Monday, February 3, 2014

'New Girl's Prince Episode Points Out the Problem With the Nick ...



As anyone who’s watched TV can tell you, throwing characters together into romantic relationships can be tricky. And if you’ve read the Internet ink that’s been spilled over the relationship between Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) on New Girl, you might think that Elizabeth Meriwether and her writers pulled the trigger on getting them together a little too soon.

I wasn’t one of those people. When Jess and Nick first hooked up at the end of last season, I thought that the writers had done a nice job of showing how this turn of events — which, let’s be honest, were telegraphed starting in the pilot — was going to impact the gang in the loft. And after spending some early episodes this season trying to negotiate some awkwardness involving both Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and the newly-returned Coach (Damon Wayans Jr.), as well as doing a nice job of exploring the feelings they have for each other, the Nick-Jess relationship has gotten into a rut.

As the two have settled into being boyfriend and girlfriend, and the loftmates have come to accept this new arrangement, the relationship milestones we’re seeing between the two have become less genuine and more contrived. And last night’s post-Super Bowl episode was as contrived as this show has gotten in it’s 2-plus years of existence, as Prince coached Jess to not be afraid to tell Nick that she loves him.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy seeing the Purple One’s guest appearance; he did a nice job playing up his mystical image as he took Jess on a journey of self-discovery. I especially loved how he could get a butterfly to land on his shoulder with just a gentle tap. But if the show needs Prince to get past the first “I love you” stage of Nick-Jess, then this relationship is pretty much doomed from a creative standpoint.

Whatever simmering chemistry Deschanel and Johnson seemed to have as they were in the “just friends but attracted to each other” stage, as well as the “sleeping together but not sure what this is” stage, has evaporated now that they’ve settled down. Silly arguments between the two have been created out of nothing, like when Bulls fanatic Nick refused to sleep with Jess because she started following the dreaded Pistons as a way of bonding with Coach. Yes, we know that Nick has the emotional maturity of a 14-year-old. But I don’t know many guys who would throw their girlfriends out of bed because they rooted for their team’s arch rivals.



The episode earlier this season where Nick tries to come up with a surprise for Jess’ birthday is another example. Maybe it’s because it was too busy talking about how lousy Nick was at gift giving and not really showing it, but it seemed like the story went from Nick’s ineptness to Nick’s awesome movie surprise in a finger snap, with no real explanation of how he managed to pull it off. And while the birthday movie he made for Jess was fun — bringing back a lot of the side characters we’ve seen since the beginning — it was a moment that felt more like a ’90s sitcom grand gesture than something that was born out their history together.

Maybe that’s the problem. By pulling the trigger on the relationship when they did, Meriwether and her crew don’t have a ton of history to fall back on. That’s the tricky part of the will-they-won’t-they equation, though. It’s hard to fault them on pulling the trigger too early when it seemed to be the right move at the time; if they had waited, for instance, until this season to get Nick and Jess together, they may have been accused of driving them apart with too many contrived situations.

Nick and Jess should continue in this relationship, because I like seeing them together much more than seeing them broken up. But now that they’ve expressed their love to each other, the relationship needs some time to breathe. Go away from it for a little while and focus back on Schmidt and Cece (Hannah Simone) or give us more of the “Fire and Ice” act between Coach and Winston (Lamorne Morris). There’s more than enough places the story can go on this show; Nick and Jess do not have to be the centerpiece for New Girl to work. Maybe with a rest, the writers can rediscover why this pair worked so well to begin with, and they won’t need to employ another rock legend in order to help it along.

Joel Keller is one of the co-founders of Antenna Free TV and co-hosts the weekly AFT Podcast. A long time ago, he left a career rebooting servers to write about TV and other fun stuff (though his ulterior motive was to write off his cable on his income taxes). At the time, he was writing for the late, great site TV Squad, where he eventually became editor-in-chief. Since those heady days, he's written about TV and other topics for The New York Times, The A.V. Club,, Fast Company's Co.Create, Vulture, Zap2It and elsewhere.


The Late News from