Since having the best comedy pilot of the fall season, New Girl has been one of those shows that I’ve liked… but. But Jess was irritating. But the show was too forcefully trying to make us love Zooey Deschanel’s naif cuteness. But this or that episode was kind of a clunker. But the show had not successfully transitioned from Damon Wayans Jr. to Lamorne Morris. But…
I’m now officially at the no-more-buts point with New Girl; this is simply a funny, likeable comedy that I enjoy the hell out of, without qualification.
Fellow critic Alan Sepinwall was full of praise this morning too for “Fancyman, Part 1,” but I’m not sure I’d agree this was the best episode since the pilot. For me, that was probably “Injured,” two weeks ago, which explored the sadness of Nick’s cranky-poor-guy character by giving him a cancer scare and confronting what he’s doing—or not—with his life. But each of the last few episodes has been part of a run in which the show seems to have figured out its voice and solved some of its early problems.
For starters: the show has become the ensemble it needs to be. It’s called New Girl, but that means not that it’s about Jess but about Jess’ newness in this circle of friends, and how the change has shaken each of the characters’ routines. It’s a sitcom, at least in part, about the invigorating power of change. And maybe it’s not coincidence that the first character the writers really got a handle on was Schmidt, who was originally the subject of douchebag jokes but who has been real comic gold for his reactions when his fussy habits are threatened—his reactions during the great towel war a few episodes ago, or to Jess’ sidewalk-salvaged pine china hutch, have been Felix-Unger-quality.
Making the show more about the ensemble has helped it be a fun hangout comedy while still teasing out the hints of darkness behind some of the humor: Winston’s career disappointments, Schmidt’s insecurities, Nick’s defensive apathy, Jess’ heartbreak and frustrated idealism. More important, its voice has just gotten more confident, and very, very funny. As the run of “President Miller” lines in last night’s episode proved (“I’m President Miller! You’re all fired! Bring our boys home!”), the show knows how to find a good concept and run with it, while also using it to show that Nick is not as comfortable as he claims to be a righteously poor law-school dropout. (My other favorite recurring motif: the many analogies to what Mr. Fancyman and his study smelled like: Shakespeare, strong coffee and seeing a man about a horse.)
All that and Japanese-bidet jokes! I now know not to turn the setting on that bathroom appliance up to six happy faces, but last night’s episode easily gave me seven, minimum.