New Girl concluded their excellent second season by making one of the world’s most awful songs briefly profound.
“Where do we come from? Where do we go?” mumbled Nick Miller in the closing moments of last night’s season finale. He was paraphrasing “Cotton Eye Joe,” which he justifiably denied enjoying earlier in the episode, betrayed by his involuntary fistpumping. The first question was something that was on the minds of all of the main characters all season long, influencing their decisions as they traversed through the murky, angsty wilderness that is living as a late 20s/early 30s year old with slapstick, pregnant pauses, and a lot of yelling, sometimes in name-calling, sometimes in Sam and Diane Cheersian lust, driven by taking, or going against, the advice given to them by their parents, while trying hard to not be like them at all.
Nick is everybody’s father, or even grandfather, in his grumpy, “gypsy alcoholic handyman” manner. Jake Johnson’s unique energy makes the character three-dimensional, and not just some shouting machine. This season we met his old man Dennis Farina, a con man. A few episodes later, he suddenly died. Nick’s eulogy was by no means a glowing endorsement for the deceased Walt, and his conflicting feelings for the man were further established by going after Jess after taking Walt’s advice from a flashback in one instance, then going after her and not running away from potential problems because it would be the opposite of what his father would have done.
The result of it all? Nick insisting that he was a writer and finally penning Z is for Zombie in one day, complete with thirty eight misspellings of rhythm and random word searches. He also had to resort to talking to a mysterious old Asian man who doesn’t say a word for guidance. Nick and Tran made for awfully strange and really funny television.
Through exposition, Jess explained her DNA early in the Thanksgiving episode “Parents,” telling her roommates that her sweet side comes from her mother Jamie Lee Curtis, and her dark side came from her father Rob Reiner. Reiner flat out says in “Winston’s Birthday” that Jess should not go out with Nick, as if she were a teenager, and had just announced that she was eloping, and eventually she does the obvious thing and doesn’t listen to him. This dark, moody, shouty side of Jessica Day slowly appeared as the series progressed, and was evident this season more to Sam and Diane up her relationship with Nick. Like how it was natural for Nick to let his guard down and regress sometimes into silly behavior after living with Jess for a year, Nick’s doom and gloom rubbed off on Ms. Day. It gave the two lovebirds complexity.
After finding out that she only had a year or two to have children of her own, Cece agreed to an arranged marriage, just like her Indian mother had always requested. Credit goes to showrunners Liz Merriwether, Brett Baer, and Dave Finkel for succeeding in writing a surprise in the eventual moment when, during the ceremony, Cece couldn’t go through with it. To not make her look like an awful human being, her very very recent ex-fiance Shivrang professed to loving Esther, played by Taylor Swift, all along anyway. There was a lot of worry that Swift’s presence would lead to annoying winks about her career, but instead her long-awaited cameo was used just right.
While Nick might be a walking indictment for a generation, Schmidt is a well-drawn character that continues to manage to not be irritating despite being the epitome of a doucher. You know a Schmidt, and might possibly be one, but the person you know, or you, don’t have Max Greenfield’s inflection and gift of language, like when he casually refers to them as “smoking detectors,” or when he threatens Steve Agee the hobo by insisting that he will “poison every pie from every window sill”. His season long story arc of trying to let go of Cece, trying to get back with Cece, losing Cece, forgetting about Cece with Elizabeth, then winning back Cece without knowing if he wants her back, sounds exhausting and boring for twenty five episodes only on paper. Instead, Schmidt’s lack of comfort made him grow as a person, and in season three we will probably hear more about his father who left him when he was eight and had three children of his own, and the mother who moved in with a female co-worker.
His friendship with Nick is a fascinating and fruitful one, and the argument over Nick not wanting for Schmidt to “think about him” and just buy him a cookie, with Schmidt (and Winston) countering that he should stop being so angry and self-centered in “Models” was magnificent. The scene in “Santa,” where Schmidt believes he is a better lap dancer than Olivia Munn’s character, a stripper, and when Nick smacks him and says he is “as dumb as it gets!” is a great example of the old fashioned violent, namecalling humor New Girl exhibits sometimes.
And then there is Winston, a character that usually seems left out from the big storylines, and is the least developed. The writing staff acknowledged this in the penultimate episode of the season, “Winston’s Birthday,” in a meta fashion, when everybody on the show forgot his birthday (and Rob Reiner kept referring to him as “Wilson.”) But, in “Esther’s Big Day,” the running gag originally set up back in the season’s fourth episode “Neighbors” of Winston either going too small or absolutely way too far in his pranks1 paid off handsomely, and significantly classed up and legitimized one of the silliest jokes of the series so far: Winston finally pulled off a prank that went too far, releasing a badger into the air vents at Cece’s wedding, managing to get Winston involved in the central story.
The Nick and Jess romance definitely launched New Girl into the rare must-see-the-night-it-airs comedy stratosphere, but they kind of should have been living up there beginning last September, when Parker Posey called everybody a jerk and fed them shots. A true ensemble show (yes, even Winston) that is the best network comedy that isn’t a mockumentary out there.
1He suggested to replace the idea of somehow putting urine on Schmidt’s bed to use acid instead of urine, and instead of his bed to Schmidt’s face. And of course there was the time he thought releasing a bear with hep C into a restaurant before Nick and Jess ordered dessert was a good move. Schmidt correctly pointed out immediately the pointlessness of bothering with the hepatitis injection.