Last week, I was skeptical as to how New Girl planned to stretch “Fancyman” into a two-parter. After all, the only excuse to do so revolved around giving another episode to Jess’ budding romance with Dermot Mulroney’s silver fox, Russell. If that were the case, wouldn’t that make “The Story Of The 50” and “Jess & Julia”—the pair of episodes exploring the honeymoon phase of Nick’s relationship with Lizzy Caplan’s spunky anti-Jess—a two-parter as well?
Turns out the connective tissue between the two episodes of “Fancyman” is more thematic than story-based—and I probably should have seen that coming. Once “Fancyman (Pt. 1)” got beyond the tricky class-warfare landmines Nick laid in the opening scenes, it became an episode about characters arriving at crossroads: pushing 30 and facing down the decision to either grow the fuck up or keep burrowing into a comfy cocoon made of bunny-eared iPhone cases. In that regard, Russell is more of a plot device than a character; he’s pushing Nick and Jess toward the next step in their personal evolutions, a forward momentum that requires giving up jobs without health insurance and hooking up with people who are impressed because you can mix drinks—with alcohol. He’s the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey with a nice car and too much cash for cab fare.
Dermot Mulroney’s so damn charming and capable in his role that you can look past Russell’s shortcomings as a character (a shallowness that will hopefully be rectified in future episodes). Martin Starr similarly waves away such concerns in “Fancyman (Pt. 2)” as Dirk, Nick’s former law-school roommate and something of a darkest-timeline version of Russell. Where Russell is everything Nick could be if he started applying himself, Dirk is everything Nick could be if he used his knowledge for lazy evil, accruing bullshit degrees while delivering lectures that make facile connections between Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan—the kind of connections that blow the mind and remove the pants of naïve college sophomores. Dirk may only exist to act as a bad influence on Nick, but Martin Starr breathes a lot of life into the character, giving him some worldly affections that are torn down in hilarious fashion during the after-party for his lecture. Not “Magnicifent!” hilarious, but hilarious nonetheless—Starr knows how to play a pompous ass getting his comeuppance.
This is a busy episode, even by New Girl’s typically busy standards. While Nick is finding his apparent fountain of youth in Dirk’s students, Jess is trying to prove she’s of the same age, mentally and spiritually, as Russell. One of the funniest moments in an extremely funny episode (definitely the most laughs per episode since “The Story Of The 50”) comes during Jess’ third date with Fancyman, where her attempts at sounding sensible and sophisticated come off less New Yorker and more Modern Maturity. Pro tip: Discussions about cancer screenings are best held for dates 10 through 12.
There might be a lot going on in “Fancyman (Pt. 2),” but it all serves the characters well. That’s refreshing, considering that one character is usually lost in the show’s multiple-storyline-shuffle—and that character is usually Winston. But Winston gets a solid, if clichéd, plotline here, telling Shelby what he thinks she wants to hear—it’s okay that she’s going to a bachelorette party in Mexico, because the two could use some “space”—without realizing how loaded his choice of words is. Dirk alerts Winston to the errors of his ways through a quick demonstration of how “space” implies “space to have sex with other people” (his loathsome personality traits aside, Dirk is an effective teacher), and Winston is subsequently on the road to Mexico, swiping the keys to Schmidt’s “Manbulance”—and unknowingly smuggling a nude-but-for-strategically-placed-car-accessories Schmidt and Cece across the border.
The dovetailing of Winston’s story with Schmidt and Cece’s is where “Fancyman (Pt. 2)” truly gets cooking. New Girl has had a considerably strong back nine, and Schmidt and Cece’s reluctant debut as a couple is an example of that strength. They’re nearly caught by Jess early in the episode, and while that foreshadows Winston’s discovery at the border crossing, it’s also a smart feint, a moment of panic that sets up the audience for all the wrong expectations about Schmidt’s “Fantasy Location No. 3.”—“Fantasy Location No. 3” being the trunk of the Manbulance and not a failed Lou Bega comeback single (“FANTASY LOCATION NO. 3!”) or a vague, unpopular Chanel fragrance. It’s about time that Schmidt and Cece quit sneaking around, but the show doesn’t force the issue—it places them and Winston in the wrong place at the wrong time, all the while saving the full reveal for a later episode. (“Later episode” meaning next week, in a half-hour tellingly titled “Secrets.”) And that tiny reveal is massively funny. Comedy is surprise, after all, and that surprise is captured marvelously in the shot that pulls back from behind Winston in the driver’s seat to uncover Schmidt and Cece in the back seat, in flagrante delicto. Max Greenfield and Hannah Simone’s faces, frozen in silent terror, push that surprise to the next level.
Of course, Schmidt and Cece coming clean about their secret tryst is a signpost of maturity—for the characters and their relationship—as well. It slots cleanly into an episode that’s all about growing up, one that marks the growth of New Girl alongside its protagonists. The show notches one rite of television passage (successfully executing a two-parter) while continuing to nail the thematic material that’s become the backbone of this season’s second half. And it’s managed to get funnier while doing so.
- The “manly man likes girly girl thing” joke of Winston singing along to the cast recording of Wicked should be hacky, but I found Lamorne Morris’ enthusiasm for “Defying Gravity” and Winston’s refusal to apologize for his tastes refreshing.
- Though I wish better for gawky lil’ Theo, it’s not hard to see Dirk as Martin Starr’s Undeclared character, one decade down the line. He took Steven’s advice about reinventing himself during college too seriously, reconciled with Lloyd, and turned into a scarf-wearing, campus prowling monster—for our amusement, of course.
- Here’s an excellent Slate piece about how Schmidt’s become New Girl’s breakout character, and how he’s helping to define masculinity on TV just as well as fellow all-stars like Ron Swanson and Jack Donaghy. There’s also a bit about how, as the first season has gone on, the roommates and Jess have met in the middle of the “quirky” spectrum, a dynamic captured nicely in the scene tonight where Jess, Schmidt, and Winston attempt to define Dirk’s shirt-on/pants-off bathroom ensemble through the spectrum of cartoon characters and cereal mascots.
- Schmidt understands the important distinctions in workplace titles: “A sex receptionist answers calls all day. A sexcretary does scheduling, light filing—basically runs the office”
- The story of why Dirk is currently single shows Martin Starr continues to have a way with well-deployed sarcasm: “I guess it was ‘too hard’ to ‘support’ me—financially.”
- One of Dirk’s students tempts Nick toward the dark side: “You could get me drunk professionally?”