A sitcom advertising a high-profile guest star is like a baseball player prophesying a home run by pointing his bat towards the outfield bleachers. The pressure is on because everyone knows he’ll be swinging for the fences. It grabs the viewers’ attention for sure, but it also raises their standards. There’s little more disappointing than an overhyped guest appearance that swings and misses. Cameos are the New Year’s Eve of television. High expectations; enormous potential for failure. Given the stakes, I was a little worried about Prince’s post-Super Bowl New Girl appearance.
First off, what could be written about Prince that is more hilarious than his real life? Prince has already given us fodder for a classic Chappelle’s Show sketch. And he completely renovated the home he rented from NBA player Carlos Boozer, adding a hair salon and turning a fountain purple BEFORE CHANGING IT BACK WHEN HE MOVED OUT. That’s what the Cat in the Hat does! Every story I’ve ever heard about Prince sounds like a fairy tale or an urban legend. How do you embellish the life of a man who is already a tiny, funky Paul Bunyan? It seems crazy to even try.
That task is especially daunting in light of the fact that Prince has given little indication over the course of his career that he has any sense of humor. Until tonight, I had no idea that Prince got jokes at all. He seems so straight-faced, like a freaky-ass vice principal. If you asked me what Prince’s favorite TV show is, I would guess: the night sky. In my mind, Prince’s idea of entertainment is sitting by a fire while someone paints that fire, then throws the canvas onto the open flame and paints that. I always got the impression that Prince could only laugh if he were physically being tickled or watching actual elves cavort in a field. If there’s one thing Prince loves, it’s cavorting. But jokes? No way. They seem too basic and not at all from outer space.
But, in another way, Prince is the perfect guest star for this episode (and not just because it’s called “Prince”), a story that centered on Jess’s physical inability to say “I love you!” to Nick. If there’s anyone on this planet qualified to express unfiltered romantic longing, Prince is that guy. He knows how to bluntly convey messages of love and lust. Remember, Prince’s appearance on New Girl coincides with the seven-year anniversary of the Super Bowl performance during which he created a massive boner silhouette with the neck of his guitar. Prince doesn’t waste time. The metaphors in his songs are so thinly veiled, they’re wrapped in verbal kimonos. His music may not be earnest, exactly, but we always know exactly what he means. The imagery leaves little room for doubt. Prince’s on-the-nose brand of sensuality meshes nicely with Jess’s own tendency to talk about sex in an open, guileless way.
For all their subtlety, his lyrics may as well be:
“Little red Corvette/Baby you bone too much.”
“She wore a raspberry beret/The kind that reminded me of a vagina.”
So it’s half surprising, half totally reasonable that Prince was hilarious as himself. Or, rather, he was hilarious doing an impression of himself, a riff on the perception that he’s an enigmatic fashion-forward savant who loves pancakes. His deadpan introduction (“Hi, I’m Prince.”) and silent, judgmental stares showed that the Artist Currently Known As Prince understands what people find ridiculous about him.
But is that what we really want? Do we want a Prince who is self-aware? Does every star have to be a down-to-earth, Jennifer Lawrence type for us to latch onto him or her? I hope not. I like that Larry David is a cranky hater. I enjoy that Kanye West calls himself a genius. I miss the simpler time, just two hours ago, when Prince was an alien sex god who refused to make eye contact with the general public.
It’s silly of me to say that Prince was both perfect and completely wrong. I admit I’m being a little hypocritical. That’s not my real complaint with the episode, though. The legitimate problem is that the conflict is totally unbelievable given everything we know about the characters. Jess and Nick live together. They’re crazy about each other. They declared themselves “all in” in the first episode of season three. OF COURSE JESS LOVES NICK. THERE IS NO DOUBT. THE FINGER GUNS ARE A FALSE FLAG. WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!
Sorry. I went a little overboard there. I was just frustrated because the stakes in this episode were staggeringly low. Nothing seemed to really matter to anyone. Jess couldn’t express her love for Nick, and Nick retaliated by saying that he didn’t really love her. Then, Jess reacted by pretty much ignoring him. We’ve all (probably) had someone tell us they don’t love us, and it feels awful. You don’t just go outside and sit on a bench with Prince afterwards. You sulk. You sob. You listen to sad music. You don’t boringly try on outfits montage-style for the guy who sang “When Doves Cry.” I know Prince is Prince, but come on. She really hung Nick out to dry.
While Jess is playing ping pong and eating pancakes and playing dress-up (How long was this party, anyway?) Nick gets spite-drunk by himself. But as soon as Jess comes back, he is lucidly ready to embrace her and acknowledge he didn’t not love her the whole time. That’s not how spite-drunk works. You don’t get furiously wasted and then tenderly apologize. You make a scene and get escorted out of Prince’s house (or Applebee’s, wherever it is you hang out is the point).
The emotional arc of this episode felt muted beyond reason. It’s not cute or charming to pass out instead of expressing love for one’s romantic partner. It’s a sign of a terrifying inability to express one’s emotions. (Also, while I’m at it, I’m sick of Nick’s “leaving to get drunk alone” routine. Especially because there are never consequences for it.) Those aren’t quirks. They’re dysfunctions.
On a positive note, I am happy that it was Nick who dropped the L-Bomb first. I couldn’t have taken a return to his days of foot-dragging stoicism. I’m glad Nick and Jess are in Love with a capital L. I’m enjoying the budding Coach/Winston friendship. And I’m even buying the rekindling of Schmidt and Cece. For now. And dancing onstage with the Purple One seemed like a ton of fun. But there’s something a little off when the most believable part of a show is the way Prince behaves.