Tuesday, September 20, 2016

New Girl 6x01 Review: "House Hunt" (Moving Up and Moving On)

"House Hunt"
Original Airdate: September 20, 2016

Have you ever stopped, looked around at your friends and their lives and thought: "How did I get here?" Most of the time, I don't think about my age or circumstances of others (or expectations placed on me based on my age and circumstances of others). But sometimes, when I pause long enough, I remember that I'm a 27-year old unmarried woman. I've been blessed in the last year with a job that I love where I'm actually using my degree, but for four years prior, I had been stuck in a dead-end job where I was disrespected and disheartened every day. And when you feel like you SHOULD be somewhere else in life — when you look at your Facebook timeline and it's an endless stream of engagements, marriages, babies, new jobs, world travels, and first homes — it can seem rather overwhelming if you're not in any of those categories. Even worse, it can feel stifling.

When New Girl debuted, it was a series about this wacky, quirky, unrealistically odd young woman who was forced to find a new living situation after she caught her live-in boyfriend cheating on her. But slowly and thankfully, the series evolved into a comedy that explored the quirkiness of each member of the loft (and Cece). Everyone has their "pogos," and everyone has their messed-up family lives, and soon enough, Jess wasn't the weird one anymore. They were all weirdos. That's how New Girl really began as a series — with a group of people on equal footing in life.

But over the years, the writing has shifted subtly in order to reflect what often happens as you age — people and situations change. Winston went from being this totally aloof and nonsensical character who had a string of jobs he never really cared about to someone passionate about and good at his field. He's in a stable and steady relationship with someone whose oddities are endearing and relatable. Schmidt went from being a self-absorbed narcissist with the tendency to make blunt, Douchebag Jar-worthy statements about women to a happily-married man on the verge of the next stage in his life. Schmidt is, perhaps, only usurped in character development by one Nick Miller. When New Girl begins, he's devastated by his break-up with Caroline, unable to let her go from his life. He's — as Schmidt terms — "a damaged, chubby flower" throughout most of the first season. Around "Injured," there's a slight shift in his personality and vulnerability, and it's his relationship with Jess that propels him toward "romantic lead" characterization in season two. But when Nick and Jess broke up, something happened in Nick, and the show reduced him to being the totally absurd completely nonsensical man-child who slurred his jokes and could barely say anything intelligent. 

Realizing, perhaps, the opportunity ahead of them, the writers then subtly began to shift Nick's character and develop him into a man with a purpose and responsibilities. The Nick Miller we see in "House Hunt" is so far removed from the one we see in something like "The Box," for example, that it's almost hard to believe they're the same person. But they are. The writers and, I suspect, EPs too, know that while Jess is the main character of the series, Nick and Jess are its emotional core. And though Nick and Jess' relationship ended, his character development did not (blessedly) have to.

This is the most impressive character shift, to me, in the entire series. Nick Miller's arc has been all about him finding the courage to believe in himself. Nick always settled because he didn't believe he could be anything more than what he was. He let other people, even people who were mostly well-meaning like Schmidt, demean him and box him into a specific role or identity. But through Jess and their break-up, his relationship with Reagan, and the ownership of the bar, Nick has begun to prove to himself — and everyone else — that he has a lot to offer as a person.

And that's really what makes "House Hunt" heartbreaking in terms of the Nick/Jess relationship. When I watched the screener, I immediately likened their storyline to "Cece Crashes," and I still stand by that belief. There's a lot of awkwardness, a lot of avoiding confrontation, but ultimately a lot of matureprogress made in the relationship and a propped-open door for the pair to reunite in the future. But before we talk about that relationship, let's talk about the rest of the episode!


What I find, to this day, to be incredibly mind-blowing is the way that the New Girl writers managed to redeem Schmidt as a character and to get me re-invested in the Schmidt/Cece relationship in a way that I had never been before. I liked the pair, in their best moments, because Cece was always unafraid to tell Schmidt when he was being stupid and Schmidt was able to bring some soft vulnerabilities out of her character that we didn't see with anyone else. So if you wondered, like I did, exactly what would change now that Schmidt and Cece are married, "House Hunt" gives you that answer: pretty much nothing. Schmidt still cannot pronounce simple words (luckily that was in their vows), and both of them have a difficult time dealing with Jess in this episode. But honestly, their relationship is believable and it's very familiar, which is what makes it so welcome and inviting. Everything may be changing in Jess' mind, but really... it's not for us.

