Wednesday, October 8, 2014

New Girl 4x04 "Micro" (You're So Shallow, You Probably Think This Post Is About You)

Original Airdate: October 7, 2014

You know, sometimes people are really shallow, men and women alike. You could be the nicest person on the face of the planet, but if you had the choice to sit beside Ryan Reynolds on a long bus ride or Timothy Spall, let's be honest: most of us would choose the former. The funny thing is that we often judge people by the way they look or something physically distinctive about them as if their outward appearance (the color of their eyes, size and quantity of their muscles, or length of their legs) somehow reflected their inward appearance. Men get accused of being more shallow than women, but women are JUST as guilty of this as they are and I loved that this week's episode of New Girl demonstrated what it always does best: the differences between men and women.

If you really break it down, that is what this series has been about. New Girl has always been the story of a bunch of men learning to live with a woman who is so fundamentally different from them in every way, not just in personality. In "Micro," we see this quite clearly in the bet that Nick and Jess make and the B-story of Winston and Cece pranking Coach and Schmidt. But, as is often customary with New Girl, the A- and B-plots are never exactly what they seem as we get an oddly sentimental curve ball thrown at us in regards to Schmidt and his self-confidence. I truly enjoyed the Josh Malmuth-penned episode, even though it won't rank as my favorite episode ever. Malmuth, who has written "Bad In Bed," "Secrets," "Models," and "Thanksgiving III" (among others), has always managed to excel at episodes and jokes laced with innuendos but that also remain true to the characters and their personalities. In particular, Malmuth episodes always seem to perfectly depict the qualities that make men different from women. He is able to highlight the males of the series and contrast them with the women without depicting one sex as greater than the other. What's funny is that "Micro" focuses on the idea that the men KNOW they are shallow and openly admit to judging a woman based on her body. Nick, Winston, Coach, and Schmidt openly admit to that. But what is wonderful is that "Micro" also highlights the fact that women do the same thing, but do not openly admit it (it's a fact, ladies, so don't be offended -- I am a woman and I totally understood it).

But as with any New Girl episode whose theme is more "battle of the sex"-y, we as the audience see not just that men and women can be shallow but learn the reasons WHY the men and women behave this way (and though Jess is shallow in the episode, she is shallow for reasons that differ from the men's and really, she just spends most of the episode stubbornly trying to not admit that Nick was right about her). I liked this episode and thought the B-story was hilarious and also delightful in its resolution (thank goodness this show is sticking to strictly A/B stories for the time being). So let's talk about "Micro" more in-depth then, shall we?

The episode opens with Nick, Schmidt, Winston, and Coach ogling women at the bar as they walk by. I'll pause to note that there's a possibility people were offended by the portrayal of the core men as shallow in the episode, but I - personally - did not take any offense to "Micro" whatsoever. Nick Miller is often a pretty good guy: he was always thoughtful and considerate to Jess, treated her with respect, and is not as much of a stereotypical male as other shows might portray him. But he's still a man and I love that New Girl doesn't shy away from the notion that men are imperfect and sometimes extremely shallow. Why "Micro" made me happy though is that it also reminded us that one sex is not infallible: women can be just as shallow as men and judge the male bodies like men judge women. (For proof of this, simply log onto Tumblr where you'll find perfectly decent, upstanding women ogling shirtless Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch like they're cupcakes in a display window.)

What New Girl does well, then, is note that both sexes are imperfect and both are shallow, but both do so for different reasons and in different ways. Men in this episode openly judge women, but Jess does so more subtly. And it depicts women as occasionally shallow but genuinely emotional human beings -- that is what separates our sex from the male sex, in my opinion. Women can only be shallow until they hit a wall like Jess did: until they realize that they cannot connect emotionally with someone; then they look back on their decisions and recognize that no matter HOW attractive a man is, something will always prevent them from being fully committed. Women are more likely, I think, to relinquish their surface perceptions in order to be with someone less attractive but who they've forged an emotional connection with. The problem with women (speaking as one) is that we're really quick to judge men on their shallow behavior, but we do the same thing to them, except we're usually less overt and it's more socially acceptable, too. (Think about things like People's "Sexiest Man Alive.")

Nevertheless, Jess is offended by the men and their behavior and insists that she is not as shallow as they are -- she would never rule out a man just based on what he looks like. She cares about things like personality and intellect and other non-physical attributes. I believe Jess, I really do (as we will see later in the episode), because she genuinely DOES need a non-physical connection with someone in order to make a relationship work. The men, however, explain that they do realize women are imperfect... but they aim for perfection in women, which is why they judge. Jess is (rightfully) offended by the whole conversation and sits down at a stranger's table. And that stranger is VERY attractive. And he tells her that she is hot. And she starts to act the way that Jess does whenever she gets complimented. And she agrees to go out with him immediately, not because she forms a connection with him but because he is BEAUTIFUL. But Jess quickly realizes that she may be a tad more shallow than she let the men know when Matt tells her that he has a... uh, small problem. A micropenis, to be specific. That is when Jess hesitates and you can see her mind reeling, backpedaling, wondering what she just agreed to.

