In praising what Lizzy Caplan has brought to the last two episodes of New Girl, I neglected to bring up an additional advantage of her presence: Like Justin Long before her, Caplan’s arc delays the inevitability of a Nick and Jess pairing. If there’s a potential relationship in the works between Jess and any of her male roommates, it’s with Nick; it’s been intimated from the series’ earliest episodes. And while that predictability has slackened the sexual tension between Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson in the past, there’s nothing inherently wrong about their characters being placed in a will-they/won’t-they scenario. It’s just that New Girl has always taking the less-satisfying route of telling us why Jess and Nick are an unlikely pair that’ll end up together, rather than showing us why.
Part of that has to do with the male half of the equation. While Schmidt has emerged as New Girl’s sharpest comedic threat and Winston has been afforded memorable storylines in episodes like “The 23rd” and “Jess & Julia,” the writers have let Nick spin his wheels for the large part of 11 episodes. He was introduced as a grouchy sadsack, and he’s stayed a grouchy sadsack. Why is he such a sourpuss? Well, Caroline left him a year ago and… that’s about it.
“Landlord” lifts the hood on Nick’s sulkiness (Remember when Nick used to hide in hoods when he didn’t want to talk?), using the cold open and the storyline involving the roommates’ landlord, Remy (Jeff Kober), to illuminate the source of Nick’s cynical outlook. There’s a fairly funny cutaway pinpointing the exact moment where the character discovered pessimism—being shoved into a bush by an overzealous jogger over a stray $5—but for the most part, the episode is content to just tell us, via Jess, that Nick “always sees the worst in people.” He sees the guy challenging him for a parking spot pull out a gun, he expects to be shot; he sees Remy cozying up to Jess, he expects the landlord to make a pass at her. Opinions like this should make Nick the last guy Jess would date, but hey—this is a sitcom, and opposites attract.
Opposites tend to throw off a lot of sparks, too. When a mismatched couple is properly thrown into a will-they/won’t-they setup, those sparks can make for entertaining television—and up until “Landlord,” those sparks weren’t really there. With Nick’s misanthropic perspective in place, the episode wisely places him, Jess, and prospective third Remy into a scenario where Nick and Jess can really have it out in full “Sam And Diane” mode. And they do, first by engaging in their most playful repartee to date, and then letting their stubbornness nearly drive them into an unwanted ménage à trois—set to Rusted Root no less.
Jess and her worldview have always been the most confidently played elements of New Girl, and it’s been fun to watch the show build out from (rather than on top of) those platforms in the last few weeks. In “Landlord,” knowing what we know about Jess and her unflappable optimism and boundless trust, we know she’s going to stick to her guns and follow her gut instincts about Remy to the very end—especially if that means proving Nick wrong. Positioned against Nick’s inflexibility, the characters finally start throwing of sparks in the episode’s climactic bedroom scene. Hilarious, cringe-inducing sparks. I’m not sure how going through with Remy’s three-way would actually help Jess’ case—which is why she has to be the one to fold—but Deschanel and Johnson play the scene with gusto, masking their disgust with a false enthusiasm (“Nick would make a fantastic underwear captain!”) that Kober is all too happy to test.
If only “Landlord” would’ve been more eager to concede elsewhere. The episode as a whole suffers from an overabundance of ideas—so much so that it’s actually preferable that the “too many tenants in the loft” panic presented in the early goings is discarded with a quick shrug of Remy’s shoulders. It’s a cheap fakeout, but the episode’s plate was already perilously full following Nick and Jess’ cold-open encounter and Schmidt’s concerns regarding his boss’ mixed signals. Schmidt’s latest sexcapade—in Schmidt’s world, every request around the office can be misinterpreted as innuendo—occupies a surprisingly large chunk of the episode, even if it eventually ties into Remy’s garbled reading of Jess’ exaggerated bonhomie. It also reduces Winston’s screen time significantly—though his efforts to cover up a gaudy hentai fantasia in one of the loft’s closets leads him to uncover the inspirational, aspirational words of Schmidt circa 2007. That’s the kind of Schmidt plot I’d like to see more of—the kind that rips down his cool-guy facade and opens him up for tiny darts of ridicule from the rest of the ensemble. Sure, it’s slightly hypocritical for New Girl to take shots at Schmidt’s desire to “Find out where Winston gets his sparkle and then steal it,” but it never treats Jess’ earnestness as off-limits. In fact, if the show ever decides to make an abrupt U-turn and apply “similarities attract” logic to a will-they/won’t-they, Schmidt and Jess just might make a lovely couple. It wouldn’t be as enjoyable to watch them banter, though.
- How does jess know the landlord’s name? Why it’s because he has a tattoo that says “Hi, my name is Remy.”
- The intimidatingly built Jeff Kober absolutely nails his guest shot as Remy. The characterization (“Crazy landlord!”) is run of the mill, but his just-this-side-of-askew screen presence elevates Remy beyond cliché.
- This might be outside the show’s wheelhouse, but the cold open where Jess’ smile calms a gun-toting driver makes me want to see a future episode where the roommates test the limits of Jess’ powers. Could they rule Los Angeles with but a platter of cupcakes and a ukulele?
- Schmidt proposes ways to make CeCe less attracted to him: “What if I had a croissant blog?”