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New Girl: “Micro”

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“Am I shallow?”, like “Am I a good person?” is a very TV-character question. People in the real world ask themselves these questions all the time, but never as straightforwardly as it’s asked in New Girl’s “Micro.” (And rarely out loud.) The question reflects an anxiety that’s recognizable to a lot of viewers, and it allows the creative staff of a TV show to interrogate their characters’ personalities and priorities. More accurately, “Am I shallow?” might be stated as “Did we create a bunch of shallow people?”

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That question takes on a particularly meta edge when applied to “Micro.” One of the main characters on New Girl is a professional model; she used to date a character whose vanity is one of his funniest and most endearing idiosyncrasies. And, as a sitcom produced in the post-Friends era, New Girl boasts an ensemble that you wouldn’t kick out of bed for eating crackers. (In fact, Nick would prefer to eat his crackers there.) “Micro” digs into that fact during its unusually long cold open, in which the male roommates first judge the women at the bar, and then judge themselves, solely on the basis of outward appearance. That’s the easy setup for a comedy of contradictions: Jess is appalled that they guys could be so superficial, then immediately goes Cookie Monster eyes for a former Hunger Games champion after she commandeers his booth. If the show’s going to make some jokes about how its cast is really really really ridiculously good looking, it doesn’t hurt to hire a guy whose IMDB bio drops “carved” within the first five words. (It’s not that definition of “carved,” but just go with me.)

But Alan Ritchson’s Matt has a secret, and that’s what really cracks this story open: He has a micropenis, a medically recognized condition that I now have to clear out of my browser history. That adds a new complication to Jess’ quest to be the least shallow of the roommates, but it’s also the start of “Micro”’s defining trait. This is an episode that finds Jess et al. constantly laying their cards on the table, talking out what they find attractive in the opposite sex, sharing their feelings about Matt’s genitalia, collectively working through the realization that everyone in the world has a micropenis (metaphorically speaking). Where previous season-four episodes have found New Girl working in established, comfortable rhythms, “Micro” goes the experimental route: The longer opening sequence, the talky interludes in the A-plot.

It’s great to see the characters being so open and supportive of each other—and why shouldn’t they be after living together for this long?—but it’s possible that they’re too open here. In some spots of “Mirco,” that’s actually helpful: Despite the sizable wager placed on Jess’ ability to date Matt for more than a month, there’s no stalling when Jess learns that Matt is a terrible person. She keeps giving him second chances because of the episode’s primary message, and he keeps tipping a waiter with a hip-hop mouse or begging for Jess’ forgiveness in the presence of his live-in girlfriend. The guy deserves no sympathy, and “Micro” has enough respect for Jess that it doesn’t make her (or Zooey Deschanel) jump through hoop after hoop just to retain her pride. (In this case, the cash value of pride is four year-long subscriptions to the pornographic website Ass Chat; I’m already pushing it with the Google search for “micropenis,” so you won’t be getting an Ass Chat fact-check.)

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Where some of “Micro”’s ambitions don’t work out for the episode, little lower-stakes moments prop it up. The “Schmidt and Coach think they can be models” storyline is such a goofy little nothing, but it winds up outshining Jess’ struggles with Biceps McBeanie. It’s the silliest treatment the show could give the episode’s themes—but hey, that’s comedy, and Max Greenfield and Damon Wayans Jr. show tremendous commitment to their characters’ poor camera presence. (Schmidt’s photos are a great callback to his “Bathtubsuit portfolio—another sight-gag highlight in a so-so episode.) At no point does the storyline try to overextend itself, content as it is to accept that this classic Winston-and-Cece mess-around has no larger motivation than the messing around. The furtive looks passed between Hannah Simone and Lamorne Morris are all the explanation “Micro” needs to provide; that’s so important in an episode working with this one’s surplus of dialogue.

The joy Winston and Cece derive from messing with their friends also helps “Micro” cement a major theme for season four: They need to enjoy this kind of thing, because life might not get better than this. “The Last Wedding” ends with the main characters refusing to believe they’re inferior to the fridge people; “Micro”’s big contribution is everyone’s acceptance of their micropenis. (Or wonky knee or “geisha waist” or “cute little kitten teats” or what have you.) None of these things make the roommates monsters; they’re what makes them human. These are people living in a society that places unrealistic expectations on people their age (and, arguably, certain aspects of New Girl contribute to those unrealistic expectations), and the simple, not-profound-but-that’s-okay takeaway from “Micro” is that it’s more normal not to meet those expectations. Nobody’s perfect and everybody’s a little bit shallow. You either accept this truth and laugh it off, or you mope around and bring down the vibe in the bar. And Cece already took a bath on that Koreatown billboard—and might have to kick in on that additional $500 “fee”—so she can’t afford to lose tips to a bad bar vibe.

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Stray observations:

  • “Who’s that girl?” This week in New Girl pseudonyms, alter egos, and nicknames: Koreatown billboard icon Schmidt is “Chercules,” “the only Jewish Greek god.”
  • Speaking of the billboard: Does anyone have an English translation of the advertising copy?
  • If I was going to guess which show might have some premiere-week thematic crossover with American Horror Story, I would not have guessed it would be New Girl. I would’ve gone with a more obvious choice, like Last Man Standing.
  • Coach’s description of a crying Schmidt—“like a ghost singing ‘Hey Ya’”—is a stretch, but Damon Wayans Jr. gets points for committing so fully to the gag.
  • Choose the best Winston line of the evening: a) “Oh that’s awesome, an anteater’s being born,” or b) “I just put $5 in the jukebox, we got a Paula Cole rock block coming our way.”
  • Coach has been hanging on to this insult for two years, waiting for the right moment to drop it on Nick: “Who’s talking to you, Depression-era garbageman?”
  • Choose the best persona in Schmidt’s modeling portfolio: a) “This hot guy with a kidnapped son,” or “Classical guitarist loses a shoe.”
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