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New Girl: “Kids”

For a sitcom about a group of twentysomethings, New Girl has managed to work an awful lot of kid-centric plots into its first season. That comes with the territory—what with Jess being a teacher and all—but the school-age characters that have wondered through these episodes also serve as a useful gauge for the main ensemble’s fluctuating maturity level. More often than not, the kids have been more all right than Jess and her friends: They’re better at playing handbells, better with technology, and better at noticing when the people who care for them are holding themselves back. It makes sense that the children of the New Girl universe function better than the adults. After all, they don’t have to worry about pregnancy scares, jealous ex-spouses, or bosses with strange off-hour pastimes.

Suffice it to say, none of the show’s main characters are equipped for parenthood, save for Winston—and in his case, he’s better at taking care of other characters than he is at taking care of himself. Jess has a gift for connecting with and instructing kids, but she lacks the stern hand of a parent, as indicated by her inability to keep Russell’s daughter from barricading herself in various rooms in the loft. Nick’s not quite parent material either, because as tonight’s episode, “Kids,” demonstrates, he’d probably end up dating his kids’ friends. Cece’s obviously not ready for children, as well, because she straight-up falls apart when she thinks she might be up to her elbows in Schmidt-filled diapers nine months down the line.

But you know who’s on his way to being ready to raise some kids? Why, none other than that well-manicured bundle of surprises, Schmidt. Rather than putting New Girl’s breakout character through the typical pregnancy-scare paces, the writers chose instead to have him receive Cece’s news with grace and enthusiasm. His biggest concern: whether he could impregnate the baby while having sex with Cece, thereby creating some sort of horrifying “Russian nesting doll” situation. (Hannah Simone’s silent reaction to that line is one of the actress’ finest comedic moments to date.) That’s our Schmidt: looking at fatherhood as an achievement on par with developing a taste for fine cheeses or learning the correct pronunciation of “chutney,” all the while gaining an undue confidence in his own fertility. Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to see Schmidt react to the news so positively—and heartbreaking to watch him look up at a dissipating, skywritten wedding proposal after Cece receives undeniable, biological proof that there isn’t a bun in her oven.

Of course, while that scrapped “MARRY ME” was the perfect final beat to Schmidt’s baby-daddy bliss—if he’s going to start pitching baby names with hard Semitic consonants, he might as well go completely overboard and pop the question—it also speaks to “Kids”’ off-kilter sense of time. The episode takes place across a single weekend day, a fun TV trick “Kids” falls just shy of pulling off. The pregnancy scare and Winston’s wild ride are plots that are well-suited to this type of episode, but it requires some unnatural rushing from Jess’ and Nick’s plots. It helps that those stories—Jess babysits Sarah, the daughter of Russell and his ex-wife (a quietly seething Jeanne Tripplehorn); Nick gets dumped by a highly cultured 18-year-old—are based in pre-existing relationships, but the “one day” structure of “Kids” requires conclusions that come too quick and too cleanly. The jokes fly fast on New Girl (and Jake M. Johnson is turning them out faster and funnier than ever), but the development of the show’s plots and characters benefits from patience. There are elements of these stories that I like: Sarah’s obstinacy is a smart way of drawing a distinctions between Jess’ personal and professional lives; the fact that Nick is appealing to younger and younger women is a great punchline with an impressive five-episode setup. If only the show wasn’t in such a hurry to get through them.

Ultimately, “Kids” is an average standalone entry at the end of an above-average arc that traces back to “Injured.” The sense of continuity New Girl has established in the last half of this first season is continually impressive; its subtle use of callbacks even moreso. When I express frustration with how quickly tonight’s episode ties up its loose threads, it’s only because it also does a deft job of, say, informing us that Jess remains skeptical about Schmidt and Cece’s relationship two episodes after “Secrets.” And while it doesn’t provide a coda to Jess’ relationship with Russell, it would appear “Kids” is the button on this stretch of episodes based around the roommates fumbling toward maturity. In a nice contrast to the True American sequences from the previous episode, “Kids”’ finest moments are in quietly funny, one-on-one scenes of characters tiptoeing to the edge of responsibility and hard-earned wisdom: Nick and Jess comparing notes on their relative immaturity while slumped up against the bedroom door, for example, or Winston telling a wigged-out Joe Napoli to nut up in the presence of Michael Strahan. Jess also has a telling solo moment after Sarah and her mom leave the loft. Tossing the armful of bras she’s just removed from her too curious ward-for-the-day, the character takes a stand: “I’m not having kids ’til I’m 80.” Now that’s some levelheaded decision making. 

Stray observations:

  • For as much as I ragged on Jake M. Johnson when Nick was more of a sad sack, the actor is acquitting himself as a comedic sniper in improvisational sequences like tonight’s “Italy On Ice” tag. Jeering the gondoliers, cheering for Mussolini—dude spits fire at those fake ice dancers. Max Greenfield gets a similar all-star moment when Schmidt tries to keep Sarah’s mom from entering the loft, imagining scenarios where the two characters could’ve previously met, like “Havasu, ’99—I was on the boat? Remember?” and “Winter Olympics, 2006—bobsled?”
  • “Stay in there as long as you can.” Is that Nick encouraging Sarah to stay in Jess’ room (and away from being disappointed by misplaced affection) or a message for Schmidt and Cece’s potential love child?
  • After learning of Chloe’s age, Schmidt gets in some digs at youths the writers didn’t use during the party scene in “Fancyman (Pt. 2)”: “She doesn’t even know what Netscape is. She thinks of Ice Cube as mainly an actor.”
  • When Jess can’t solve a problem—like Sarah locking herself in Nick’s room—she makes a game of it: “Sarah, Nick has one tie—see if you can find it.”
  • There’s tons of great material between Nick and Schmidt in “Kids.” I especially like this moment from their exchange in the hallway: “I’m not ready to be a godparent—don’t ask.” “No one’s asking you!” “Phew, good. I’m not ready to be an uncle.” “You’re not my brother!” 

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