ogre every 28 days.
Nick thinks it’s unfair that woman have an excuse to be irrationally angry once a month, but then, he’s irrationally angry 365 days a year. Until he meets Tran, who relieves him of his rage through the mystical arts of sympathetic listening and water massage. This plot felt a lot newer and less clichéd than whatever was going on in Jess Day’s uterus, even if Tran fits into the not-at-all new tradition of stereotyping Asian men as wise and inscrutable.
Mostly, Nick is just great at one-sided banter. (Best line: “Why are you cradling me like a baby, friend? This is not how guys of my generation hang out.”) Plus, all that water massage gave Jake Johnson, Zooey Deschanel, and Lamorne Morris each an excuse to demonstrate how good they are at making skeptical faces while being manhandled in a pool.
As for Schmidt, he’s busy engaging in some twisted sex games, and I don’t mean that 50 Shades of Gray situation he has going on with his boss Emma, VP of all of North America including the break room. Emma won’t even touch Schmidt until he signs a contract absolving her of any psychological trauma, real or imagined, not to mention guaranteed mercury poisoning. (What is she planning to do, force-feed him sushi?) But Schmidt’s relationship with Cece has no such protections.
Over the course of the episode, it emerges that Cece’s new man Robbie thinks Schmidt is … nice. Worse, Robbie also thinks Cece is nice, which throws her for a loop, because what happens when he realizes she’s not? Won’t he run away? Schmidt comforts her: “I don’t think you’re a nice girl. I think you’re the worst.” He also gets in a dig at Robbie: “I would never run away from you. But if I did, I would run way faster than Robbie. Because he’s slow.” Aww. This almost wins Cece over, but she’s not willing to cheat, so she leaves Schmidt on his bed alone, thinking about how he’s a monster.
All of this moved the plot forward in two ways: It pushed Schmidt and Cece a little closer to getting back together, and it caused Schmidt to sign the contract and give himself up to Emma’s sordid fantasies — which turned out to be surprisingly difficult to put into reality, because she’s not very experienced with bondage. The idea of a dominatrix who doesn’t know how to tie a knot is cute, but it sure took a lot of buildup to reach that payoff.
Overall, despite the considerable charms of Nick Miller, this was not the season’s greatest half hour. New Girl has built up an archive of goodwill over the last year and a half, so maybe it’s allowed to have an off night every so often. Still, I’d like Nick to take last night’s entire episode and water-massage it out of its funk.