The fifth season of New Girl is going pretty well, considering that it’s actually several seasons of several different shows. The thought occurred to me as hyper-competent, justifiably confident pharmaceutical sales rep Reagan (Megan Fox) made herself at home in Jessica Day’s bedroom: In its heart, voice, and bones, “Reagan” is the latest episode of New Girl. Goings-on in the loft (a lover’s spat between Schmidt and Cece; Nick’s pursuit of a new love interest) lead to loosely plotted hijinks in which the principals can bounce off of one another on their way to a satisfying conclusion. Schmidt and Cece reconcile in a heartwarming moment, Max Greenfield gets to dip into his character’s undiscriminating pop-culture diet (“When he has to process a lot of emotions, sometimes he likes to do Nick Cannon’s solo from Drumline”), Jake Johnson and Lamorne Morris fire off some memorable non sequiturs (“I feel like one of those characters on the show Sax In The City talking about this”), and Hannah Simone demonstrates that Cece is above all of this nonsense.

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But “Reagan” is also, in a way, the pilot episode for a new show starring Megan Fox, where our good friends Nick, Schmidt, Winston, and Cece pop by to wish her luck. Or vice versa: The premise of this miniseries is more like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles star popping in to illustrate that the roommates are bananas. If the loft-as-hotel storyline of “No Girl” kicked off New Girl’s very own version of The Golden Palace—the Golden Girls continuation in which Rose, Blanche, and Sophia run an inn with the help of Don Cheadle and Cheech Marin—than “Reagan” is like a spin-off within that spin-off. It has the benefit of drawing on an established cast of characters and an existing dynamic, but it also has the responsibility of introducing (and partially revolving around) a wholly new character.

There’s a mutually beneficial arrangement at work for New Girl and Megan Fox: The arc gives the show renewed attention from the TV audience and the press, while presenting the actor with a chance to show off the comedic chops she’s honed during her post-Transformers career. (Before LeBron James took moviegoers by surprise in Trainwreck, Megan Fox did the same in This Is 40.) For the show’s staff, some of whom have shaped these characters and fed them lines for nearly five years, Reagan is a fresh source of inspiration. But for viewers who’ve watched the show for the same amount of time, the character also creates the worry that this new New Girl might come in and mess up everything that keeps them coming back to the show every week. Like much of the fifth season, Reagan and the episode named for her are both exciting and terrifying possibilities.

From within that realm of possibilities, Fox serves the same Frank Grimes-esque purpose that Bill Burr and Lennon Parham did last week, but to a much greater extent. Regan is an alien presence in New Girl’s world, a woman at the top of her profession whose “moxie” (Nick’s words) commands the hospital lobby in which she’s introduced (to Nick’s and our eyes). In an episode that tackles some of Schmidt’s insecurities head on, Reagan is outwardly a person of no insecurities, one who gets the rain shower she asks for, mixes a perfect old fashioned, and spent the summer of 2003 at the MTV Beach House—with Cece. And they hooked up, helping Reagan discover her bisexuality, just one of many memories made in the warm glow of Carson Daly, Mya, and Canadian pop-rock quartet Lillix.

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The character’s entire worldview is one in which the world of New Girl looks patently absurd. When she walks in on Schmidt making the moves on a block of cheese, her “Oh my God” is one part disbelief, one part genuine disgust. Further separating her from New Girl’s regular band of knuckleheads, she’s a loner who feels no need for roommates, cohorts, colleagues, friends, or acquaintances. “I don’t want this, anyway—some weird friend group shenanigans,” she tells Schmidt in one of the script’s most intensely self-aware moments. It appears that her time on New Girl will involve getting her to the point of wanting weird friend group shenanigans, starting with the balloon-festooned surprise that gets her out of The Red Brick Lodge And Seafood Hut.

Reagan enters the loft seeing the roommates as weirdos and seeking nothing from them but a temporary sublet, which makes her out as a bit of an anti-Jess. (Or maybe that makes her a Julia?) But her introduction follows the pattern of Jess’, with performer setting the tone for character. Jess’ name in New Girl’s first two episodes may as well be “Zooey Deschanel,” in the same way that characters referring to Reagan as “Megan Fox” would have little impact on “Reagan” beyond the episode title. The character strides into the hospital like it’s Sam Witwicky’s garage, and even when she’s sharing the screen with the show’s conventionally attractive regulars, she still looks like she was carved out of marble by Tex Avery and Alberto Vargas for the purpose of selling Carl’s Jr. Thickburgers. There’s just no getting around the fact that it’s two-time Teen Choice Award Choice Female Hottie honoree Megan Fox up there, rolling her eyes at Nick’s fancy-fixed plumbing, tending to Cece’s wounded finger, or pulling a Duck Season/Rabbit Season on Schmidt.

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But “Reagan” has some ingenious ways of defusing this impression and integrating a character with Megan Fox-like looks and presence into the pre-existing world of New Girl. She’s introduced as an object of Nick’s affection, but quickly demonstrates that her smarts, professionalism, and sexuality place her out of Nick’s league. (“I can’t compete with that. That’s too many people, Winston. That’s all the people!”) But the music, the walk, the knack for mixology—it’s all in the guys’ heads. The first hint of this comes at the end of the cold open, a kicker in which Winston pinches Nick, making good on their promise to be more realistic about their dating prospects while rousing the episode from its hair-metal-music-video reverie.

