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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

New Girl: “The Story Of The 50”

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“The Story Of The 50” marks the triumphant return of the Douchebag Jar from its post-pilot exile. Has it been so long since the pilot was shot that New Girl’s writing staff is only now remembering that episode’s best joke? Was the Douchebag Jar temporarily shelved in order to keep the joke from growing stale? Is it possible that at some point Schmidt was (wrongfully) deemed unworthy of his own recurring gag? Whatever the case, “The Story Of The 50” makes up the time we’ve not spent with the jar over the last eight episodes, getting some of its most inspired laughs out of Schmidt’s record-setting run toward the $50 he’s forced to cram into the overstuffed jar at the end of the episode.

Of course, the Douchebag Jar is a troubling object—or at least an object that’s troubling to someone paid to think and write about New Girl. Its premise is simple—when Schmidt is exhibits “douchey” behavior around his roommates, he’s required to submit an arbitrary sum of cash—but its purpose is murky. What’s the money going toward? Is the jar actually acting as a deterrent? Is it only re-appearing now because it’s good for a few laughs and little else? For all its comedic potential, the jar is just as much an ephemeral prop as Jess’ set of “Wedding” teeth or Nick’s hilariously awful Bill Cosby impression. It’s the kind of joke that’s written into—rather than rising out of—a script.

Not, as Cosby’s one-time Must See TV colleague Jerry Seinfeld once said, that there’s anything wrong with that. New Girl is part of a new breed of strangely formless sitcoms, shows with little dependence on strong storytelling that range from excellent (Happy Endings) to frustratingly mediocre (2 Broke Girls). Rather than standing on a trio of well-tested legs—great storytelling, endearing characters, and solid jokes—these series live or die on the volume and their strength of their character-driven laughs. The average New Girl episode at least makes tiny concessions toward story and plot—but the gaps in those plots also allow for the sudden appearances of characters like Lizzy Caplan’s Julia, Nick’s new love interest introduced in “Story Of The 50.” (Though, to be fair, it seems like a lot of time has passed since the events of “The 23rd.”)

The episode also sets itself up with a reverse chronological framework, beginning as Schmidt is about to sacrifice Ulysses S. Grant to the jar and using the rest of the episode to explain what brought him to this lowly state. And while it’s nice to see New Girl indulging in such experimentation (if such a basic sitcom staple as “starting at the end” still qualifies as experimentation), it doesn’t serve “The Story Of The 50” particularly well. There aren’t any obvious red herrings sprinkled throughout the events of Schmidt’s 29th birthday party, and when it’s finally revealed why he’s parting with $50—he misread a moment with Jess at the end of the night and tried to kiss her—it hardly feels like the punishment fits the crime. Particularly in light of flagrant offenses like that newsboy cap-and-tank top ensemble spotlighted in the “Jar!” montage.

But none of that matters if “The Story Of The 50” prompts enough laughs on the way to that reveal. On that count, the episode is a mild success. It’s a front-loaded episode—most of the laugh-out-loud material is confined to Jess’ unwavering preparations for Schmidt’s party—but it saves some good stuff for Caplan and fellow guest players Rachael Harris and Matt Besser, playing a weed-confiscating (and later distributing—in very small doses) vice principal and male stripper, respectively. Playing the kind of exotic dancer with zero reservations about his job and a spot in the church choir, Besser’s role hits the Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder right in his “noble scumbag” sweet spot. And while it’s too soon to pass judgement on what Caplan will bring to ensemble over her multi-episode arc, Julia is a better match for Nick than Jess is at this point. (Even if the Julia-Nick dynamic is borrowing a lot from what Party Down did with Caplan’s Casey and Adam Scott’s Henry.) At the very least, she can go punch-for-punch with him in terms of terrible Cosby impressions.

But like the Douchebag Jar, Besser, Harris, and the party bus they rode in on get put back in the New Girl toy chest when “The Story Of The 50” comes to the conclusion-that’s-actually-its beginning. And while that’s troublesome for the people who are paid to think and write about how fleeting these characters and devices are, it was also nice to watch Zooey Deschanel and company goof around with them for 30 minutes. Until next time, Douchebag Jar. May your lip always overflow with the pocket money of a man who thinks “ov” is a perfectly reasonable abbreviation for “oven.”


Stray observations:

  • In terms of being paid to think too hard about New Girl, there’s some nice material about growing older and maturing past the days of youthful follies like “Bros Before Hos On The Moon” parties embedded in “The Story Of The 50” as well. It’s well-trod territory, but I feel like Max Greenfield carried it well. And then Julia punched out the symbol of Schmidt’s smarmy immaturity—which was nice, too.
  • I’m looking forward to the remainder of Caplan’s time on the show, but I’m worried Julia is being written too similarly to Casey. Almost everything she said in “Story Of The 50” could’ve been said to Henry during the back half of Party Down’s first season.
  • Next week’s episode is entitled “Jess And Julia”—a title about which only gentlemanly things will be said.
  • Jess works to make one sad, party bus-less birthday boy very happy: “Yes, I’d like to order a last-minute stripper”
  • Schmidt defines his “stripper persona”: “Luxury desert—I’m a warrior poet, man”