New Girl: “Jess & Julia”
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New Girl: “Jess & Julia”

Zooey Deschanel infuriates people. 

More accurately, the idea of Zooey Deschanel infuriates people. Which is hilarious, because getting angry at Deschanel (or the goofy, sunny worldview she represents) is like being angry at an anthropomorphic snowflake, a Muppet with a hookup at the vintage shop, or any number of the descriptors the writers and commenters at Gawker have dreamed up since the introduction of that website’s “Zooey Wowee!” feature, a daily dispatch of all things Deschanel intended to troll people who are infuriated by Zooey Deschanel.

In that regard, Deschanel has always been New Girl’s most bankable asset and the albatross hanging around the show’s neck. The fact that the show has become a minor hit for Fox proves that the entire TV-watching public isn’t weary of New Girl’s star—just the ones who have very strong opinions about her. New Girl could turn into the funniest single-camera sitcom on TV overnight (if that should somehow happen, we’re still a long way from it), and those people still wouldn’t tune in because, ick, that girl from (500) Days Of Summer. A swift, full-season pick-up from the network, meanwhile, more or less guaranteed that one of the show’s installments would deal with the question that has long plagued the minds of our troubled nation: What is Zooey Deschanel doing that’s so damn annoying?

“Jess & Julia” addresses that question in a surprisingly humorous way, given that New Girl is unproven in the fields self-reflexivity and meta-jokes. It helps that the previous episode, “The Story Of The 50,” introduced Lizzy Caplan’s Julia to the series. The actress’ run on Party Down positioned her as the current comedy climate’s anti-Zooey: grounded, sardonic, and averse to the frilly, cupcake-and-singing-your-feelings version of femininity embodied by characters like Jess. The first of Jess and Julia’s scenes together in, er, “Jess & Julia,” neatly lays out the fundamental differences between Deschanel and Caplan’s characters: Jess is aghast that Julia “isn’t a dessert person.” Julia can’t process why Jess incurred a moving violation in order to save a bird’s life. When Julia makes an offhanded remark about Jess’ “whole thing”—and then elaborates with some “Zooey Wowee!”-worthy zingers—the personality-clash die are cast.

It would’ve been too easy for the remainder of “Jess & Julia” to vilify Julia in order to build up New Girl’s protagonist (and silence the “haters”), but the episode affords room for the perspectives of both characters. Julia puts up a tough front, but a passive-aggressive conversation with Nick over the status of their relationship (and whether or not either party is having sex with someone else at that very moment) reveals the squishy center hidden beneath Julia’s power blazers. Following their court date—which, in a subtle acknowledgment of the character’s loyalty, Julia still shows up for—Jess makes an impassioned argument that just because she can “rock a lot of polka dots” doesn’t mean she’s some willowy fairy creature incapable of standing up for herself. 

Yet the true strength of Deschanel and Caplan’s scene outside of the courtroom won’t show unless New Girl follows up on those words—saying Jess is “smart, tough, and strong” doesn’t automatically give the character any of those qualities—but it’s a bold assertion that deserves some kudos. (Also worth kudos: Deschanel manages to be both persuasive and funny in her indignation.) Writer Luvh Rakhe and creator Elizabeth Meriwether share credit on the episode’s teleplay (with story by Rakhe), which suggests Rakhe’s initial pitch was a more transparent defense of New Girl’s protagonist and star—the final product finds a well-reasoned, entertaining middle ground that ducks any whiff of self-pity. And, hey, Deschanel and Caplan play really well opposite each other. (DECORUM WILL BE UPHELD IN COMMENTING ON THE ACTRESS’ CHEMISTRY.)

Rakhe and Meriwether succeed further by tempering the “let Jess be Jess” plot of “Jess & Julia” with some supremely silly material for Schmidt and a subplot that adds dimensions to Winston without the aid of child actors. Max Greenfield goes heavy on the shrill near the episode’s end, but that choice matches Schmidt’s dismay at how a loft full of women fails to live up to his macho fantasies. It’s all in good fun, even if reducing the character to a screaming heap wearing watermelon-themed apron with a tampon in its pocket simply maps his at-work situation onto his home life. And in the end, it’s not female trouble that’s getting Schmidt down—it’s Nick’s disregard for the most basic of elements of roommate etiquette.

Winston’s storyline is more down-to-earth, which is great for the one character on the show who’s afforded fewer opportunities to be a human than Jess. There are only so many “just back from Latvia” stories that the New Girl writers will be able to eke out of Winston—having guest star Kali Hawk tell him to quit talking about himself is certainly one way to move closer to finding new story angles for the character. If that’s the case, however, hopefully it doesn’t also spell the end of Winston’s terrible dating skills. The reveal that he took Hawk’s character out for a drink at the restaurant where she works—and that drink was a glass of water—is a wonderful piling-on of comedic details.

Of course, of the threads started by “Jess & Julia,” the most intriguing to follow will be that of the titular characters’ relationship—and how that relationship affects the newly exclusive couple of Nick and Julia. (And whether or not Julia sticks around for more than three episodes.) Fingers crossed future episodes don’t go back to scoop up more inspiration from the vagaries of Zooey Deschanel’s public perception, though. It’s fine for one episode, but I’d hate for a show as light as New Girl to suddenly turn into a running commentary on the celebrity-industrial complex. Should it come to that, the only online space where you can read about it—and subsequently work yourself up into a lather about it—will be “Zooey Wowee!”

Stray observations:

  • New Girl continues its service to the Los Angeles comedy scene at large with June Diane Raphael’s “Jess & Julia” guest shot. She’s mostly there to serve up fodder for Schmidt’s pervy fantasies, but it’s always nice to see a comedic performer like Raphael stop by a network show during in between rotations on the basic-cable and podcasting circuits. Hooray for funny people getting jobs!
  • Nick thinks high-school varsity athletes wear “leatherman” jackets. I’d like to see him make more pronunciation mistakes along these lines—if only to provide a contemporary American rejoinder to The IT Crowd’s brilliant “pedal stool” bit.
  • Julia serves up some freebies for the Gawker crowd: “Your whole thing—with the cupcakes and the braking for birds and ‘Bluebirds come and help me dress in the morning.’”
  • Nick makes the first move toward driving himself and Julia toward crying in the bathroom: “I’m like a mailman—except instead of mail, it’s hot sex that I deliver.”
  • Jess makes a keen argument on behalf of her maturity: “I never said the word ‘blankee’—I don’t talk like Teddy Ruxpin”
  • Jess consoles her new friend over a messy effort at crocheting: “If you’re making a hat for a baby—it is done.” 

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