The concept is revisited when Reagan stops by the bar to admire her cure for the Parekh-Schmidt engagement hiccups, stepping behind the bar and into the guys’ POV. Fox and director Trent O’Donnell jab a few fingers into the male gaze in the process, as Reagan makes herself a cocktail in a manner that’s not about her at all. The camera cuts Fox off at the shoulders as she reaches for the rocks glass; a couple of times when her head is in the frame, she looks up from the booze, bar tools, and garnishes to cast bedroom eyes outward at Nick and Winston. And it’s all soundtracked by Nick’s mental jukebox (calling back to his “I want the music to swell” declaration at the top of the episode), which cues up Wilco and Bill Bragg’s recording of “California Stars” for the occasion.

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And then the coup de grace: A couple seconds of Aly watching the same process Nick and Winston are watching, only without the Woody Guthrie lyrics or focus on Reagan’s clavicle. It’s a great visual joke, punctuated by Officer Nelson’s just-the-facts summary: “You guys saw magic. I watched a hot girl pour herself a drink and then leave without paying. She’s a robber. Nick has a crush on a robber.”

Turns out Reagan’s perfection is as much a fantasy as Winston’s metal-bra, sword-in-hand, both-wearing-skirts-on-flying-horses relationship ideal. She has a touch of kleptomania, and has a habit of strong-arming people—into buying drugs they don’t want, installing a showerhead they don’t need, or giving her lobsters that are intended for paying customers. It’s an impressively full portrait of the character to be painted in the course of 22 minutes, and for all her protests about being a part of this world, she fits in pretty well.

It takes some lampshading to get Reagan over the final hurdle—“This is actually the kindest, creepiest thing that a group of people that I’ve only known for four hours has ever done for me”—but that line and Fox’s delivery of it demonstrate that the character and actor are on this show’s wavelength. While discussing “Bob & Carol & Schmidt & Nick” with The A.V. Club, Jake Johnson emphasized the strength of New Girl’s voice, describing that combination of personality, sense of humor, and common vision as the thing that eases the show through its recent casting transitions. That gives “Reagan” a confidence as compelling as its eponymous character’s, which is where my pilot analogy starts falling apart. Most series premieres don’t have any sort of history or identity to work with; “Reagan” has loads. In a not-too-shocking development, a character-based show has a lot of fun when it’s given a new character to play with for a few episodes. My hopes are high for this new season of the new season of New Girl.

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Stray observations

  • So much of the main review got caught up in Reagan and her introduction that I totally glossed over Schmidt and Cece’s storyline, which is relatable if a bit standard-issue—though it does settle, once and for all, that the couple is 100 percent, no take backs, for realzies together. As the dust is settling, there’s also a nice acknowledgement that Schmidt doesn’t let this kind of thing go so easily, pivoting from his apology to ask about the old barfly who brought flowers for Cece. (“Does he come in here often?”)
  • Another aspect of “Reagan” that didn’t get nearly enough digital ink up top: The surprise sequence at The Red Brick Lodge, a clever clash of the roommates’ eccentricities and Reagan’s practicality that takes advantage of the whole frame, with a shadowy Nick, Schmidt, Winston, and Cece in the background and Reagan—distracted by headphones and a workout app—in the foreground. It’s a spectacular trainwreck of comedic tension and and a feat of visual humor, with Winston providing in-scene justification for the staging: “I personally did it because I thought the idea was cinematic.” (By the way: that’s New Girl creator Elizabeth Meriwether as the Red Brick employee who lets everybody into Reagan’s room.)
  • Who’s that girl? This week in New Girl pseudonyms, alter egos, and nicknames (special imaginary person edition): Nick invents a couple of people during Reagan’s first visit to the loft, first pinning his shoddy shower head installation on an unnamed Big Brothers Big Sisters participant, then creating prospective renter Michael Silvergold. Sounds like a good guy: He’s “CEO of a major company with computers,” and has the unbeatable credit score of 25,000. To paraphrase Nick Miller, you can’t compete with that.
  • One of Reagan’s pieces of pharma-swag is a uterus-shaped stress toy that bears a striking resemblance to everybody’s favorite anthropomorphized digestive tract.
  • Winston caused himself grave bodily harm during the Carport Hero incident; Nick continues this trend by lifting a keg and suffering “smush pain that feels like everything came out of the sandwich.”
  • The side effects of Spectaveer (sp?), according to Reagan, include “Dry mouth and diarrhea, wet mouth and constipation, butt sneezing, hysterical deafness, unwelcome night running,” and “dusty semen.” But hey: Beats dizziness, sexual nightmares, and sleep crime, right Liz Lemon?
  • Schmidt, upon learning that Cece went to the MTV Beach House: “Did you get to announce a video and then scream?” (Based on my fading memories of that summer, the video was probably “Crazy In Love,” “In Da Club,” Pirates Of The Carribean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, or footage of the Iraq War.)
  • What would Reagan change about Jess’ bedroom: “I think I just want to get rid of the pillows, the yarn, the tote bags, and anything that makes me feel racist against white people.”
  • There’s a surprising secondary market for the new heat-activated antiseptic gel that Reagan is selling: “Astronauts use it to masturbate.”
  • Schmidt gets jealous of the guys flirting with Cece at the bar because part of him still can’t believe that she’d agree to marry with him. As an outside observer, Reagan concurs: “I understand quantum physics more than I understand how you ended up with Cece.”
  • Nick Miller, accidental poet: “Thanks for the swift kick to the face. Please come live in our place.”

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