New Girl - “Naked”

It’s been nearly a month since we last saw New Girl thanks to the ongoing coverage of the baseball playoffs, and it was an unfortunate time for the show to go off the air even if the World Series was pretty fantastic. The last episode that aired, “Wedding,” was easily the best of the show’s young run, and it suggested a few ways the characters could grow and how the show could evolve. Getting to see that and then not being able to sit down with a new episode for roughly 31 days was about the best way to kill the momentum the show had built up, and I’m not quite sure if it’s the gap or if it’s just a lesser episode, but “Naked” doesn’t exactly continue the work that “Wedding” started, even if it does showcase a glimmer of promise here and there.

What’s beginning to become apparent is that the writers for New Girl have realized just how funny Zooey Deschanel can be in the role and seem to be doubling down on her character, or at least refusing to move the spotlight off her. New Girl has always been Deschanel’s show, but I fear that focusing too hard on Jess could ultimately prove to be the series’ downfall. Take Jess’s nearly minute long attempt to say the word “penis.” It’s a scene that’s funny, if not hysterical, but the joke is simply that Zooey Deschanel is good at making weird variations on the word penis such as peen or penir sound goofy. That’s not the kind of joke that’s going to be evergreen, before too long Jess is going to go from cute to annoying, and the only way to combat that is to flesh out the characters around her and “Naked” isn’t particularly great at doing that.

Nick’s the character that gets the most screen time outside of Jess, and his plot revolves around his attempts to get over his ex-girlfriend once more. I can’t be the only one who is tired of Nick being defined by his ex, and it consistently feels like we’re only learning about his character in terms of her, rather than in terms of who he actually is on a day-to-day basis. “Naked” features him going out on his first date since the breakup with a girl named Amanda, played by a criminally underused Lake Bell, but when she tries to get him into bed he’s unable to take off his clothes. The reason? Jess saw him naked earlier and let out something between a laugh and a scream, another moment that’s funny but is wholly reliant on Zooey Deschanel’s ability to make the laugh/scream sound funny, that broke his confidence and now he’s even deeper in a rut. It’s simple stuff, and it doesn’t really reveal anything new about Nick other than what we know. We’ve already been told he’s awkward and slow to get over his girlfriend, I’m not sure we needed another entire plotline based around that fact.

Winston and Schmidt’s story doesn’t do all that much for them either, dealing primarily with Winston’s culture shock at returning to America after two years playing basketball in Latvia. The information we get here isn’t quite as repetitive as what we got in Nick’s plot, but it all feels like table setting. The jokes also don’t land particularly well since they’re almost entirely predicated on recognizing what viral video or movie Winston happens to be watching at any given moment. (I mean, how wacky is it to be watching The Human Centipede and The King’s Speech side by side, those movies totally don’t go together and came out in the last two years!) There just isn’t enough to the jokes or the character work to make this plot really go. In a flashback early on we see that Schmidt’s repression seems to have emerged from a rather strange family life as he sits at a dinner table as a young child dressed in a bunny suit, repeatedly asking for his mother’s attention but being denied it. That’s a funny image that could also get at something about Schmidt’s character, but it never quite feels connected to Schmidt’s later neediness in the episode despite opening the door for a little character work in the early going.

For now most of New Girl seems to be content with throwing out funny enough jokes without really tying them into the characters or their development, that’s okay for the very early stages of a comedy, where New Girl still is, but that needs to change pretty soon if it wants to build into a show that’s worth following for the long haul. Despite these problems there are things in this episode that point to New Girl being willing to grow, most important of which is the way it handles the resolution of its central plot. For most of the episode the show is doing the standard sitcom plot of one roommate seeing another naked so the first roommate has to get naked for the second one to feel like they’re back on equal ground. It’s a pretty standard trope, and just when it seems like New Girl might just let Nick see Jess naked and call it a day it throws in a nice wrinkle featuring Jess attempting to enact her plan when Nick suddenly brings Amanda back to his room for sex.

It’s a nice tweak to the formula, even if it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and it allows for a fun set of visuals where Nick finally discovers Jess desperately trying to crawl out of his room and then proceeding to freak out along with both Amanda and Jess until she drops her towel and quickly excuses herself from the awkward situation. It’s a climax that doesn’t content itself with just letting a few funny actors carry lackluster material and tries to find a new way into the story. It’s not quite a resolution that could only happen on New Girl, but it does allow for things to wrap up with a bit of a surprise and just enough humor to smooth things over. I also enjoyed the odd running gag of Schmidt’s utterly bizarre desire to see Nick’s penis, as he was the only one who hadn’t after Jess’s unexpected run in. It’s illogical, but was well handled by Max Greenfield and his final, fully clothed exit from a turned on shower was a nice finish that further filled in just how needy and determined Schmidt can be at times. “Naked” may not have been a perfect episode, and it didn’t reach either the comedic or character driven heights that “Wedding” did, but it’s an enjoyable enough episode that hopefully points the way to better things in New Girl’s future.

Other Thoughts:

  • I very much enjoyed Schmidt’s running, it looked ludicrous, and I love a totally ridiculous looking method of running.
  • “What gut?” “The little puch where you keep your extra cookies.”