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2012 Emmy Longshots: True American Jake Johnson, The Unsung Hero of 'New Girl' 

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Jul 17, 2012 | 7:59am EDT

ALTYou love them, we love them, and it's high time Emmy recognized them. We're talking about the TV actors and actresses who have yet to be recognized by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, despite drawing us in week in and week out with their awe-inspiring ability to make us laugh, cry, or a weird combination of both. So every day here at Hollywood.com, we're going to be saluting those on the small screen who deserve an Emmy nomination, longshot status be damned. Today, we cast our ballot for New Girl star Jake Johnson

Playing the straight man in comedy is one of the toughest tightrope walks to maneuver as actor, not to mention one of the more underappreciated skills. A great straight man can stand out by effortlessly standing in the background as their "funnier" counterparts hog the screen. A great straight man transforms subtlety into an art form and can turn a relatable, everyday character into downright compelling. In which case, Jake Johnson may just be the greatest straight man working on television today. 

On Fox's New Girl, which evolved from cutesy and somewhat gimmicky to one of the funniest, sharpest shows out there, Johnson plays Nick Miller, a hapless good guy aimlessly floating through life in a sea of plaid shirts. On paper, Johnson's Nick Miller sounds like every television watcher's (not to mention single women's) worst nightmare: a financially unstable (see photo) L.A. bartender who lives in a trendy loft with his three best pals and is even more inept at relationships than he is at growing tomatoes on the roof of his building. But Johnson has crafted a lovable, flawed, and relatable (seriously, doesn't every group have a Nick?) guy you really root for. 

While John Krasinski proved himself early on as a great straight man on The Office with the sweet everyman Jim Halpert, he had something less of a challenge than Johnson has with New Girl. In The Office's large ensemble, Krasinski's Jim automatically seemed normal against the likes of a Dwight or a Creed or a Michael. While Johnson's "normal" guy Nick is certainly surrounded by his own set of kooky characters (namely, Zooey Deschanel's quirky heroine Jess and Max Greenfield's scene-stealing Schmidt) he actually lets his freak flag fly. Jim may have been perfect, but at the end of the day, where's the fun in that?  

Like Krasinski's Jim Halpert once did, Johnson's Nick Miller finds himself in a television will-they-won't-they romance, here with the titular New Girl Jess. The show's writers have wisely opted to draw out the tension between the two a little longer, which is hell for anxious fans, but heaven for TV fanatics who get to watch Johnson work his magic. With just a furrowed expression or a crestfallen look in his eyes, we can see that Johnson's Nick feels the connection, understands that a romance is burrowing under the surface, but that he's too scared to do anything about it. Having already had his heart shattered by his ex, Nick is a man down. He knows he deserves good things, and is entirely capable of it, but he's just not there yet. Johnson has created a character we want to stick it out with until he gets there, and stay with him long after the fact. 

Of course, for every perfectly nuanced, small detail of Nick Miller, Johnson can just as easily go in for the kill to get a big laugh. While Deschanel and Greenfield often get the showier, more slapstick-y material (which they both pull off near flawlessly) Johnson had some of the outright funniest pure comedy of New Girl's freshman season. From his drunken stumble out of Russell's car to his embarrassing reggae striptease, Johnson has proven time and time again he can run the gauntlet from subtle and seriously (the season-best "Injured," in which Johnson made a cancer episode touching without it being schmaltzy) to downright hilarious (his butt-shaking fight with Jess in the finale.) 

Nick, for now, is a lost cause, but Johnson is anything but. It won't be surprising if Deschanel and Greenfield earn Emmy nominations, and it will be deservedly so. But Johnson deserves a Best Supporting Actor nod, not just because of his layered performance as Nick, but because without him Deschanel's and Greenfield's performances wouldn't have the same impact. Without Nick's slacker/loner "normalcy" to balance out Jess and Schmidt, they simply would not work on the same level. 

A great straight man stands back and lets the leading lady or pratfall man take the center stage, an unsung hero who effortlessly elevates the material with a biting quip or thoughtful detail. He is the ultimate secret weapon to making an ensemble tick, something Jake Johnson most certainly does every week on New Girl. It's not as obvious or sexy to nominate or reward subtle work, but if anyone is a testament to be an unassuming, unexpected delight, it's Jake Johnson. 

Follow Aly on Twitter @AlySemigran

[Photo credit: Greg Gayne/Fox] 

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