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New Girl Recap: Manic Pixie Dream Guy

NEW GIRL

Well, I’ve solved it, guys. I’ve cracked the New Girl Code (not to be confused with the MTV show Girl Code). For more than two seasons, we, the viewers, have been the victims of a long con perpetrated by the show’s writers, actors, and producers. When New Girl premiered, we were promised a sitcom about a well-meaning but socially inept character. We expected to see a charming, attractive lead who nevertheless stumbled and gaffed their way through the world. Basically, the show advertised the adventures of a living, breathing polka dot. And New Girl delivered, but not in the way we expected. The greatest trick New Girl ever pulled was taking the characteristics of Zooey Deschanel’s public persona … and grafting them onto the character of Winston.

It was the perfect crime. We came into the series with a set of expectations for Jessica Day. How could we not? We had Zooey Deschanel’s entire career to inform us: Her body of acting work, the music she made as half of She and Him, her stewardship of HelloGiggles. New Girl seemed like an extension of Zooey Deschanel’s (please do not read the last two words of this sentence unless you are near something to throw up into) personal brand. Fans of Deschanel’s Stevia-sweet persona were excited for a half-hour of antics with the dramatic heft of a YouTube video of otters holding hands. Those who were more critical of her human-sundress disposition braced themselves for 30 minutes of characters with voices like ukulele music. Skeptics were on plaid alert. The fact that Jess was a grounded, nuanced character was a pleasant surprise to viewers expecting a fluffy bundle of kitten fur, too insubstantial to carry the weight of a series. We expected Jess to be more, well, adorkable, as the promotional campaign would have put it.

We had no such expectations of Lamorne Morris. He joined the cast in the second episode as a relatively unknown commodity. In truth, as I’ve mentioned before, Morris has been occasionally misused or underused as Winston Bishop. Since the show’s inception, Winston has undergone a transformation from hypercompetitive professional athlete to unsuccessful prankster to … Zooey Deschanel. Fifty-six episodes in, we finally have our Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Except that he’s a guy. In this week’s episode alone, Winston repeatedly pratfalls, suffers an easily avoided allergic reaction, finds a wheelchair in a ditch (what was he doing in that ditch?), and calls a circle with a line through it “the Ghostbusters thing.” Why did it take me this long to make the connection? Winston was the new girl the whole time! (With the obvious exception of the first episode, in which he did not appear.)

As “Menus” drew to a conclusion, I found myself thinking back to previous episodes for clues. I felt like Chazz Palminteri at the end of The Usual Suspects, eyes darting back and forth as he connected the objects in his office to Kevin Spacey’s shaggy-dog crime narrative. How could I have been so blind? Doesn’t Winston love badgers and botch practical jokes? Isn’t his approach to sex enthusiastic but immature? As I type this, I’m imagining real life Lamorne Morris walking off the New Girl set to his getaway car, shaking his short hair out into a set of sweeping bangs and donning a pair of thick-framed glasses.

Winston is the new Jess (even though originally we thought he was going to be the new Coach). Now Coach is back, and he’s the new Schmidt, a narcissist with a good heart who pushes Nick to exercise and becomes a talking fedora around attractive women. Schmidt is the new Nick. Remember when Nick was all mopey and had no sense of purpose? (Now that he’s found Jess, he’s happy with no sense of purpose, which is at least a 50 percent improvement.) Schmidt, has not yet set up his enormous new apartment, which is against his meticulous nature. He’s not having casual sex with multiple women, nor is he engaging in rigorously planned, deeply committed sex with multiple women. He’s a lonely, broken man. But, as we find out when Jess gives him back his key to the loft, his friends are looking out for him.

A few weeks ago, someone on Twitter (I’m sorry I don’t remember your name!) asked me whether I thought New Girl was the present-day equivalent of Seinfeld. On the surface, the show seems to possess a few Seinfeld-y qualities. The close-knit group of friends (three male, one female, no less) is a parallel for sure. Closer still to the spirit of Seinfeld is New Girl’s habit of coining phrases to describe common but unnamed phenomena. Seinfeld squeezed numerous items into our cultural lexicon, from “yada yada yada” to “close-talker.” New Girl has given us a few neologisms of its own. Last season furnished the term “White Fanging,” meaning the act of driving a significant other away from you for his or her own benefit. Tonight we learned of “the boyfriend fifteen,” the weight gained while settling into a relationship. Even if New Girl didn’t coin those terms (I’m not an etymologist), it has certainly pushed them further into the public consciousness. (Or, at least, my consciousness.)

The differences between New Girl and Seinfeld, though, are far more pronounced than the similarities. For one thing, the characters on New Girl seem to like each other. Jerry seemed to show George and Kramer, ostensibly his best friends, only slightly more warmth than he demonstrates towards Bania and Newman, whom he hates. (If Seinfeld came out today, it would be called Frenemies, and no one would watch it because of that.) Jess, Nick, Winston, Schmidt, Cece, and now Coach care for each other, even if they try to sabotage each other’s relationships on occasion. If Seinfeld followed Larry David’s tenets of “no hugging, no learning,” New Girl seems to adhere to the maxim “everyone hugs, everyone learns.”

If “Menus” were a Seinfeld episode, it would have ended right after Jess got the menu-delivery guy fired. Also, Nick would have given up trying to exercise forever. Coach would have gained fifteen pounds. Schmidt would have gotten busted by Cece (who is clearly going to hook up with Coach, right?) trying to spy on his friends in the loft. And Winston would have been beaten up by a wheelchair-bound gang for putting on “chairface.” None of the story lines ever would have come around and become heartwarming. Seinfeld episodes cut off when the roller coaster of discomfort reaches its zenith, leaving us to imagine the consequences. New Girl episodes end on that same roller-coaster track, but after the cars have pushed past the apex of awkwardness, down through the emotional lows that follow, and come to rest safely at the end of the ride.

Okay. New Girl isn’t a roller coaster. It’s the teacup ride. But those teacups go pretty fast, if I remember from when I was 4. (Just kidding. I was too scared to go on the teacup ride when I was 4.)

But that’s the New Girl charm. Things work out. People are nice to each other. Nick helps Jess and Coach believe in themselves. Jess and Coach teach Nick put effort into something every once in a while. Schmidt gets brought back into the fold. And Winston … dear, sweet Winston. He’s just kind of adorkable.

Photo: Greg Gayne/FOX