Sometimes, when the world expects you to act a certain way, it’s deeply, itch-scratchingly satisfying to do exactly the opposite. Nick Miller knows all about that urge, which is why he’s been trying for weeks now to formulate a relationship with a girl who thinks it’s funny to tattoo people in their sleep.
On a meta level, that urge might also explain how Olivia Munn ended up on New Girl. There’s something perverse about casting her alongside Zooey Deschanel, since they’re both actresses who touch a raw nerve in a significant percentage of audiences, but in directly opposing ways.
Munn irritates people because she seems like she’s coasting on her own hotness, like there’s something overly self-aware in the way she regards her body— in the comments last time, TNGUHL called her “smug.” Deschanel, on the other hand, irritates people because she seems willfully ignorant of her own sexuality. An unkind reading would have it that Munn keeps flaunting the basic fact that she’s an adult woman, while Deschanel keeps refusing to acknowledge it. (Here’s a terrible new party game: Ask people which one they find more annoying, and then diagnose their sexual issues accordingly.)
For the past few episodes, Munn has been playing the anti-Jess: a motorcycle-riding stripper who keeps challenging Nick to get outside of his cranky-old-man comfort zone. When she and Nick join Jess and Sam for a weekend cabin getaway, she quickly finds the guns. Then she waves them around and demands, “Where were these when we were having sex?” Jess, on the other hand, can’t even try to shoot a tin can without giving it a backstory.
Even if Munn drives you nuts (confession: she drives me nuts), there’s something appealing about how radically Angie contrasts with the rest of the characters. Jess and Nick are each dorky in their own unique ways; they’re awkward, they overthink things. Angie does not have this problem. Says Jess: “I like Angie. She’s cool. It’s kind of like riding a poorly maintained carnival ride.”
That, of course, is before everyone but Nick gets loopy on absinthe, and Angie plants herself in Sam’s lap. This episode wasn’t really about Sam and Jess — which is totally fine, since I’m sure we’ll see tons of analysis of this new relationship in the future — but it was indeed sweet to see Sam, out of his mind on green stuff, still trying to reject a stripper who thinks it’s time for a key party.
Nick explains that he and Angie have an open relationship, but later, after he hits the bottle himself, he admits that he wants to be exclusive. Angie can’t figure out how to handle a monogamous relationship: “Are we supposed to read articles and then talk about them together?” Apparently, that’s more than she can handle, because when Nick wakes up the next morning, she’s gone.
Speaking of confounding expectations, it’s a safe bet that nobody thought New Girl’s first episode back after the break would involve an entire plot about racial issues. It’s an equally safe bet that the writers were aware of how awkward this could get, since they had Schmidt introduce the topic like this: “White Nick, brown Cece, I’d like to have a frank conversation about race. Do you think that we’re allowing Winston to be his blackest self?”
Race isn’t a big deal in the New Girl universe. The show mostly uses ethnicity as window dressing: Schmidt’s references to his bubbe, Cece casually mentioning the Indian guys her family wants her to date, Winston’s Theodore K. Mullins voice. So when Schmidt decides to help Winston realize his true African-American self, the takeaway has less to do with the nature of race relations and more to do with the nature of their friendship.
Schmidt’s ham-handed attempts to embrace Winston’s black identity start out ridiculous (that rasta hat!), go totally off the rails once Winston starts messing with him, and cumulate with both guys driving to the middle of the projects to try to buy crack. Schmidt conducts this mission like he’s browsing at the Greenmarket: “I want the fresh crack, you know, not some crack that has been laying around all day.”
When a stranger comes over assuming the two need directions, Schmidt and Winston do such a terrible job of trying to buy drugs from him that he thinks he’s being robbed and hands over his wallet. You know who would have handled this better? Angie the stripper. It’s like Olivia Munn’s leather-jacketed presence is looming over this entire episode, reminding us that all four of the roommates are equally dorky, or at least equally prone to awkwardness and overthinking.
Back home, Winston explains that the housemates aren’t stifling his racial identity: “Being black means whatever I want it to mean.” This is sort of the ethnic version of Jess’s season one speech about how she’s a strong woman even if she does brake for birds. But the scene ends on a strange note. Winston says he’s going out for frozen yogurt, and Schmidt smarmily requests a chocolate-vanilla swirl, then changes his order to “Strawberry with jimmies.”
East Coasters might wince at that wording: “Jimmies” are chocolate sprinkles, and the name is allegedly racist, with rumored origins in Jim Crow laws. (For what it’s worth, Snopes calls this theory “probably false.”) For those who know the term’s reputed background, the line provides a jolt out of New Girl’s casual, race-is-for-joking-about universe and into a considerably messier reality.
Which is one of the dangers when making jokes about race, and probably the reason the show was so careful to make this plot hyperspecific to Winston and Schmidt, rather than trying to make a big statement about black-white friendship. At first, it seemed totally implausible that Schmidt would believe Winston’s story about smoking crack with his mom, and her mom, and her mom, etc., around a trash-can fire.
But I don’t think that scene is really about what Schmidt believes. He always commits wholeheartedly to things, no matter how absurd, and Winston’s testing his level of commitment. The conversation is like a game of racial chicken: Who will cave first? And it illustrates one basic truth: Don’t play chicken with Schmidt. That guy does not back down.