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A superficially sweet New Girl leaves a sour aftertaste

“We’re still friends. We just have nothing to do with each other”

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(Hannah Simone, Megan Fox, Zooey Deschanel, Wally Schrass, Amir Levi) (Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FOX)
(Hannah Simone, Megan Fox, Zooey Deschanel, Wally Schrass, Amir Levi) (Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FOX)
C+

New Girl

"Cece's Boys"

Season 6 , Episode 13

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In an episode revolving around one friend’s fear that he’ll be cut out of the core group, it’s mighty cheeky to continue a season-long trend of cutting another character out of the central narrative. It’s even cheekier to name the episode for that missing friend.

“Cece’s Boys” doesn’t take Cece out of New Girl, but it does take her out of the action, sequestering her in her new home office in an otherwise uninhabitable house while her friends go off on adventures together. When a big agency poaches another model from the roster of Cece’s Boys, she spends the day soothing the ego of her last remaining client while Jess and Reagan set out to scout new models for a last-minute audition.

Let’s stop right here and ask: If you had to deputize someone to drum up new clients for your modeling agency in a few short hours, would you send your tender-hearted best friend who sees only inner beauty and loves a fixer-upper? Or would you send your grooming-obsessed spouse with ad-agency connections? Cece might not have great instincts.

Schmidt spends the episode preoccupied with his own concerns. Hearing about big changes in Coach and May’s life secondhand—they’ve moved to North Carolina, they’re hosting an exchange student—he’s shocked by how completely they’ve lost touch. “Realistically,” Nick summarizes, “we’ll see him two or three more times in our lives. It’s sad, but it’s not that sad. Who cares, what’s for dinner?”

Nick’s resignation is as palpable as Schmidt’s anxiety—not just that he’s grown apart from a good friend, but that once he and Cece move into their new home, he’ll be just one more casualty of social inertia. And he has has good reason to think that. Even when the whole gang visited New York City, they didn’t bother to tell Coach. (Coach reveals he’s also been to LA “like, five times” without calling them. “I have other friends!”) For a show that revolves around a cluster of friends with their own weirdly intimate language of in-jokes, rules, and games, New Girl is refreshingly honest about the difficulties of maintaining those bonds, even with all hands in.

“Hands in!” (Screenshot: FX)

So what’s the secret to making friendships and to keeping them? According to “Cece’s Boys,” it’s a shared trauma, like surviving the most harrowing service offered by a luxurious spa or trying to transform two regular guys into models.

In the absence of the kind of shared experience that cements friendships—a war, a dark secret, a timeshare—Schmidt splurges on a spa day for the three of them. Here they are before they learn what the elite package (heh, package) includes:

(Lamorne Morris, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield) (Photo: Adam Taylor/FOX)

And here they are after:

(Screenshot: FOX)
(Screenshot: FOX)

The storyline, from Nick and Winston’s outspoken resistance to their eventual capitulation for Schmidt’s sake, is predictable. Predictable, but beautifully executed and lovingly lavished with details that ring true to the characters, like Winston’s delight at the gratis cucumber slices (“I’m going to make some pickles!”) and Nick’s choice to strip off everything but his plaid shirt, which he wears under the spa-supplied robe. The wails of the waxing scene are as funny as such a tortured sequence can be (and, like any waxing sequence since The 40-Year-Old Virgin, it’s tired by comparison), but Max Greenfield especially deserves a shout-out for Schmidt’s remarkably realistic grimace. He looks like he’s suffered a series of bee-stings to the face… or somewhere.

Judging from the promotional materials, this episode was originally titled “Hunk Hunt,” which is a much more suitable name given the time devoted to Jess and Reagan’s search. It’s interesting, if not always a roaring success, to see Megan Fox and Zooey Deschanel mine their vastly different characters, and vastly comic different deliveries, for common ground and low-stakes conflicts. Even their techniques for scoping out prospective models showcase their differences. Jess’ desire to look past exteriors to see the beauty within is an easy laugh, but it nods to her inability to reduce people to pretty shells. Reagan, accustomed to using her own beauty as a professional tool, is much more comfortable reducing people to their looks—and much more surprised when they send her packing. (Fox’s expression when a man rejects her overture of “You’re hot and you’re about to make the easiest decision of your life” is priceless, as if a principle of physics were being violated before her eyes.)

