‘New Girl’ Recap: Jess Vs. Dermot Mulroney

New GirlS1E17: There are pros and cons to the way New Girl carries itself. People like watching the show because they enjoy spending time with the characters, and they enjoy watching the characters spend time with each other. New Girl is all quirk and chemistry—there are no truly great storylines, no compelling arcs or character struggles. 

Like the ABC sitcoms Happy Endings and Cougar Town, the brilliant Parks and Recreation, or the mighty knight that started it all, Friends, the thrill of New Girl is living vicariously through a close-knit group of codependent misfits who don’t really have anything other than one another going on in their lives. You probably won’t ever really be wowed, but you will also probably not ever really be disappointed.

“I’ll raise the money myself! I’ll get a ragtag group of kids together. A lost soul, an orphan, a Jewish kid with a keyboard, a little slut who can dance, and a fatso.” – Jess

This week’s episode of New Girl, “Fancyman Part 1,” gives Jess the two things she works best with: a foe and a love interest. Jess is confronted by Russell (Dermot Mulroney), the wealthy, well-to-do father of one of her students, who wishes to pull his daughter out of Jess’ experimental creative dream expression period so that she can focus more on her maths and sciences and all those other horrible things. 

Jess takes issue with Russell’s stance, assuming immediately that he’s a penny-pinching elitist who thinks he’s bigger and better than everyone just because he is richer. To make matters worse, Jess’ principal (returning guest star Rachael Harris, who told us a little about her work on New Girl in this recent interview) insists that Jess appease Russell, as he is a generous benefactor to the school’s budget.

All Jess wants to do is tell Russell off and demand that she be allowed to help expand his daughter’s creativity. Nick, whose recent inability to acquire a new cell phone (astonishingly low credit score) has thrust him into “Ghost Protocol” mode: living off the grid, fighting the powers that be, shouting, “We are the 99 percent!” As such, he has Jess’ back in this anti-rich guy movement.

“I’ve always wanted to be a mole person.” – Nick

As it turns out, Russell is actually a genuinely decent guy. After Jess’ car breaks down on her way to go tell him off at his place of work, Russell allows her to borrow his car, and then invites her to a barbecue at his mansion. Nick tags along, and is taken in by the allure of rich living just as quickly as he was hypnotized by the thrill of living like a renegade hobo. Nick is defined by his complete lack of regard, both in dramatic and comedic storylines. This go-for-broke comedic manifestation of the makeup of his character is indicative of how much fun the show is capable of having with him.

Some words (that only a true best friend would be able to muster) from Cece alert Jess that she doesn’t hate Russell—she’s intimidated by him. Jess is attracted to inherently flawed guys because she defines herself by being able to take care of people. A guy like Russell doesn’t seem to need any taking care of. But as it turns out, Russell being a decent person isn’t the only surprise he shares. He also struggles with being a good father, finding it difficult to connect to his daughter. Russell’s admission of this sparks a connection between he and Jess, and the two agree to go out—plausibly, next week, on “Fancyman Part 2.”

“I hate groveling. I wouldn’t have lasted two minutes in the court of the Sun King. I think about that all the time.” – Jess

“Fancyman,” proves more than any recent episode that all the show needs is to stick its characters in a room together. Although the main plot is intrinsically strong, there’s something about the way the entire episode is carried out that seems to sap it of some of its life force. From the get-go, with a disconcertingly laugh-free cold open, the episode seems to lack any discernible pacing. The rhythm of the scenes and the dialogue might as well be pulled from a found-footage MTV series. The initial meeting of Jess and one of her students’ fathers, Russell, comes to mind as a particularly awkward scene. The humor buried in the strangely plotted dialogue defies any rules of conventional joke setup—you might actually have to re-watch Jess’ exchange with Russell two or three times before you realize that there are actually jokes in there.

This may all sound like some pretty harsh criticism—but in fact, it’s a testament to how good the show is at what it’s good at. Even with the handicap of this choppy pacing, which lasts throughout (although cleans up to some degree towards the end), “Fancyman Part 1” is as much of a treat as any other episode of New Girl. It’s a delight seeing space cadet Jess pal around with her three idiot roommates, fumbling over the solution to a relatively inconsequent problem, each throwing his misguided two cents in.

“It smells like Shakespeare in here!” – Nick

Best of all this week is my favorite duo on the show: Jess and Nick, who enable one another through their ill-conceived, stubborn ideologies of detesting the upper-class, for particularly harebrained reasons—one was upset by a handsome rich guy earlier that morning, the other didn’t get a phone and apparently saw Mission: Impossible 4 recently.

The fun in the episode is seeing these people play with each other. They really do operate like a group of believable friends, listlessly inhibiting one another, but serving as important functions of one another just the same.

“There’s nothing wrong with being the second smartest person in the loft. You know what? I take that back. Jess is a teacher of children.” – Schmidt

While Jess and Nick dabble in the finer things at Dermot Mulroney’s elegant mansion party, Schmidt outshines Winston at bar trivia in front of Winston’s potential girlfriend Shelby (Kali Hawk), who was introduced on the episode “Jess and Julia.” Winston, who has been shown to be hypercompetitive, engages in a trivia cram with the young boy he babysits, Elvin (Blake Garrett), who is proficient in academia. It is nice being reminded that Winston has other things going on, especially since he rarely has much to do among the group. While his budding relationship with Shelby isn’t of much interest, he has a nice camaraderie with young oddball Elvin, who we met back on the Christmas episode.

New Girl might never blow our hair back, but it has a lot going for it. Any show that can maintain interest despite a particularly shaky, arrhythmic episode is clearly doing something right. Do you think New Girl’s character chemistry is strong enough to save even the weaker episodes? What do you think, or hope, we’ll see with the return of Dermot Mulroney’s character? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.