Speaking of Jess, Schmidt is fed up with Jess intervening in his and Cece's life. She's using projects as distractions, and when she tries to help the newly-married couple find a house in the premiere, Schmidt's exasperation is apparent. Moreover, he tells Cece frankly that she needs to find a way to get rid of her best friend. They can't begin their new lives if they constantly have roommates and shenanigans hanging over them. And that's really what their storyline was about — Schmidt and Cece want something to call their own. They're newlyweds and they want a place to hang up their wedding photo. The fact that the two are looking to move out isn't big or dramatic. Rather, it's just presented as the next logical step in their lives. I love that the conflict that stems from the A-story with them is not because of Schmidt or Cece acting out-of-character because they're married. And it's not a conflict caused by the fact that they want to move out of the loft. The conflict comes from Jess' side only, which is really refreshing. There's some minor pushing, of course, but once Schmidt realizes WHY Jess is behaving the way she is, he softens and helps hide her from Nick. He's also more than ready for Cece to leave the bank where they're about to sign their home loan in order to help Jess. That was pretty awesome to me, because three seasons ago, Schmidt thought only of himself and what he wanted. Now, he's matured and is a lot more understanding.

In the end, I love the fact that Schmidt and Cece buy a total fixer-upper house. It's nice and symbolic, because every relationship is a fixer-upper and none on New Girl more so than Schmidt/Cece. But the best part is that they'll be fixing their house together, and their friends will be right beside them to help. Just because they're married doesn't mean they completely shove off their friends and their old lives — Schmidt and Cece are ready to create something of their own, but let the people they love most help them build it.


I could talk about Nick and Jess for approximately one thousand more words, but I'll spare you the lifetime of reading and, instead, will present you with what New Girl has done so well in regards to this pairing: timing. A lot of people attribute the struggles that season three of the show endured to the couple. I've said it before and I'll say it again — I think the issue was not the decision to put Nick and Jess together but rather the show's inability to properly integrate them into the larger narrative. The two were often separated into their own stories, and part of the fun of New Girl is seeing Nick and Jess interact with Schmidt, Winston, Coach, and Cece. But when the show broke them apart, I trusted that they had a plan — an endgame, if you will.

One of the most oft-mentioned things I see in the Nick/Jess fandom is the fact that Nick constantly goes out of his way to prove his love for Jess. Even when the pair weren't dating, it was Nick who ran to the restaurant ("Pilot") and Nick who went into the haunted house for her ("Halloween") and Nick who put together the dresser ("Fluffer") and Nick who sought her out when she lost her job ("Re-Launch") and Nick who tried to cheer her up by dancing ("Table 34") and Nick who cooked her breakfast in bed ("Winston's Birthday"), and Nick who let Schmidt make him over for their date ("First Date"), and Nick who planned an elaborate party for her ("Birthday"), etc. etc.

Nick always seemed to be the one who loved more. And it's not that I didn't believe in the authenticity of Jess' feelings. I truly believe she loved Nick so much and it hurt her to let him go. But I think that Nick always made more sacrifices for her, and went out of his way to show her how much he loved him. So that's why I loved "Helmet" and discussed how we finally saw a story where JESS was the one making a sacrifice and showing Nick how much she cared about him. I think that the show did a pretty stellar job of slowly building Nick and Jess back toward one another the past few seasons. The shifts were subtle and slow, but that's how feelings often develop — they sneak up on you before you even realize what they are.

And that's what makes "House Hunt" so fantastic. It's reminiscent, in a lot of ways, to "Cece Crashes" — Nick unexpectedly returns home from New Orleans a month early, and Jess spends the entire summer trying to take her mind off of him (apparently through doing projects and meddling in Schmidt and Cece's home buying) but pretending she's okay. So when he shows up, she runs away just like she does in that season one episode, and she can't even bring herself to knock at his bedroom door. She becomes this totally awkward woman again, and it’s made even more realized when she runs into Nick at the bank and hides from him.

