We’ve now had a few weeks of a new New Girl: No Jess, lots of wacky guest stars, high-energy goofs, and erasable self-contained plots. And it’s worked pretty well! Fresh blood gets to bounce off known personalities, minor characters get room to breathe and build relationships — which is great news for Winston — and it makes a nice showcase for people like Fred Armisen and Lennon Parham.
“Reagan” takes that formula and stretches it a little, leading to mixed results. The leading premise is that we get to meet Reagan Lucas, a.k.a. the long-foretold Megan Fox. So far, her character manages to be both better than I expected, and somehow still slightly underwhelming. Let’s take that apart!
We open with Nick and Cece behind the bar, where they’re both getting hit on. Cece responds politely but dismissively, but that’s still enough to set off Schmidt, who has some real trust issues. (I know you guys are Narratively Designed to Be Together at this point, but Cece — this is a RED FLAG.) When the guy asks for Cece’s number, Schmidt tells him that Cece’s engaged and her number “belongs to God now,” but the guy points out that there was no way to know because she’s not wearing a ring.
At the same time, Nick turns down an invitation from a woman who’s been staring at him … because he’s decided to play hard to get. He wants magic! He wants the music to swell! He wants the clouds to part! Winston, listening to this soliloquy, throws in his own magical romance suggestions: A metal bra! Riding a flying horse! Things were looking better for you, Winston, but now we’re back to your default status as whatever random geeky flavor the writers decide they need.
Anyhow, Nick wants to hold out for a truly romantic experience, which shouldn’t be a problem because he’s in the prime of his life. He proves this by lifting a keg in front of Winston and his cop friend, Ally (whom we last saw giving suggestions to Taran Killam about how to prove his sobriety), which swiftly lands him in a doctor’s office to address a “smush pain that feels like everything came out of the sandwich.”
Enter Megan Fox, looking every bit the Megan Fox–type we all expected, this time in the shape of a sleek, aggressive, mean-girl pharmaceutical-sales rep. Fox’s Reagan makes a very different pharmaceutical salesperson than my other known TV pharmaceutical-sales reference, Burton Guster, but after listening to her pitch something called Recombinex to a terrified doctor, there’s no denying that she’s effective. It seems that Recombinex’s competitor, Spectravir, has some nasty side-effects, the most troubling of which is probably “dusty semen.” (“Butt sneezing” is a close second.)
While sitting and contemplating his inevitable mortality in the face of “smush pain,” Nick begs Winston to help keep him realistic about relationships. One look at Reagan, though, and Nick immediately loses his cool, begging her to move into Jess’s empty loft room. He even promises that the loft does indeed have Reagan’s required rain shower.
It does not, and Nick’s duct-tape-assisted install job looks dubious. That doesn’t matter, though, because Reagan discovers that she already knows one of the loft gang — she and Cece were on MTV Beach House 2003, and also hooked up! This inevitably triggers Schmidt’s jealousy issues, which he tries to cope with by performing Nick Cannon’s solo from Drumline. This strategy is sadly inadequate against Reagan’s professed love for breasts (“I’m a real melon felon”), and when she seems set to take the room, Schmidt’s anxiety causes the whole thing to implode.
Poor Nick had cleaned his room, lit candles, worked hard(ish) on that rain shower, and even attempted to threaten Reagan with the idea that the spot might soon be gone. One Michael Silvergold has expressed interest in the loft, you see, and what with his credit score of “25,” he’s looking like a good candidate.
But these persuasive inducements are not enough. Schmidt blows up and accuses Reagan of trying to steal his fiancée. Reagan points out that without a ring, there was no way to know that Cece was even engaged. (What’s with the jewelry fetish, New Girl?) Cece leaves in a huff, yelling that Schmidt clearly doesn’t trust her at all.
And unexpectedly, Reagan stays to find Schmidt in his room, where he’s sucking on an enormous block of cheese. Reagan seems to be defined by conventional sexiness, undeniable competence, and chilliness — she is a “Lady Costner”–style lone wolf — so she quickly susses out the problem. Schmidt is deeply insecure, and has no idea why Cece’s with him. This is why he loses it when there’s any competition whatsoever, and also why he hasn’t given her a ring — he’s worried he’s not good enough. Reagan’s advice is mundane, but not wrong: Either Schmidt can freak out any time Cece gets anywhere close to anyone, or he can just “love her and thank the universe she loves [him] back, for some reason.”
So Schmidt and Reagan go hunt down Cece in the bar, where Schmidt manages to apologize in a convincing way. He presents her with an empty ring box and lovingly slips an invisible ring on her finger, which is sweet, I suppose. Meanwhile, Reagan makes herself and Nick some superb Old Fashioneds while music swells and time slows and Nick gawps in awe. “MAGIC!” he declares. I am 100 percent with Ally, though, whose entire unexplained presence in this episode is justified by this one line: “You guys saw magic. I saw a hot girl pour herself a drink and then leave without paying … Nick has a crush on a robber.”
So the gang troops over to Reagan’s room in the Lobster Shack, or wherever she is, and manage to surprise her into agreeing to live with them (after giving Nick a roundhouse to the head). Nick’s response — “Thank you for the swift kick to the face, perhaps you want to live in our place” — belongs on a particularly pathetic box of Valentines. In spite of her stated desire to avoid any weird friend-group shenanigans, Reagan is onboard.
It’s not a bad episode, and Megan Fox does a good job pulling off the relatively unlovable Reagan character through sheer, unblinking commitment to her shiny-haired coldness. But it does feel like a bit of a letdown after the manic heights of the past few episodes.
Part of this problem is structural. For several episodes, we’ve gotten a classic sitcom multi-plot formula, where the group splits into smaller threads and the half-hour feels more tightly packed with premise and payoff. Here Reagan fuels both of the big plots, which take place in approximately the same space, so Nick’s quest for magic and Schmidt’s trust issues slosh up against each other in the same scenes. This is not necessarily a bad thing; some of the series’ best moments happen when the gang gets smushed together. I’m thinking of this season’s premiere episode, and also any of the big setpieces about weddings, holidays, or stories of how everyone lost their virginity.
You can feel the intent, for sure. New Girl is trying to move away from self-contained stories and launch a plot that will provide more serialized traction. But where “new guest star, new goofs!” was a successful formula, Reagan’s presence inside of a “the whole gang hangs out together!” structure ends up accentuating Jess’s absence rather than distracting from it. The scenes that are supposed to be moving — Schmidt admitting his insecurity, Reagan agreeing to move in — are effective, but also feel undermotivated. The moment with Schmidt in particular would’ve been vastly more meaningful if it’d happened between him and Jess, who has the relationship and history with Schmidt to sell a special kind of sincerity.
After a few weeks of buoyancy, “Reagan” is the first time I’ve really thought longingly about Jess. Maybe that’s a good thing? If New Girl without Jess were too successful, that could be as much a problem as if it failed miserably. In any event, I’m finally thinking it might be nice to get the gang back together.