Last night’s show started with Jess in a red bra and concluded with her mugging at the camera after having sex in an elevator, but it’s probably not going to haunt the sweaty fever dreams of too many Zooey Deschanel fanboys. It’s not that the episode was bad — in fact, it was pretty great. It’s just that Jess’s quest to get over her insecurities and finally nail her boyfriend Paul was played for laughs, not titillation, even when the script required her to prance around in an ensemble Paul described as “an erotic ropes course.”
It’s hard to be sexy and funny at the same time, so Deschanel fully committed to the latter. In its own quiet way, this felt a little bit subversive— there’s an obvious imperative for actresses to be smoking hot, and it’s rare to see one who’s willing (or given the chance) to undercut her own sexiness for the sake of comedy.
Also mildly subversive: Schmidt’s matriarchal workplace, and the way the show handled it. Schmidt’s such a bro that he was in two frats in college — he just couldn’t choose one — yet he works in an office absolutely dominated by women. Scrounging for an invitation to a baby shower, he’s like Peggy Olsen, trying to thrive in a world full of gendered rituals that just don’t have room for him. Some writers would use this gag to make jokes about harpy businesswomen or masculinity in crisis, but that’s not how New Girl rolls.
Instead, it turns out that baby showers with Schmidt’s co-workers are the best, booziest baby showers ever. Schmidt can’t even begin to fake being one of the girls; he asks if he can be invited to the afterbirth and makes a speech so sappy his workplace nemesis Beth (guest star Eva Amurri) has to jump in to save him. But once he starts acting like Schmidt again, chugging Pedialyte and pushing his VPVP (Very Pregnant Vice-President) into the pool, he wins everyone over with his party skills. He’s actually sort of like Tom Haverford, in that he wildly overestimates most of his abilities but happens to be genuinely good at having fun.
The moral, if there is one: Being the only guy in an office full of power women can be great as long as you’re willing to be yourself. It’s sappy, sure, but it’s also refreshingly non-sexist. That’s the nice thing about New Girl. It’s never going to make a big political statement about gender, but you can tell there’s a feminist sensibility at work.
On to this episode’s main plot: Jess wants to sleep with Paul, but she’s worried because she hasn’t been with anyone aside from her ex Spencer in six years. “It’s like starting a new job with a really weird interview,” she explains after one failed attempt. Everything she knows about sex comes from either Spencer or the Clinton impeachment trials, so she feels like she needs some new moves. Or at least underwear.
At a lingerie shop with Cece, she picks out a teddy made entirely of black straps and affixed with a starfish. The sales associate says that trying it on would violate the health code, so Jess buys it on the spot. “I hope Paul’s packing some coral polyps,” she tells Cece, “because this starfish is hungry.”
Now, this is obviously not a sexy line. Nobody’s turned on by trivia about the diets of starfish, or the word “polyp” in any context. But in her own weird way, Jess is revealing a healthy sexual agency. She’s no Liz Lemon, who’s so alienated from her own sexuality that she needs her boss to give her pep talks. In fact, she’s kind of a horndog.
So when she finds porn on Schmidt’s computer, she’s not squeamish about watching it. For five and a half hours. It’s indicative of how well Jess fits into the group that when Schmidt catches her, he’s not mad or embarrassed, just concerned for her wellbeing. All the porn has just made Jess more confused, so she demands that the roommates tell her what guys like in bed. They’re not much help. Schmidt: “Guys want to be whisked away. They want to be enchanted.” Nick: “Just take your clothes off.”
The thing is, though, that Jess doesn’t need to do anything to impress Paul. He’s clearly smitten with her, calling her “goose” (it’s short for “Me gusta Jess”) and trying his best to keep up when she strips off her wrap dress to reveal her new starfish getup. Aiming for sexy role-play, Jess starts doing her old-timey newscaster voice. Paul jumps in with Jimmy Stewart, prompting Jess to switch to Haughty Old Lady Berating a Bus Boy. Finally Paul requests going back to basics, no more voices. Jess somehow takes this as a cue to try an erotic choking move, scaring Paul so badly he runs away.
The next morning, Jess wakes up alone, Schmidt wakes up next to a blonde co-worker (presumably; all we see is her asking directions to the door), and Nick, whose reluctance to get a haircut has been a C plot of sorts, wakes up with a flattop fade from Winston’s barbershop. He tries to cheer Jess up, but she won’t listen to his sensible love advice because his hair is ridiculous.
When Paul arrives, though, it’s a reminder that those two really are cute together. He explains that he’s really intimidated by Jess and her vast experience with S&M, but he’ll do whatever she wants because he likes her so much. She should just know that he’s allergic to felt and most polyurethane. Jess admits she was just being weird because she likes him, and the two finally consummate their relationship in the elevator. Looks like the starfish got its coral polyp after all.