New Girl: “Cooler”

New Girl: “Cooler”

The way TV sitcoms have been doling out the big reveals and big events in the past week, you’d think February sweeps had already started. But the Modern Family birth, The Office’s introduction of Chris Diamantopoulos, Sensitive Boom Mic Operator, and the [only minor spoiler alert] major matrimonial developments on tonight’s Raising Hope and Happy Endings are coming down just days before the Nielsen corporation throws its net wide in order to help determine what you’ll see on your TV set in the future—and how much advertisers are paying for it. (And that’s what a sweeps period is for, boys and girls.) And that’s too bad, because though it’s starting to slip ahead of a Voice-less Go On in the ratings, New Girl could really use the curiosity and eyeballs of viewers wanting to see Jake Johnson finally locking lips with Zooey Deschanel.

From a ratings perspective, the kiss that closes “Cooler” is a tremendous boon. It makes good on the kind of straightforward, Ross-and-Rachel/Sam-and-Diane/hopefully-not-Maddie-and-David pairing that the average television viewer can get with and that New Girl has hinted at, on and off, over the course of 36 episodes. If any such viewers were driven away by the fact that Jess and Nick hadn’t shacked up by the time of, say, “Landlord,” it’s a way to possibly draw them back.

From a critical perspective, I’m still working through it. I’ve always had a knee-jerk aversion to the thought of a will-they/won’t-they between Jess and Nick. It just feels like the type of compulsory sitcom plot that would derail the roommate dynamic and undo a lot of excellent ensemble work. And at times during the first season, it seemed like the show was running headlong into such a pairing. But Elizabeth Meriwether and her crew always relented, intimating at the hint of a spark but preferring to focus on the developing, platonic relationships between the five principals. And, lo and behold, the show actually pulled off a pretty good will-they/won’t-they deal with Schmidt and Cece, the dissolution of which has provided plenty of fodder for Max Greenfield and Hannah Simone’s characters in season two. (The relationship hangover even incorporates itself neatly into “Cooler.”)

However, as Nick and Jess grew closer during the second season, the thought of their coupling grew more palatable, because it would’ve been the outgrowth of an actual dynamic between two characters, rather than a writers’-room orchestrated pairing of the female lead and her one male co-star who doesn’t have much going on in the romance department. The heartfelt, one-on-one scenes between Deschanel and Johnson have been highlights of this second season, and the third act of “Cooler” essentially strands them in an extended version of those scenes, albeit one that’s tempered by lots of yelling and a conspicuous lack of clothing. In light of those scenes, the kiss at the end of the episode works because it’s real. There’s been a buildup to it, just as there would be to a kiss between a real-life Nick and Jess. If the New Girl team wants to try Nick and Jess as a couple, the end of “Cooler” is an excellent place to start.

It helps that both parties involved in enacting the kiss give it their all. Deschanel and Johnson are fantastic throughout “Cooler,” especially in the episode’s tag, which features 90 of the most jaw-dropping seconds you’ll see on TV all year. They’re great at creating and sustaining the surprise of the moment, segueing naturally from Nick’s trench-coat-related humiliation to a passionate embrace with all the right traces of two people fumbling through their feelings for one another. There’s not a false note in it, and Johnson gets another highlight for his Emmy reel with his departing “I meant something like that.” (If “Cooler” isn’t in the packet Johnson submits to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, then he should look for new representation.) Deschanel embodies the shock of the whole thing—her facial expression a stellar payoff to the “freakishly large eyes” jokes from recent episodes—and then David Walton provides the capper by sleepily destroying a melon-headed effigy of Nick. It’s great, cathartic television with a note of foreboding developments to come.