Important to note: Jess still tries to make the date work because she makes a stubborn bet with Nick. And it's even MORE important to note that she doesn't try to keep the bet because of Matt's physicality -- she hits the shallow wall, so beautifully articulated in The Mindy Project ("My body is attracted to your body, but when you speak, my brain gets angry"). Once Jess goes on a date with Matt, she's no longer shallow: she doesn't want to date him for very valid reasons, but that doesn't negate the fact that she was initially shallow, nor does it mean that she will not spend the remainder of the episode trying to win the bet. Nick brings up an excellent point when Jess embarks on the date: she's trying to mask her shallowness, but she just MET Matt and has no idea if he is smart or sweet or if they connect. She is going on the date because she was attracted to his face. Period. Still, Jess embarks on her date and realizes that Matt is juvenile and that they are incompatible. Whoops.

Elsewhere, Schmidt and Coach are feeling down about Matt's condition because... they think their bodies are amazing. The theme of shallowness runs across both A- and B-stories in "Micro" (with different results) which is delightful. In the B-story, Winston and Cece decide to have a bit of fun exploiting Coach and Winston's egos, stroking them and insisting the two could be models. Winston and Cece (THEY HAD A DELIGHTFUL STORY TOGETHER, GUYS) then spend the remainder of the episode making Schmidt and Coach compete against one another for their own amusement... and with an unexpected twist. You see, once Schmidt and Coach begin to compete against one another, something becomes abundantly clear: Coach is probably the better model and Schmidt will always compare himself to him.

Actually, Schmidt will always compare himself to other people because, as he confesses, he still looks into the mirror and sees the fat kid he used to be. Oh sure, he brags and boasts about himself and his physique all the time... but that is just a facade. Inside, Schmidt is still insecure because he will always be scarred by the memory of what he once was. I'll admit it: I was waiting for the punchline. I was waiting for New Girl to backpedal and have Schmidt manipulate Coach just so he would forfeit and Schmidt would be the only one interested in landing the modeling gig. But when "Micro" didn't backpedal and when it didn't use Schmidt's past as a punchline, I was actually overwhelmingly sad for the marketing executive. Sometimes, Schmidt gets written as a caricature, and that's fine: he's the goofy, lovable douchebag. But he is also a HUMAN and while Fat Schmidt is played for laughs (like Fat Monica in Friends was), the truth is that he is the person that he is BECAUSE of his past. And not everyone is shaped by their past in a positive way -- sometimes those scars don't make you better; sometimes they haunt you.

So the fact that "Micro" tackled Schmidt's insecurities without making them the real butt of a joke (the joke in the B-story was that final scene where Coach figures out what Winston and Cece did and then forces them to ensure Schmidt is a model SOMEWHERE to preserve his self-esteem; Winston and Cece then pay out of their own pockets for a billboard) made Schmidt a more vulnerable, empathetic, and delightful character to watch. I truly am loving season four Schmidt and I cannot wait to see what else is in store for his character. He's being so vulnerable and delightful and open this year already that I look forward to more of that and more of his development.

When Jess decides she's turned-off by Matt's personality, the man makes an excuse for his behavior: he is a bit douchey because of his... uh, shortcoming. And Jess feels guilty for the way she treated him, confronting Nick, Schmidt, and Coach about her shallow behavior. But that is when Jess comes to the realization that makes "Micro" so important: they are ALL shallow and they are all selfish -- men AND women alike -- but they do that in order to feel better about themselves; in order to make the quirks they have feel less like quirks. Jess articulates this when she says that they all have flaws, they "are all freaks." And they're covered in these flaws, trying to detract attention to their own faults by pointing out the weirdness of others. And it's true. And it's astute. And Jess realizes exactly why she acts the way she does and why the men do, too. So she vows to give Matt another chance, to be vulnerable with  her faults around him because she's not better than he is and her wonky knee isn't better than his physical flaw. (But, okay, maybe she DOES admit to being able to sum up her behavior in a Winger speech, making her better than the men who didn't realize this moral lesson.)

(Of course, that goes awry when Jess realizes that Matt really IS just a douchey guy who keeps using his flaw as an excuse to act however he wants in order to garner sympathy).

The point of "Micro" isn't that men are more shallow than women or that women are better than men or that, really, any sex is above shallow behavior. The point was that we are all flawed, covered in scars, and the sooner we realize that we are, the slower we will be to judge and criticize anyone else's scars or shortcomings. And that, honestly, is all we need to know.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • "Everyone knows I'm a sweet, sweet six." "Winston, for the last time, stop ranking us."
  • I love that the men looked at Jess's wonky knee so in-depth. I also love the Nick/Jess dynamic and their banter this episode.
  • My favorite running gag is that Jess is horrible at accepting compliments from attractive men. "Shut your gross, beautiful face."
  • "Pretend that you're having fun... or pay for me to go to college."
  • I love that Winston and Cece have clear arcs this year: Winston in the police academy and Cece going to college. I've always loved both characters but I'm so happy to see that there is more development with them!
  • "It's like you were created in a lab full of gay scientists."
  • "FOR TRUES."
  • "Classic Cece-Winston mess around." "That's not a thing."
  • "Who's talking to you, depression-era garbage man?"
  • "I knew it! I AM better than you guys. Thank you for helping me realize that." #gpoy
  • "I'm glad I met you. Sort of. I mean, I don't know why, but I kind of am."
  • "... What is happening?" "... What did we do?"
  • "I hate when Schmidt cries. He sounds like a ghost singing 'Hey Ya.'"
Thank you all for joining me again this week, friends! Meet you back here next week for "Landline," which marks the first appearance of Doctor Wren from PLL. Until then, folks. :)


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