“Those two oatmeal men?” (Wally Schrass, Amir Levi) (Screenshot: FX)

Bruce (Wally Schrass) and Kirby (Amir Levi), the “two oatmeal men” they manage to recruit, are as oblivious to the unlikelihood of Jess’ proposition as they are to the difference between themselves and the professional models strutting around the waiting room. Schrass and Levi bring an earnest sweetness to these improbably optimistic incidental characters, and the writing endows their shared history with endearing specificity. Kirby discovered a new sea slug! And named it after Bruce! They both love Sausage Crunchies! That’s more in the way of accomplishment, self-direction, and personal tastes than Cece’s allotted in this episode.

Though Jess and Reagan spar over the best way to approach potential models, the pressure of transforming Bruce and Kirby (letting them slick back their hair with Furguson’s pomade, dressing them in Schmidt’s emergency stash of deep Vs) is its own crucible of connection. Catching a passerby checking out their protégés, Reagan has new hope for “our guys”—and that one little admission of kindred feeling is all Jessica Day needs to cement the bond of friendship. It’s a sweet idea, and the actors make it almost convincing. As Jess says of Bruce and Kirby’s love of Sausage Crunchies, “It almost makes me want to try them! And I emphasize almost.”

“Cece’s Boys” isn’t bad television. It’s entertaining, at times even laugh-out-loud funny. But it’s not as consistently funny, caring, and character-conscious as New Girl at its best, or even its second best. Too many of its funniest scenes and too much of its airtime center around inconsequential interactions. The sequence of Jess and Reagan trying and failing to enlist new models comes up with endless amusing ways for them to strike out. The repetitive, competitive patter of Donovan and Dean’s (Ivan Shaw) squabble in Cece’s office—“I’m a model!” “But I’m a model!”—has a great comic rhythm. So does Cece’s wrangling of the two of them. (“I don’t know how hair this short can get so tangled!”)

But when so many of the laughs are between a main character and a minor recurring character or a nameless stranger, the episode both sacrifices the reliable chemistry of the ensemble and undermines the the script’s explicit theme of building and maintaining friendships. it’s bittersweet to see Cece shut off from her friends and husband while they build stronger bonds. One of the quiet pleasures of recent seasons has been seeing Cece expand her relationships beyond Jess and Schmidt, and seeing Hannah Simone deftly portray the comic nuances of those varying levels of intimacy. Can you even imagine the hilarity of Winston and Cece scouting models? It would be a classic Winston-Cece mess-around.

This episode is like Sausage Crunchies, of which Nick says, “The taste is average, but the aftertaste is outstanding.” It’s the opposite with “Cece’s Boys.” In the moment, this episode’s fine, fun, even addictive, with its quick hits of laughs and fast-talking nonsense. It’s the aftertaste that’s sour.

Stray observations

  • “I’m really ready to get super-weird into metal detectors if you guys are.” We know you are, Nick.
  • The spa attendant’s carefully escalating language is a nice touch. When his customers fail to understand what he means by “Brazilians,” he specifies “the wax removal of hair from your nether regions,” and finally “scrotum wax.”
  • Schmidt: “This isn’t going to be some back-alley sac waxing.” Nick: “They have those? Who would go to that one?”
  • The score for the slo-mo waxing sequence is an homage to Platoon’s “Adagio For Strings.”
  • Deciding that the natural model is the guy who can’t walk without thinking about it (“If I don’t swing my arms, I think I’m standing and I start to fall down”) is an easy shot, but it undermines the point made in another New Girl episode about the ever-shifting bonds of friendship, where Jess discovers that Cece’s job is an actual job that demands actual skills.