Given New Girl’s history of casting brunette indie actresses (Parker Posey, Lizzy Caplan, Zooey herself), the prospect of meeting Jessica Day’s mother raised some interesting possibilities. Equally intriguing: Who would play her dad? You could be forgiven for holding out hope for, like, Winona Ryder and Chris Eigeman, but the show went in a slightly more age-appropriate direction, giving us Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner as Joan and Bob, Jess’s divorced mom and dad. Then it added Rob Riggle as Schmidt’s cousin, also named Schmidt, to round out the Thanksgiving awkwardness.
The result was solid — probably better than last season’s Thanksgiving episode, since family is a much more fertile topic for the holiday than romance. Jess’s ongoing quest to Parent Trap her parents back into a relationship played to Zooey Deschanel’s strengths. Her girlishness made sense in this context, because practically everyone turns into a child when dealing with recalcitrant parents. And the Battle for the One True Schmidt managed to include both a discussion of modern masculinity and an undercurrent of sadness, while — maybe more importantly — giving Cece and Winston something to do.
Last night also suggested a compelling new gloss on the crotchety enigma that is Nick Miller. What if Nick Miller isn’t just a guy who hangs out with dads? What if Nick Miller is a dad? What if Nick is Jess’s dad?
The evidence: First, Nick and Bob have a lot in common, especially when it comes to trading conspiracy theories in front of the television. This surprises Nick, who claims he’s not into dads, but it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to Jess. “Nick, you’re going to like my dad so much,” she says before he shows up. “He’s so unhappy.”
Also, Nick is uncontrollably attracted to Jess’s mom, who takes his attentions in stride. “Happens all the time,” she reassures him. How did Jess wind up so repressed with a mother who’s so comfortable in her sexuality? And while we’re asking open-ended questions: If Nick and Jess ever do hook up, is it going to be weird that he’s got so much chemistry with her mom? And can someone who knows Jake Johnson please congratulate him on his awkward blink after he failed to pronounce “décolletage”? That guy can really do a lot with a single facial expression.
The Parent Trap never works in real life, of course. Even though Jess does manage to prompt her parents to make out in her bathroom, they don’t get back together. Nick would say this was inevitable, as you can’t have a Parent Trap without identical twins, mistaken identities, and lots of planning time. But if the plot fails, at least it sheds some light on Nick’s novel, which turns out to feature a zombie who falls in love with a regular person. When Bob points out the similarities with Twilight, Nick is horrified: Does Twilight have a love triangle? Does Twilight have a wolf in it? Is it in Seattle? But he’s also gracious in defeat, conceding, “Well, then whoever wrote that is smart.”
Less gracious in defeat — segue! — are the cousins Schmidt, who share identical competitive drives and memories of pudgy childhoods (though unlike Schmidt the First, Riggle-Schmidt was “the strong kind of fat”). Their showdown seems to be about two conflicting kinds of masculinity: Riggle’s old-school Marine Corps machismo versus Greenfield’s aggressive metrosexuality. Schmidt even defines the conflict in a speech that recalls Willa Paskin’s Salon article about his character last season: “Your caveman ideas about manhood are so over. Manhood today is about exfoliation, and cheese courses, and emotional honesty, and Paxil.”
But here’s the twist: Riggle might be the kind of guy who refers to his biceps as “sister wives” and thinks muscle definition is for ladies, but he’s also an expert at Julienning and a whiz at assembling aesthetically pleasing Thanksgiving plates. This is the second time in two weeks that New Girl has set up a plot revolving around sitcommy definitions of gender, then subverted it at the last minute. Just like Jess’s problem last week wasn’t actually PMS, Schmidt’s divisions of masculinity into pre- and post-Clinton turn out to be a little too pat.
Riggle-Schmidt even has a heart, it turns out. Kissing Winston — the ultimate test of manhood — makes him realize how much he misses his ex Krista. New Girl is nothing if not emo, and last night involved not one but two So Many Feelings moments, pairing Riggle’s revelation with Jess’s offer to “Grey Gardens the crap out of a condo in Miami” with her mom. Actually, that moment when Joan and Bob start kissing in the elevator could easily be Feelings Moment No. 3.
Winston and Cece didn’t have huge roles in this episode, but I liked watching them manipulate the cousins into all sorts of stunts as part of the manhood contest. New Girl’s flirted with making Winston the instigator (the Winstigator?) before, and it suits Lamorne Morris, who brings a deadpan innocence to lines like, “This whole thing is a draw. I mean, you did touch a hotter pan, but he ate a bigger candle.” And Cece is so often used as either a romantic foil for Schmidt or a friend sounding board for Jess that it’s a nice change to see her interacting outside those parameters. (Also, of course Jess’s mom hates her. Cece is by definition mom Kryptonite.) Overall, I thought it was a return to form.