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New Girl: “Bells”

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New Girl

“Bells”

Season 1, Episode 7

Sharing a living space with another person—let alone three other people—can be tough. It becomes even tougher when you’re not bonded to the people with whom you live through familial ties and can therefore fly off the handle at them for, say, leaving the bolts on your indoor basketball hoop dangerously loose. Going into a living situation with friends adds a separate wrinkle, one that sets any minor conflict down a path littered with eggshells and passive-aggressive notes.

The New Girl loft is such a living arrangement—or at least it was until Jess moved in. Being an outside interloper means she has fewer personal attacks to utilize when she’s in a conflict with one of the guys, but that also gives her three sources for ammunition against and analysis of the enemy. And while she’d be left homeless if she ever irreparably damaged her relationship with Nick, Winston, or Schmidt, she doesn’t have enough emotional investment in her relationship with any of them to worry about any personal conflicts getting out of hand. Of course, she’s a good person, so when she and Winston tussle over the control of a youth handbell choir in “Bells,” she doesn’t just shake the situation off and try to mount the choir’s big performance by herself. Instead, she seeks Winston’s forgiveness and invites him back to do the only thing he’s been good at since the end of his basketball career: creating beautiful melodies with a three-in-hand, a.k.a. a “Winston.”

The most prominent of the two conflicts at the heart of “Bells” would be troublesome were it not for Jess’ general wholesomeness. Because, seriously: We’ve never seen Jess sign a lease, so she could assumedly bolt any time something like Winston’s handbell acumen threatens to create a toxic environment in the loft. It’s unfortunate that New Girl had to introduce something as ridiculous as a handbell choir for troubled teens to force such a plot, and while I’m tempted to shrug it off with a rousing, “Hey, that’s New Girl for you—always trying to make you laugh with unorthodox instrumentation,” this part of the episode just didn’t work for me. It’s fun to watch Lamorne Morris pretend to be a natural with a  “Mart Lift” (Why yes, I did spend several years as a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Brighton’s Sanctuary Ringers—how could you tell?), but why not just put Winston and Jess in one another’s path directly? Why stick a group of anonymous teenaged characters between them to achieve that end?

Probably because it would’ve been too similar to what Schmidt and Nick go through in “Bells.” But while Jess and Winston’s conflict is a basic clash of personality, Schmidt and Nick’s squabble runs deeper. Their plot here is a two-man “snobs versus slobs” comedy, predicated on the fact that Schmidt (the snob) thinks that his friend is wasting away in self-imposed boho poverty; meanwhile, Nick (the slob) is tired of his old pal ramming a bourgeois lifestyle down his throat, one piece of $80 sushi at a time. In the grand tradition of the genre, their tiff leads to a prank war, the use of food as a weapon, and a cartoonish chase in a very small space. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed the Schmidt-Nick scenes of “Bells” a whole lot more than the Jess-Winston scenes.

That’s partially because we’re still trying to get a read on Winston (this much the series has told us again and again: he’s competitive); with Schmidt and Nick, this type of showdown has been brewing since the pilot. Plus, Max Greenfield and Jake M. Johnson throw off much bigger sparks when they collide. Their first shouting match in tonight’s episode added considerable volume (har har) to what’s often an emotionally muted show. It may have been couched in silly things like Nick cramming the refrigerator and couch into Schmidt’s room (the source of Jess’ line of the night: “What happened to the fridge and sofa? Did we get robbed by giants?”), but it’s nice to see the characters express something outside of “I want to fuck CeCe” and “I’m in a quarter-life rut” for once.

That plot also brought about something the series habitually forgets: Though they’re ostensibly the “mature” roommates, Schmidt and Nick are still young like Jess. They don’t let that show through improvised song-and-dance routines and old-time-radio voices, but they’re just as lost, confused, and trying to figure life out as she is. The characters’ “cool” affectations just tend to obscure that. So I like seeing them cut the “cool” act a little bit, even when that results in the series’ most childish behavior this side of Jess’ inability to say “penis.”

The show would do well to remember this more often—because people don’t tend to tune in to series about four sober-minded roommates who totally have their shit together. They tune in to watch four characters who have problems that need working out, and cause comedic tension when they try to do so. And that’s the type of thing that doesn’t require a ragtag bunch of glove-wearing, mallet-toting kids to generate.

Stray observations:

  • The members of Ensembell really seemed like props in this episode. Which is too bad, because I found Raven Goodwin to be one of the less annoying aspects of Glee’s “Quinn goes punk” storyline—and apparently she was great in the short-lived Huge.
  • Though it’s eventually dropped in favor of Schmidt and Nick’s fight, I really enjoyed Nick’s miserly-dad-like skill for fixing things around the apartment. Though I can’t imagine there’s a landlord on Earth that would’ve allowed him to get away with any of those contraptions. (Though maybe the subject of a landlord shouldn’t be brought into this conversation—assumedly, he or she would be the one paying to fix the toilet. So let’s just act like Schmidt bought the loft as well as the refrigerator and the couch.)
  • The finer things in life are not wasted on Schmidt: “Water crackers are for adults to eat with adult cheese.” (I appreciate that he followed up on that admonishment by actually laying out a cheese plate for the kids. That’s some nice follow-up on the culinary skills revealed in “Thanksgiving.”)
  • Schmidt masks his anger with Nick: “Yes, I wanted to rub your face in our working toilet.”