Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New Girl 4x03 "Julie Berkman's Older Sister" (Of Sponges, Niceties, and More Sponges)

"Julie Berkman's Older Sister"
Original Airdate: September 30, 2014

Have you ever met someone who was just so gosh darn good that you got frustrated with them? These are the people who shy away from confrontation, who rarely participate in practical jokes because they're afraid to hurt someone's feelings, and who listen to that annoying co-worker's sob story for twenty minutes because they're too nice to find a way to extract themselves from the conversation and are worried about appearing rude. These are people like Jessica Day. And "Julie Berkman's Older Sister" is a perfect follow-up to last week's "Dice" because it reminds us exactly of who Jessica Day is, as a person: she's a caretaker, she's selfless, and she's way too nice sometimes for her own good. That's something that has been and always will be fundamentally true about Jess as a character. No matter what situation she finds herself in, the woman's first response is never going to be to go on the defensive, to loudly vocalize her opinions, or to tell people "no" easily. Jess is just too considerate for that. But that doesn't mean that Jess meanders through life without any opinions or feelings -- she DOES have those in spades, but chooses to think about how her actions or words impact others rather than act first and think later.

Speaking of acting first and speaking later, this week's B-story was devoted to the men (Cece and Jess had the A-story which was refreshing because it's been ages since they've had a story solely to themselves) trying to help Schmidt come up with an amazing way to market a sponge so that he can land an account. Surface level-wise, it seems like just another story about Schmidt trying to work his way up in the rankings (or merely a reminder that these people do, indeed, have jobs), but "Julie Berkman's Older Sister" revealed to us the frustration and sadness that Schmidt is feeling in 2014. He has no girlfriend. He has no apartment. He doesn't even have his own room anymore. And while reliving their college days might seem like a great idea, in practice, sharing a space with Nick reminds Schmidt exactly how different they are as friends. And I felt for Schmidt throughout the episode, really, as he tries his hardest to land an account because he believes that doing so is the first step toward getting his life back on track. Without the account, he's just another marketing employee coasting through a mediocre existence. I'm rooting for Schmidt this year, to be honest, because as irritating and douchey as he can be sometimes, I can clearly see the character development poking through those facades and I'm excited for his stories.

Before we delve too deeply into a discussion about characters, let's recap the episode, shall we?

First off, this episode was written by Nina Pedrad who wrote "Exes" and co-wrote "Mars Landing." I love Nina's episodes and this one was no exception. JBOS (as I'm going to abbreviate it from now on) had me laughing out loud at multiple points and downright cackling at some moments in the B-story. Nina has a way with making both her lines and the physicality of the actors hilarious while also making some moments poignant when they need to be. (Example: Nick's face when Schmidt gets called out of the focus group by his boss.) I thought she did a great job!

The episode opens with Schmidt doing what he does best: berate everyone in the loft (specifically Nick) for not living up to his standards of cleanliness and organization. Schmidt is at his wit's end, understandably so: this is a guy who went from having it all to having it all taken away from him piece by piece. And I think it frustrates Schmidt even MORE because he knows it's his fault. It was his fault for cheating on Cece, forcing things to become awkward in the loft and for him to move out. But now that Schmidt has returned, the season one and two dynamic between the group has also returned. Schmidt is berating Nick's hygiene and general persona (a la episodes like "Bells"). I think it's easy to forget sometimes that though these two have been friends for ages, their personalities clash on every single level.

(In fact, Nick's personality clashes with everyone in the loft so I don't really know how they deal with him, honestly.)

Jess is stressed out, meanwhile, because her father is visiting and he's bringing his new girlfriend along. We remember Bob Day, right? He's a guy who looks an awfully lot like Rob Reiner and truly loves and protects his daughter. He told her in "Winston's Birthday" that he was always going to worry about her -- she was his daughter; that is just what fathers did. JBOS finds the father-daughter duo in a different kind of relationship: Jess tries to protect her dad throughout the episode from getting hurt. It's well-intended for the most part, and it's completely and utterly JESS. This is the woman who tries to protect her friends, who tried to get her parents together, who wanted her sister to be better than she was... this is a woman who is a fixer. She fixes people and relationships (she fixed Nick long before they were together. See: "A Father's Love") but she does so by being cautious about it. Jess will always want to fix people, but she also wants to maintain the status quo, too. She's the girl who wants a guy to figure something out on his own without having to explicitly spell it out for him.

Funny thing is, as a kid, Jess didn't have the same degree of tact and restraint that she does as an adult. Cece reminds her of this as they reminisce on Jess's past behavior and Bob's past girlfriends. Jess is adamant that she will be pleasant and supportive of her dad's new woman... until the women meet her and realize that she is the older (really promiscuous) sister of a girl they went to high school with (and also attended school with). Instead of telling her father all of the horrible and raunchy things that Ashley did in her past, Jess vows to be nice to her father's girlfriend. The whole Jess/Cece/Bob story was really great because we got the chance to see what exactly pushes Jess's buttons, how much she cares about her father (we've seen her and Bob's relationship before in episodes like "Parents" and "Winston's Birthday," but not nearly to the extent as we did in JBOS), and how different she and Cece are... and how similar they COULD be. Cece and Jess have always been total opposites (think "Cece Crashes" and "Models"), but they've managed to forge a bond in spite of their differences. JBOS is a reminder that the reason these two aren't more similar isn't because Jess can't be a no-holds-barred person but because she chooses not to be.

