I have a serious proposal, and I’m not sure how much you’re going to like it at first, but just hear me out.
Maybe … just maybe … Zooey Deschanel shouldn’t be the star of the show anymore.
I SAID HEAR ME OUT!
It’s nothing against Deschanel, honestly, but Jessica Day is starting to regress as a character. With her at the center of the show, New Girl is a flat circle. Season one was the story of a newly single, late-20s-to-early-30-something who has to be resocialized by her quirky male roommates. The first few episodes of that season, you may recall, are nearly unwatchable. Jess is less a lovable goofball and more a twee, socially stunted alien. The show never quite got a handle on how to make Zooey Deschanel “undateable” without making her outright cloying, so it reinvented itself as an ensemble piece. The tail end of season one through season two were undeniably the best of what New Girl has to offer because they took the brunt of the show’s relationship-centric material off Jess’s shoulders.
Since the show runs into problems when it goes out of its way to lend credence to the idea of a gorgeous, happy-go-lucky, middle-school vice-principal having dating problems, why doesn’t it just relegate Jess to a supporting character?
At this point, no one is watching the show just for Zooey Deschanel anyway. Just for Jake Johnson, maybe, or just for Max Greenfield. But Jess isn’t anyone’s favorite character, so maybe it’s time she abdicates her throne as the Newest Girl of Them All, especially when there is such an obvious, worthy successor: Cece.
Cece is the most compelling character on the show right now. She’s gone through a failed relationship, a failed engagement, a failed rebound, and a failed career. She’s got a potential romantic interest, but more pressing, she’s got a bunch of big life decisions to make, any one of which could anchor a show. Not to mention the fact that she’s played by the criminally underutilized Hannah Simone, who’s created a three-dimensional person out of a “sassy best friend.”
It didn’t occur to me until “Dice” just how little I’ve cared about a New Girl A-story in a long, long time. The episode starts with Jess asking Schmidt to teach her how to use Dice, a Tinder knockoff that Schmidt insists would eat Jess alive. He eventually, inexplicably relents, and spends most of the episode coaching Jess along as she sweetly bumbles her way through a ten-date series Schmidt calls the “Dice diez.”
Jess has been dating for a long time now. Moreover, she’s been dating under Schmidt’s tutelage for almost four years. The technology used to make said dates happen is irrelevant; the fact is, we’ve seen this story before, and it’s really never worked. The specifics of Schmidt’s seemingly arbitrary opinions and Max Greenfield’s line delivery are as pitch-perfect as ever (“The only acceptable pet for a man to have is a saltwater fish”), but the whole thing accomplishes almost nothing. By the end of this particular story, we’ve learned that Jess prefers love to random hookups and that she has trouble saying “no” to people. It’s like those zero-calorie, zero-carb shirataki Miracle Noodles — it looks and feels fine, I guess, but by the end of it, I have no recollection of what I just consumed.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the best thing to happen to New Girl in a very, very long time: stoned Nick Miller.
Thank you, comedy gods, for Jake Johnson. He’s long since been crowned the King of Acting Drunk, but in “Dice,” he does the seemingly impossible and gives a convincing portrayal of someone very, very stoned.
I’m actually surprised we’ve never seen the characters on New Girl “take pot” (Nick’s words, not mine) before — they’re young and intoxicant-friendly and living in California. Perhaps the more widespread marijuana legalization becomes, the more we’ll see sitcoms get comfortable with recreational pot use without turning it into a “very special episode.” If and when that’s the world we live in, I think we’ll have a better perspective on just how impressive Jake Johnson’s performance in “Dice” really is. Convincingly acting stoned is a nigh impossible task, as the nuances of it are different for everyone, and the fact that Jake Johnson manages to so clearly identify the subtle differences between drunk Nick and stoned Nick is further proof that he might secretly be giving the best comedic performance on television.
One thing I genuinely loved about this episode was the simplicity with which it handled the B story. Coach has never tried weed, so Cece and Nick make pot brownies. Unfortunately, Winston has just gotten them all invited to a barbecue hosted by some of his new friends from the police academy.
If the only reason New Girl ever sent Winston to the police academy was to have an excuse to throw a very stoned Nick, Cece, and Coach into a sea of cops, then I take back everything I ever said about how insane a move that was by the show. It’s the cleanest, most classic comedy formula New Girl’s used in a long time, and it plays out like what Three’s Company might look like if it were rebooted for millennials.
The scenes of Cece, Coach, and Nick just hanging out, stoned, talking about Titanic made me honestly sad that there isn’t a world in which this could be all New Girl is. Has there ever been a hangout sitcom that is literally nothing but watching people hanging out? Because I’d watch that. And you know you would, too.
I would be remiss to talk about this episode without absolutely raving about Lamorne Morris’s delivery of “They kicked over the grill and then they ran that way!” I had to pause the episode while I cracked the eff up. A+. Amazing. Perfection. This.
Commendations as well to the costume and props department: Jess’s grey dress and Cece’s jumpsuit were both on point, and it is now clear that Jess’s phone case is a duck. The only thing more genius is the fact that Schmidt’s ring tone is “Somebody That I Used to Know.”
“Dice” was exceedingly enjoyable. But when the main character’s story line drags the rest of the episode down, clearly a show needs to reexamine its priorities.