We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of every other sitcom on television trying to compete with New Girl, which is not only firing on all cylinders when it comes to sharp writing, Emmy-primed performances (just give Jake Johnson the damn thing now, he’s earned it), and the right balance of heart and wit. We will miss them.
At the start, New Girl wasn’t exactly a show that stood on the edge. The Fox comedy has been solid in the ratings from the word go — or, in the case of an ill-advised marketing slogan, “adorkable” — so a premature cancellation was never really in the cards. The show’s leading lady Zooey Deschanel and breakout sidekick Max Greenfield both earned nominations from the always-newcomer friendly Golden Globes. Yet, as “safe” as it was, there wasn’t enough to convince even the snobbiest of television snubs that a show with a similar premise (attractive twentysomethings living in the city, wading through the sea of bulls**t that is dating, careers, and being broke) was actually doing something really special and downright hilarious.
Whatever New Girl detractors are left out there, if there are any, you should really be the one in mourning. Fox’sNew Girl isn’t just a sexy, shipper-friendly sitcom, it’s also the funniest and most hearfelt comedy on television right now. The show has quickly turned its muddled second season (thanks to those pesky anti-feminism themes and that cringe-worthy product placement moment) into a thoughtful and entertaining comedy that finally feels on par with the likes of Parks and Recreation.
A huge part of that success has been the evolution of Johnson’s Nick Miller from goofy, likable manchild to a fully fleshed-out character with a continually interesting back story and even more promising future. Plus, he’s just so damn dreamy. The ballad of Nick Miller continued last night in “Chicago”, a heartbreaker of an ep that explained more about him in 24 minutes than the whole of two seasons.
After receiving a phone call from his mom (played by the great Margo Martindale) Nick has learned that his dad (played by Dennis Farina, who we met a few weeks ago as the con man and learned Nick had a complicated father-son relationship with) had a heart attack and passed away. Now, this is no new sitcom territory: How I Met Your Mother dealt with it brilliantly with Marshall mourning the unexpected loss of his dad, but during a week when something as touching and raw as this comes out, New Girl had its work cut out for it. Still, any episode that starts with friends giving their condolences after huffing helium was on the right track.
The gang flies out with Nick to Chicago (lest you forget from Schmidt’s rap “Nick Milla, Nick Milla/From the streets of Chicago/’Cause the players play/Like they do, like they did”) to lend their support as Nick not only has to say goodbye, but deal with his crazy, loud brood. While Schmidt and Winston are used to it (or, as Nick’s mom referred to them, Fat Schmidt and Winnie), it was all new territory for Jess. Of course, once you can survive the first meeting with the fam, especially one under such extreme circumstances, you can handle pretty much anything.
She was immediately thrust into Miller clan madness, which includes an overbearing mother who doesn’t trust her (and thinks she’s Spanish) and relies on Nick to put the entire Elvis-themed funeral together in a few days (we learned pretty quickly that Nick ran the show at home as a kid thanks to his unreliable dad), a bonehead brother named Jamie (played to perfection by Nick Kroll), a grandmother (perennial TV and movie grandmother Ellen Albertini Dow) who doesn’t trust cops, and a rough-around-the-edges cousin from Boston Bobby (comedian Bill Burr) hell-bent on getting a gold necklace from his dead uncle.
It’s a side of Nick we haven’t seen before, certainly not one seen by Jess, and it explains a whole lot about Nick. The reason why he’s so unfocused and lost is because he had to be the one at home (or that year they lived in a van) to handle all the really grown-up affairs. Now he finally gets to be the teenager he never got to be back home in Chicago. If that doesn’t make you fall in love with Nick a little bit more, you’re on you’re own: it certainly flipped a switch in Jess. Desperate to help him, Jess somehow gets talked into writing his father’s eulogy despite having only met him once.
With little help from Jamie (he described his late father as a man who “had a table at every diner in the city, silverware from the finest hotels in the area, a gold chain as thick as floss… thick floss”) and even less help from an under-pressure Nick who takes off the night before the funeral, Jess feels, well, helpless. But more than anything, you can tell its killing her that she wants to connect with Nick, to hold his hand during this time, but he won’t let her, he can’t while he takes care of the latest family crisis. Which, in the Miller family, just so happens to include finding an affordable Elvis Presley impersonator.
Of course, Jess and Nick weren’t the only ones dealing with a personal crisis: Winston somehow got relegated, once again, to helping smooth out Schmidt’s crazed theories and neurosis. What was capturing a rare fish last week became helping him cope with his fear of death, mainly of seeing a dead body in an open casket. “What’s with this open casket thing? I gotta see the carcass? That’s crazy! What if his eyes open and then he comes and haunts all of us?” Schmidt cried in a pre-funeral meltdown. (Johnson may be the heart and soul of the show right now, but Greenfield still knows how to go straight for the funny bone).