Jess’ whole struggle this season, it seems, will be two-fold: trying to move on from Nick, but also trying to move on, in general. Jess doesn’t want to move on from him. She has these deep, intense feelings and I doubt that they’ll go away over the course of an episode or two. But deeper than her feelings for Nick are her insecurities that everyone around her is moving forward (heck, even Coach is in a stable relationship), while she’s stuck standing still. It’ll be interesting to see how this inner conflict manifests itself in the coming episodes.

But I love Nick/Jess, and I love that this season will focus not on Nick’s feelings, but Jess’. It’s a welcome shift, and it’s something the show hasn’t really done (apart from an episode like “Quick Hardening Caulk,” for example) or explored in regards to their dynamic. Jess isn’t just jealous though, because jealousy is pretty simplistic and cliché. It’s LONGING. Jess is longing for the love she had with Nick, and she’s longing for him again because I think a part of her finally realizes what she lost. As she told Raegan at the end of last season, Jess realizes that plans and order and structure don’t matter as much as the love you share with someone.

And Nick Miller has developed into this incredible person. And he credits part of his success and growth to Jess. There’s this amazing, sweet scene at the end of this episode where Nick and Jess discuss his time in New Orleans. He says that he felt alive and inspired there, and was able to write a huge novel. His dedication in the book is to Jess, for all they’ve been through together. It’s this sweet, subtle moment where Nick gets to express how much he’ll always care about her, and Jess gets to rest in a moment where she isn’t feeling awkward about Nick — she just gets to be with him.

I’m really excited about the direction these two will be taking this season. Have I mentioned that? And honestly, New Girl is off to an awesome start to its sixth season. The episode ends with the revelation that Schmidt and Cece didn’t buy the fancy house, but a fixer-upper. They invite everyone to help them tear it apart, and it’s a fantastic and real moment, made even better by the fact that Nick accidentally uncovers a beautiful fireplace hidden among the rubble. I could wax poetic about how that’s a metaphor for the crap these characters have had to sift through in order to find each other but... well, you get the idea.

New Girl is back, better than ever, and ready to tackle whatever happens the rest of the season with humor and a ton of heart. I couldn’t be more excited.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • The New Girl premiere feels like the show is on its way to that final part of Dan Harmon's story circle: "having changed." The full-circle feel makes me think that this season might be the show's last. And while I could definitely be wrong, I wouldn't be surprised if the show ended at the end of this year, having resolved its major arcs — especially Nick/Jess'.
  • Over the summer, Jess did the following activities: the urban corn harvest, learned Portuguese, joined a soul shred gym and got "scary ripped."
  • "He's like a tongue at a seventh-grade birthday party."
  • The running joke that Nick and Cece aren't close continues in this episode and I'm so glad.
  • The sight gag of the carpet house had me cackling for like, a minute straight.
  • Schmidt mispronunciation of the episode: "coupons."
  • Why haven't we used "Jess the mess" up until this point?!
  • The B-story in this episode was great because it was formed organically from the A-story: Leslie, Aly's sister, is Schmidt and Cece's initial real estate agent and she's horrible. Tasked with firing her, Winston can't bring himself to do so and hires her to help him find a house. It's sweet that Winston doesn't want to upset Aly by firing her sister, and the resolution — the fact that Aly is okay with it — is even better.
  • "You have one friend! It's Cece!"
  • "Don't mistake my measured backtone for calmness, as I am filled with waters of rage."
  • "... We all... need to meet new people." That response from Schmidt about Jess' feelings for Nick made me snort with laughter.
  • "Heads up: there are over 60 pairs of shoes in your room." "Uh, heads up: they're all in the hallway now."
  • Okay, but let's discuss the fact that Winston knew how hard it was for Jess to knock on Nick's door and so he knocked for her, went into the room with her to make it less awkward, and stayed until she was comfortable enough for him to leave. Winnie the Bish, everyone.
  • "Hey Day." "Hey Miller." That one line broke me, y'all.
What did you all think of New Girl's return? Sound off in the comments below with your thoughts!


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