Is it just me, or does it seem like New Girl uses opportunities to talk about its main character to talk about the show itself? Case in point: As much as Jess’ verbal showdown with Julia in “Jess & Julia” was about the character’s perpetually sunny/naïve outlook, it was also a way for New Girl the defend the way the show reflects that viewpoint. As much as episodes like “The Story Of The 50” or tonight’s “Injured” display New Girl’s strengths as an ensemble show, Jess is still its center, its core, the element it’s been most confident in from the start. (Anyone who listens to creator Elizabeth Meriwether’s appearance on the Nerdist Writers Panel can see why the last item in that list is true: Meriwether is Jess, even more so than Zooey Deschanel.)
So when Nick, confronting the possibility that he may have thyroid cancer, snaps at Jess and tells her she doesn’t know how to be real, I hear New Girl challenging itself. And while that line is a squirm-inducing way of declaring “Injured”’s mission statement, it’s still heartening to hear the show setting its bar one rung higher—and then clearing that bar with relish.
“Injured” is by no means perfect. The dialogue, as evidenced above, tends toward the obvious. The sequence of Winston, Schmidt, and Cece composing a musical memorial for the ailing Nick starts out on a high note (Lamorne Morris’ commendable Aaron Neville impression, which transitions smoothly into the alt-rock vocal style The A.V. Club’s founding editor Stephen Thompson memorably termed “hunger dunger dang singing”) but lets that note go several measures too long. The first one-and-a-half acts are confused about what type of episode “Injured” is. (Is this the one where Nick and Winston learn the true cost of their stubbornness? Is this the one where Nick is subjected to a series of embarrassing check-ups from lady doctors? Is this the one where Jess is finally forced to be “real?” Is it a very special episode? Is this a Bucket List episode?) In spite of all this, “Injured” nails emotional cues that were out of New Girl’s range at the beginning of the season. It bodes well for the show’s future as something more than Fox’s cute, little Zooey Deschanel sitcom. I’m taking an immediate shine to the episode because I like that the show can pull off a half-hour that mixes pathos and humor as capably “Injured.”
That shouldn’t be too surprising, considering the writer receiving credit for the teleplay; Saturday Night Live alum J.J. Philbin also spent three seasons in the writers’ room of The O.C., and the “Injured” puts out a similar, “youthful ennui in paradise” vibe. The episode starts big and broad: Nick’s is in extreme pain after being tackled by Jess during a game of football; being uninsured, the only doctor who’ll take a look him is Jess’ friend Sadie (June Diane Raphael), who’s an OB/GYN. A few emasculating jokes and one fantastic roundabout diagnosis and prescription later, we arrive at the heart of the episode: There’s a mysterious lump on Nick’s thyroid, and if the various, alarmist corners of the Internet are to be believed, it could be cancerous.
It’s there that the episode could start plowing directly through “very special episode” clichés—but it doesn’t. It makes a feint toward a Bucket List-style epiphany, but a few seconds of splashing around in cold ocean waters persuade Nick that night time is not the right time to go swimming in the Pacific.
Instead, Nick’s brush with mortality forces the roommates and Cece to take stock of the relationships within their group. There’s a sense, as they sit on the beach, that while none of them ended up where they wanted to be at this point in their lives, at this moment, they’re in the right place. It’s a poignant moment, one of the most memorable the show has conjured thus far. (Considering her time at The O.C.—a show which knew a thing or to about having contemplative moments by the ocean—I’m assuming we can credit this to Philbin.) And then Schmidt vocalizes his thought about the perfect indent of Cece’s ass that will be left behind when the night is finished, and the humor/pathos balance is re-established.
Maybe I’ve been watching too much Cheers lately, but I’m of a mindset where it’s exciting see a comedy try something with more emotional heft, as New Girl does with “Injured.” (Of course, it’s emotional heft based on a false alarm—believe it or not, New Girl isn’t looking to give one of its main characters cancer.) The show is never the funniest nor the swiftest single-camera sitcom on the block, but it’s perfectly suited for ending an episode with one character’s burden being supported by five characters. After all, they’ve been doing so since the second episode. Sure, the show is squishy and doe-eyed, like its protagonist. And like its protagonist, the series has seemed at times like it doesn’t know how to be real—but “Injured” shows that’s not the case.
- Adventures in fact-checking: J.J. Philbin is the wife of Parks And Recreation showrunner Michael Schur and Regis Philbin’s daughter.
- Winston’s beat-up SUV is one of the episode’s more obvious symbolic elements, and it ultimately ends up playing a smaller role than the first act signals. But Lamorne Morris totally sells the scene where his character abandons the car—a difficult parting with a representation of his once-promising basketball career. At least he gets to keep a souvenir, in the form of the license plate.
- In the version of “Injured” posted on Fox’s digital screening room, the episode’s final scenes are scored to Beach House’s “Take Care.” That band has always come across as too sleepy for my tastes, but the song captures the mood of the conclusion perfectly. Here’s hoping it stays in the broadcast cut.
- Some parts of Winston’s car are only “car parts” in the academic sense: “You shouldn’t call them keys—it’s the paperclip you start the car with.”
- Schmidt and Cece share a moment: Schmidt: “I had a cat that died.” Cece: “Don’t compare my dad to your cat.”