Now, I still think the show’s writers need to give Winston and actor Lamorne Morris way more to do on the show than play a sidekick to a sidekick (he’s literally playing dead here to help out Schmidt get the laughs), but while we’re all busy swooning over Nick and Jess, it is fun to watch these two play off of each other. They make a good duo, we just need to build Winston as his own person first for it to be completely effective.
But, neither Winston nor Jess got their job done as both Schmidt was still weary about death (“It’s bad luck to see the body before the funeral”) and Nick showed up to his father’s funeral tanked (“I drank one dozen beers”) with a shady Elvis impersonator and a shoddy eulogy (or, as he hilariously slurred, “a giggliography”) in tow. While poor Winnie wound up being the one who unraveled come funeral time as Schmidt faced his fear of the dead — quite literally, he touched head’s with Nick’s dead dad’s head as he tried to get the crazy cousin away from the coveted chain — Nick eventually pulled it together, with the help of Jess.
After having a heart-to-heart with Nick as she helped Nick sober up, she not only told him that she simply wanted to be there to hold his hand, but stepped in as the Elvis impersonator as the funeral so richly deserved. Deschanel has always been a gifted comedian as far as I’m concerned (see: The Good Girl and Almost Famous) but watching her sing “In the Ghetto” in full Elvis garb to a room full of mourners took it to another level. Even Schmidt marveled that he felt transported to the ghetto. I think Nick truly fell in love with her in that moment, and no matter how much her bangs might drive you crazy, you’d be made of stone to not fall head over heels for her here, too.
With the boost from Jess, who was willing to make an ass of herself for the sake of him and his family, Nick did what he knew he had to do all along, but kept putting off (it’s easier to crunch the numbers on a calculator than it is to find the right words about your parent): he said goodbye to his dad. Nick gave a sweet, honest, and beautiful eulogy about his pop.
Now, I know I keep pushing for Johnson to get an Emmy (he deserves it) but there was a moment that solidified his place as not only an incredibly gifted comic star, but an actor as well. When Nick said in his eulogy that he didn’t know whether or not his father Walt was a good or bad guy “he was my dad and im sure gonna miss him.” That gut punch of a line was likely from the talented New Girl writers, but in that same moment Nick hands begin to nervously fidget. That could have very well been in the script too, but after having seen the improv-heavy Drinking Buddies at SXSW, which stars Johnson, I wouldn’t be surprised if he came up with that key moment on the spot.
In case that wasn’t enough to put a lump in your throat, Nick’s mom apologized to him for putting so much pressure on him as a kid (being the good boy that he is, he told her not to worry) and warmed to Jess, even packing her a snack for the road. “I’m glad you have someone who takes care of you,” she told her son as they both looked at Jess. He didn’t correct her, he only smiled knowingly. These two have a bond deeper than frenzied make-outs, but whether that will lead to love still remains to be seen. They deeply, deeply care about each other for now, and that’s okay. Although, here’s to hoping that final sequence of Jess singing “Burning Love” is actually just musical foreshadowing.
Check out the lines and best moments from the wonderful “Chicago” (there’s more than a few, get ready) here:
– “He loved me more than he loved you, he told me that”- Winston, to Nick about his dad. Nick concurred with, “Yeah he told me that, too, actually.”
– “I wanted to look fantastic for your father’s funeral, now I have nothing but the schmatta on my back” – Schmidt, putting his Hebrew flair on funeral talk.
– “Don’t do the hair pull, it’s so intimate” – Nick to his brother Jamie.
– Nick’s nicknames (ha!) at home include College and The Iron Jew. Jess’ nicknamed was ceremoniously declared Glasses.
– Schmidt’s hatred of the “middle class button system”: “Look at all these buttons, I look like a remote control!”
– Jamie’s theory on being coy about sexual relationships: “She who denied it, supplied it.”
– Schmidt calling Winston a “beautiful black butterfly” and “a ghoul” during his fake eulogy for him.
– Schimdt representin’: “Long Island, son!” (Runner-up: “All day, son!”)
– Bobby representin’: “It’s all about the gestuh!”
– Drunk Nick crying to Jess, “I’m the stupidest of all the stupid boys!” Hardly.
– “He was very good at gambling, he had a great mustache, he was mean to cabbies in a cool way, he never was scared” – Nick’s lovely, tearjerking eulogy to his dad.
Follow Aly on Twitter @AlySemigran
[Photo credit: Jennifer Clasen/Fox]