(Zooey Deschanel, Hannah Simone) (Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX)

I was wary of this election-themed episode, especially when I saw promotional stills of Zooey Deschanel dressed as Donald Trump. It seemed like a set-up for loud, zany, ultimately empty quasi-political posturing. “Hubbedy Bubby” does suffer from some jarring inconsistencies. But writer Sarah Tapscott and director Steve Welch, both New Girl veterans, stay true to the show by focusing on characters, not candidates.

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Like Jess and Cece, this episode is unabashedly pro-Clinton, but the story is less about promoting a particular candidate than about finding your voice. From the first moments, with Schmidt lamenting (and correcting) the chaos of the loft’s piles of mail, to Cece in the last act asking her husband and best friend to accept her hopes for herself, the second episode of the sixth season is driven by the characters’ attributes and emotions, not by politics. Jess and Cece are with her all the way, but they don’t resent Schmidt’s Republican loyalty. It’s not antagonism but friendly rivalry that spurs their bet: If Jess and Cece sign up five new voters during their day of volunteering, Schmidt will vote for Clinton instead of “sitting this one out”… and if they don’t, Jess has to write in her vote for Winston.

The opening establishes Schmidt’s delight over Cece’s pending college acceptance and highlights his obsessive tidiness, setting up both his visit to the campaign office and his irresistible impulse to organize the volunteers’ efforts, though he disagrees with their politics. And the bet establishes a compelling reason for Jess and Cece to slip away from stuffing envelopes for a rogue door-to-door canvassing mission.

Like longtime story editor Tapscott’s other New Girl writing credit, “A Chill Day In,” “Hubbedy Bubby” has some fun out-of-the-loft, over-the-top, under-the-influence acting from Zooey Deschanel and Hannah Simone, when Jess and Cece (and a few handles of hard liquor) rouse the sisters of Delta Delta Gamma to a patriotic furor. Meanwhile, Schmidt turns “the Phish concert you call a campaign office” into a well-oiled machine until his competence gets him promoted to the phone bank. Unable to endorse Clinton, Schmidt gives the episode its title as he instead choke out a series of nonsense names. “A vote for a better America is a vote for Hubbedy Bubbedy,” he mutters, and “Hibbedy Bibbity,” and “Hubbedy Berry. María Conchita Alonso. Celery Flintstone!” before he blurts, “Paul Ryan, 2020!”

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Kate Flannery is harried but crisply professional as the barely named supervisor who doesn’t even have time to listen to Jess and Cece’s introductions. She’s also woefully underused. “My name is Mary Ellen, and I haven’t thought about myself in weeks,” she confides in Jess. The episode doesn’t have time to think about her, either.

Centering an episode around a particular real-world election (instead of, say, a fictional city council person’s campaign) is a bid for a concrete connection with the audience’s experience, but it comes at a cost. By anchoring the action in a particular year and season, a political plot strips away a sitcom’s already tenuous grasp on timelessness—and “Hubbedy Bubby” commits itself to 2016 without gaining the precision the election should give it. Unlike Broad City, which went all-in on its preferred candidate, New Girl fudges the details. That campaign office is as generic as Cece and Jess’ “VOTE” tee-shirts. For the purposes of the episode, it’s an office for “getting out the vote” and for promoting Clinton; Jess and Cece are registering new voters and stumping for their candidate. The act of mingling new-voter registration and promoting a particular candidate is plausible, but this setting isn’t.

But there’s still something stirring about Jess standing on a balcony, exhorting these young women to make their voices heard, and there’s something magnificent in Jess and Cece leading a parade of fired-up new voters through the streets. Even though a sober viewer knows no good could come from marching a gaggle of drunken college students into an already hectic campaign office, even though the episode is bogged down by omitting real candidates’ logos and likenesses, it’s modestly thrilling to see them moved to action, even to sloshed, meandering action.

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It doesn’t stop being stirring—in the abstract—when the sorority sisters reveal that they’re Trump fans, because there’s something noble about getting citizens engaged, no matter how violently you disagree with them. It’s true that democracy lies in making sure every voter gets a voice, and seeing these new voters find their voices is thrilling, but it’s disingenuous to ignore the reality that their new party seems determined to take away its opposition’s voice and votes.

Cece gets in touch with her inner voice, realizing (with flashes of quiet introspection by Hannah Simone amid the hubbub of “Hubbedy Bubby”) that a four-year college isn’t for her, no matter how much the prospect excites Jess and Schmidt. She trusts her own instincts, and she trusts the people she loves to support her in her goals, even if they don’t understand them.

The B-plot of Winston teaching Nick about long-distance sex could be humiliating and grotesque, but instead it’s goofy and weirdly sweet as it reinforces the importance of being true to your voice. Winston’s rumination on embracing “the long D” is worthy of Tobias Fünke, but the characters’ earnest affection keeps it from feeling like a gay-panic joke. After giving Nick free rein in The Winston Bishop Clinic For Satellite Sexual Intercourse (a closet with a green-screen backdrop, an assortment of costumes, and a strong wifi signal), Winston realizes he’s steering his friend wrong. From a bundle of letters, Winston reads, “‘Every moment you’re on this Earth is a moment I know where you are.’” They’re the letters Nick sent to Winston in Latvia, and “they’re beautiful, man.” They are beautiful, because they’re honest sentiments expressed in an honest voice.

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Stray observations

  • Nick asking if Winston cleans his green-screen sex closet regularly and Winston responding, “Why are you looking up?” is the dirtiest throwaway joke since Britta told Annie that their male classmates “have a sock at home with your name on it.”
  • Winston, hearing he’s a possible write-in candidate: “If I win, I just want you to know that there will be some things that will come out about me. Just ride it out.” This one goes in your column, Myles.
  • “Take off your space-pants. I want to do sex to you over this video thing.”
  • The Winston Bishop Clinic For Satellite Sexual Intercourse includes a Santa suit and a kitten green screen, and I don’t want to know. (But also I do.) Lamorne Morris makes every glimpse of Winston’s inner life as enticing as it is flat-out strange.
  • Max Greenfield’s face when Schmidt hears of “the old bill/soy sauce/dead battery” drawer is a masterful portrait of contained rage and panic.
  • The stinger of Jess dressed as Donald Trump, slinging insults and compliments at passing traffic, undercuts the impassioned exhortation of self that comes before it. But at least the altered terms of the bet mean no one has to vote against their conscience.

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