The underlying theme of the A-story was that sometimes people change. That's the perfect message when you really think about it for New Girl, a show that thrives on reminding us of this message (Jess changing to become more confident in herself; Schmidt changing to become more selfless; Cece changing to become more accepting; Coach changing to become more sensitive; Nick changing to become more responsible; Winston changing to become happier). We look at the loft and we see thirty-somethings who are still growing and evolving and sometimes we think that they should be completely changed already, completely evolved. But the beauty of JBOS was that it reminded us that even when you're Bob Day's age or Ashley Berkman's age, you can STILL change. You can become more mature and less cynical and happier. It's a beautiful message to embrace, really.

Meanwhile, Schmidt is trying to get Coach, Winston, and Nick's assistance as he prepares to deliver a pitch for the sponge account. Spoiler alert: it's not going well and Schmidt is even less patient than usual with their shenanigans. Here's the reason I loved the B-story with the guys: these four, together, are idiots. I mean that sincerely. If left to their own devices, they would probably starve and/or fall apart (we saw that in "Thanksgiving III"). They goof off and make fun of each other so much that sometimes they forget that they're each going through something: Schmidt is dealing with the stress of his unfulfilled life; Nick is dealing with his break-up; Winston is dealing with the stress of police academy; Coach is probably struggling through something too. And in JBOS, the boys act like... well, boys until they realize exactly why Schmidt put so much effort into the pitch in the first place. That's the joy of these men though: once they realize they've hurt someone, it doesn't take long at all for them to remedy the situation.

At the loft, Ashley is regaling Cece and Jess with tales of her youth, including time spent in rehab for a sex addiction. (Sidenote: Kaitlin Olson was HILARIOUS as Ashley, especially with her comedic timing and deliveries.) When Ashley leaves the room, Jess finally confesses to her father that she's wary of the new woman and doesn't want to see him get hurt. And Ashley, she deduces, is the kind of woman who has hurt people and will continue to hurt them. Once Bob refuses to listen to Jess and reveals that he's going to marry Ashley does Jess finally snap -- since her father won't listen to her sweet, gentle reasoning, Jess will become what she needs to in order to convince him of his mistake. Because people like Ashley don't change, right? People like her can never change.

Jess's whole desire to protect her father stems from two-fold reasoning: 1) he cannot protect himself and 2) he needs protecting. It's so interesting the way that Jess and Cece view Ashley in this episode, especially in light of the fact that they BOTH have grown and changed from the people they used to be. (Don't worry, Jess will see the error of her ways soon enough.) In order to protect her dad, Jess decides to snoop in Ashley's phone, which yields incriminating -- albeit false -- information about Ashley cheating. Instead of helping her father, Jess manages to hurt him and hurt an innocent Ashley because she insists on playing "fixer" and fixing things that aren't broken (and people for that matter).

At the focus group, Schmidt decided to not take his chances and prepare lines for Nick, Coach, and Winston (which they all horribly blow, but no one worse than Nick). Gina knows that Schmidt rigged the group and pulls the dismayed man out of the group. It's then that Nick notices how much this group meant to Schmidt and how much the pitch meant to him. And honestly, Nick will always come to Schmidt's rescue and defense because that is who they are and who they have always been as friends. And in its irony, it's this consistency that saves Schmidt -- Nick's reliability in being messy (and Nick's reliability in coming to defend Schmidt) gives the marketing executive the perfect idea for the sponge pitch.

Back at the loft, Jess and her dad have a heart-to-heart where she reminds him of the ways she looked out for him after her parents divorced. And while Bob agrees that Jess did help him out, what he reminds her of is this: he still made it through. He made it through with her, but he's also made it through without her. And if she can accept that people can change and that he doesn't need to be protected, then their relationship will be better off. It was a lovely moment of role reversal and a reminder that Jess is so used to taking care of the people in her life that sometimes she needs people to take care of her. So Jess supports her father and believes -- even if it is just for a moment -- that people CAN change... but sadly, the moment passes and both Bob and Jess see Ashley head up to the loft with another man. They jump to conclusions, make accusations, and Ashley leave -- hurt.

But Jess is now determined to prove how much she wants Ashley in her life and her father's life, so she chases her down... and gets hit by a bicyclist, because this is Jessica Day's life. Later that night, the group celebrates Bob's engagement to Ashley and Schmidt landing the account. Their lives are far from perfect or neat, and 2016 probably won't see Schmidt as a millionaire, but I love that we are watching our loft crew evolve in their own ways professionally AND emotionally.

Because honestly, sometimes growth is really just lots of baby steps in the right direction.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • "You unbelievable pig person!"
  • "I've gone from riches to rags... it's like a reverse Annie."
  • "That's why God thinks it's a sin!"
  • Whoever found the girl who plays young Cece, you're a wizard. She looks IDENTICAL to Hannah Simone. It's kind of scary.
  • The "sponge!" bit in the bathroom between Nick, Schmidt, Coach, and Winston had me laughing hysterically.
  • I was so happy Michaela Watkins returned to New Girl this week! I've missed her.
  • "What we're doing is unsavory. And we're hiding from God."
  • I love the constant running joke of Nick never leaving tips ("Fluffer").
  • "... Am I supposed to say 'client' now?"
  • "I am Thor. And this is my hammer. Mulnir. Mjolnir."
  • "I'd be in trouble if you were black." "... Thank you?"
  • I laughed really hard when Jess was trying to avoid getting hit by the cyclists, especially because they were intermittently yelling at her/each other.
  • Can we keep Rob Reiner around forever as Bob Day?
  • The end tag sponge commercial was HILARIOUS.
Thank you all for reading this New Girl review. Check back next week for a new one next week! Until then, folks. :)


  1. I am so obsessed with your reviews! i discovered them today and i've been going through quite a few of them and i love them because they make me love new girl even more and see the show in different ways.

    1. Oh, thank you so much anon for that sweet comment! That is honestly my goal with writing these: hopefully someone will be able to see a scene or the episode in a little bit of a different way than they did before. :)