S1E16: New Girl isn’t always all that funny, but I have yet to experience an episode that wasn’t enjoyable. Over the course of its short run, New Girl has managed to deliver three very likable, interesting and multifaceted characters, to whom I have grown unexpectedly attached. Also, there’s Winston.
The latest episode, “Control,” is a good example of how New Girl can rely entirely on our investment in one of its main characters in order to generate enjoyment. This week’s half-hour is weaker on the laughs than most New Girls—even more so than last week’s dramatic turn. But the show doesn’t suffer. We learn this week that, much like Cece has, we have really (albeit begrudgingly) come to care about Schmidt.
“Look at the size of this guy. He’s clearly ‘new homeless.’” – Schmidt
Somewhere along the line, New Girl built a genuinely interesting and full character in disguise as your typical sitcom jackass. But there is some legitimate rationale behind all of Schmidt’s character quirks. This week, we learn that Schmidt’s vanity and selfishness are rooted in some deep-seated obsessive-compulsive control issues.
Schmidt calls attention to the anxiety he gets when not in control over a situation in the opening of the episode. His marginally abusive relationship with Cece has not advanced to any new levels of mental health. She still calls him whenever she wants and dismisses him as soon as her needs are met. But Schmidt, despite his usual aversion to this kind of subordination, thrusts himself willingly into this position—not without a little grief over the circumstances, but still --because he really, really likes Cece.
“This thing makes me emotionally nauseous!” – Schmidt
Back at the loft, Jess becomes frustrated with Schmidt when he refuses to allow her to bring an abandoned hutch into their home. She’s particularly upset because of what the hutch represents to her: her contribution to the apartment arrangement, i.e. her final step into the family that is their foursome. But Schmidt’s emotional issues far overshadow Jess’ this week. It’s not just that he doesn’t like the hutch—he can’t have it in his home. It is dirty and messy, clashing completely with the décor, and, above all, not his choice. And we learn quickly that Schmidt isn’t simply being selfish; he has serious control issues.
Jess forgives Schmidt for the eventual destruction of her beloved piece of furniture and sets out to help him “loosen up.” After a quick assessment of all of Schmidt’s obsessive flaws, courtesy of Nick and Winston, Jess brings Schmidt to the beach to relax him. At first, he is disgusted by the free-living, unkempt lifestyle of the hippie beach dwellers all around him. But quickly, he is taken in by an attractive girl in a bongo drum circle. All too soon does Schmidt become one of them: a free-spirited, easygoing hippie without a care in the world.
“What’s it like living in the most populous island in French Polynesia?” – Non-Tahitian Vanilla (Jess)
“I could tell you…or…I could show you.” – Tahitian Vanilla (also Jess)
The transformation is not entirely out of character—he is hypnotized by an attractive young woman (Schmidt’s favorite thing on Earth). But the episode would ring a bit stronger if it were a more substantial cause to throw him off the deep end. There is an understood connection between Schmidt’s Jess storyline and his Cece storyline, but not enough of a visible line drawn between the two to make the theme as effective as it could be. If it were Cece who threw Schmidt into the excessively carefree state of being, that’d work. If it were Cece who brought him back to his old Schmidty ways, that’d work. But instead, Schmidt seems to operate completely independent of Cece between the opening and closing scenes of the episode. He is brought to hippie-dom by a pretty beach bum smiling at him, and brought back to normal by the chance to clean Nick’s room (his “White Whale”) and a new pair of Calvin Klein khaki slacks. Admittedly, it’s kind of appropriate that something so superficial is what transforms Schmidt back to his pathologically superficial state of being. But the fact that his new and frightening affection for Cece is only marginally connected to the main theme of the episode (after Cece sneaks into the apartment in the episode’s last scene, Schmidt proudly announces that he is comfortable having no control in their relationship) seems like a missed opportunity.
Still, the Schmidt development is well done. Kudos to Max Greenfield for giving us a human being believably pained by his own standards and the worlds’ inability to meet them. Schmidt actually lives up to the picture of mild OCD quite realistically. He is not blind to his own irrationality, but he is so desperate to satisfy the obsessions his mind forces on him that reasonability is sacrificed. He must have things a certain way. If he doesn’t, as his mother used to say, Santa won’t come (or whatever intangible anxiety this has translated to in his adult life).
“‘If I am reading this section, I can only assume you told me to relax.’” – Winston
“You wrote that?” – Nick
The substantial Schmidt story is backed by a pretty much all-for-fun Nick and Winston plot. After a drunken poker game, Nick has come to owe Winston a substantial amount of money. But, since Nick is a hapless bum, he has no genuine intention of paying his friend. The tension begins subtly on a park bench—Winston delivers his request for the payment in the form of a carefully worded written document—and explodes later on in the supermarket—groceries are thrown, names are called, faces are slapped.
The greatest accomplishment of this story is giving Winston some of his more memorable material. Although the character himself hasn’t achieved anything of importance yet, he is becoming more believable as a function of the group. Lamorne Morris’ chemistry with Jake Johnson reaches its peak in this episode, especially during the climactic slapping-and-shoving scene. Some more development of Winston would be nice, though. Last week took a look at Nick, this week at Schmidt, so maybe next week?
Did these new insights into Schmidt ring true for you? Do they make you like him more or less? And what do you think the show will, or should, do with Winston? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.