S1E15: Something very interesting strikes me with this week’s episode of New Girl. In the episode, Nick is told during a medical checkup that he has a growth on his neck that needs to be examined via ultrasound, thus inspiring worst-case-scenario type of thinking among he and his friends. As soon as we hear the news delivered (from Jess’ gynecologist friend, who has agreed to look at the uninsured Nick free of charge), we know that this is an episode about Nick, not Jess. In plots like these, certain questions arise: is New Girl still New Girl when it is not about Jess? Or is it just Same Guys as Before?
What is so interesting is that even in episodes not ostensibly about Jess is the theme of New Girl prevalent. Before she came along, there existed this trio—let’s forget the strange Coach interim period and skip all the way back to Winston’s pre-Europe days. Nick, Winston and Schmidt have been a functioning group of friends for many years. But without Jess, none of the events in this week’s episode would have happened.
Most obviously, Nick would not have gone to the doctor in the first place. Adamantly anti-doctor, Nick only agrees to visit a medical professional due to the unbelievable pain brought on by a bruise to his spine—courtesy of Jess during a tackle football game. The doctor Jess brings Nick to is her recurring OB/GYN friend Sadie (June Diane Raphael), who agrees to forego Nick’s fiscal inadequacies due to her affection for Jess—for whom just about anyone would do just about anything; although it is never addressed, at least on this episode, there is a lot more than just believably convenient plot advancement going on in Sadie’s willingness to examine Nick.
Sadie notices a growth on Nick’s neck and mandates an ultrasound appointment for the next day. Nick is unconcerned at first, taking his painkillers as an enabler for his denial, but Jess is on edge. She can’t help but tell Winston, Schmidt and Cece about Nick’s possible condition. When they start feeding their curiosities with a self-diagnosis website—one that jumps right to cancer—the gang becomes overwhelmed by grief and anxiety over the thought of losing Nick.
The remainder of the episode plays out with some interesting structural choices. A lengthy scene is devoted to the group drunkenly messing around on the piano, rattling off sloppy freestyle raps about their love for Nick. Although it probably goes against every rule of framing a story to devote so much time to such a loose, wandering scene, it is definitely my favorite of the episode. Not because it’s filled with laughs—there are a couple, but not a ton—but because it is so entirely carnal. It seems like the sort of setting you might actually find yourself in the night before a fateful medical appointment. It’s pure emotion—a little sad, a little funny, completely muddled, and kind of aimless.
But if it wasn’t for Jess, this is where Nick, Winston and Schmidt would stay all night—which, I think, is the perfect representation of what New Girl is about on the whole. If Jess hadn’t stepped in, these three guys would be ensconced in what was immediately availed to them, making no effort to change or explore anything new or better themselves or one another. They all love each other, but none of them loves himself enough to make things better for any of them.
But Jess is the personification of love. She loved these guys the minute she moved in with them. So, she is willing and able to bring Nick beyond sulking over a piano in his own bar. She challenges him to do something that he never would ordinarily. Nick painfully admits that it is against his nature to “live in the moment,” to do anything without thinking it through or knowing exactly what will happen at the turnout. But inspired by Jess, Nick takes this rare opportunity to do something he might never do—and the group heads to the ocean well after midnight so that Nick can jump in. “Spontaneously.”
And he does. Seconds later, though, he recoils, rushes out of the water, and declares the whole thing stupid, breaking down earnestly about the fact that he is afraid that he might have cancer. A lot of shows and movies would (and have, in the past) take an opportunity like this to play up the value of “living in the moment” as a life-saving philosophy, selling the whole idea as the only appropriate way to value one’s life. Well, not everyone is like that. Nick is set in his ways—not because he’s too afraid to be otherwise, because that’s just plain who he is. And changing him, even temporarily, would be disrespectful (you hear that, other shows to which I was alluding?).
Jess pushes Nick into the ocean—something Winston and Schmidt would never have done—but she’s also there with his dry shirt once he’s back on the beach. Jess is unlike anyone else in these peoples’ lives: she’s anything they need her to be. She’s happy, cheerful and inspiring when she believes that is what Nick needs. She’s stern, severe and candid when he tells her that is what he needs. Jess is willing to be and do anything for these people. And the mere fact that they’re all beginning to conform to her ways proves that she is bringing out something within them that proves that they, too, are willing to be anything for one another as well.
And as it turns out, Nick doesn’t have cancer. Nobody (outside of the show) really expected him to. But even with that as certainty, the fact that the show manages genuine emotion over the issue throughout is quite impressive. The subplots involve a growing sincerity between Schmidt and Cece, and Winston’s unwillingness to get rid of his broken down truck. They are equally moving.