And while the first 680-some words of this review might say otherwise, that kiss isn’t all “Cooler” has going for it. To the episode’s benefit, it includes a few notes of Schmidt-Cece drama, some good material for Winston, and the not-at-all forced return of television’s best, most incomprehensible drinking game, True American. The introduction of True American was such a genuine, joyful surprise that bringing the game back was bound to be a challenge for New Girl. But like Jess and Nick’s last-minute “Cooler” connection, it was to the show’s advantage to cool its heels re: True American, Round Two. The script—the first New Girl effort credited to Rebecca Addelman—does well not to simply repeat the blotto action of “Normal,” with the introduction of Brooklyn Decker’s sadness-vampire Holly necessitating a “sexy new twist” in order to send her into the arms of the loft’s resident sad-sack, Nick. Instead of acting as a quick comedic device to garner chuckles from the show’s fan base, the game acts as a frantic backdrop for “Cooler,” a catalyst for tension between Schmidt and Nick and a table under which Winston can hide his flirtations with Brenda Song’s Daisy, who may or may not be engaged to someone who, if he (or she—we don’t know a lot about Daisy) exists, might give Lamorne Morris an excuse to run his gamut of terrified facial expressions in weeks to come.

True American also works in “Cooler” because it’s very much an episode about the main characters flailing wildly through a game—love—with no discernible rules, boundaries, or code of ethics. Winston has just as much luck navigating the dating field post-Shelby as Holly has figuring out the opening scrum of True American. Holly’s one-note in her “I love sad guys” schtick, but that’s to be expected of a guest character we’ll likely never hear from again. I’m confident Song will return because there’s still a bit of mystery left to her character; Decker and Satya Bhabha (as Cece’s latest arranged suitor, Shivrang) arrive on the scene, state and restate their one personality-dictated punchline, and move on. But even with that lack of dimension, they play well into the chaotic contest whirling away at the center of “Cooler.”

To further belabor the analogy: The way New Girl presents True American, the only proper way to play the game is to get the right feel for it. Which is exactly why Nick refuses to kiss Jess when they’re locked behind “The Iron Curtain”—even with his confidence inflated by that ridiculous trench coat, it doesn’t feel right. “Cooler” hinges on instincts, like knowing when it’s the right time to let out a mighty Howard Dean scream (“Yeeeeeee-ahh!”) or when it’s the right time to pull your roommate close and give her that kiss that marks a major turning point in your relationship. (And the opening of a huge can of worms for the writers and actors pulling the strings of these characters.) And while I’m still lukewarm on the idea of a Jess and Nick romance, I trust New Girl’s instincts in this regard. The outcome’s unclear at this point, but at the end of “Cooler,” the show is definitely playing the game correctly.

Stray observations:

  • I’ve written it before, and I’ll write it again: The editors are the secret stars of New Girl. They do a deft job of stitching up that montage of bored Jess doing what bored Jess does, and that smash cut between Sam’s arrival at the loft and his joining in on the “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” chant is a thing of comedic beauty.
  • I hope we can all comport ourselves urbanely and with the greatest sense of dignity while discussing the fact that Zooey Deschanel and Max Greenfield are both shirtless for much of “Cooler.” It’s as if amid all the comedic chaos of True American, the show is trying to appeal to the viewer’s most prurient curiosities.
  • It’s a wonderful bit of restraint that the clearly feminine cut of Nick’s trench coat isn’t fully revealed until he’s out on the window ledge. There’s a lot of talk about the coat’s true nature in the early goings of the episode, but it’s largely dropped until Jake Johnson’s out the window—at which point the viewer can confirm with his or her own eyes that, indeed, this garment was not intended to flatter the male physique.
  • Speaking of Nick’s ill-advised fashion statement, here’s a lesson in setting a scene in less than five lines of dialogue (and a great, editing-assisted followthrough on the guys’ excitement about going to the club, to boot): Schmidt: “I can’t believe you got us kicked out of the discotheque, Nick.” Nick: “I didn’t even do anything!” Winston: “Dammit, Nick, take the coat off. It freaks girls out.” Nick: “Maybe they’re freaked out because you’re not wearing a trench coat!”
  • It’s not quite on the level of the romantic-rival putdowns Satya Bhabha dished out as Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World’s Matthew Patel, but I do love his incredulous read on this line about Cece and Schmidt: “I’m sorry—you love that small, shiny man?”
  • The best of True American nonsense: “Pick your intern!”;“It’s Abu Nazir!”; “When in the course of human events, you must…” “SURRENDER YOUR SHIRT!”; “Hey, Schmidt—your butt just violated the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act!”

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