In 500 Days of Summer, the title character Summer, and subsequently actress Zooey Deschanel, is described as having an intangible air about her that simply draws people in. And to some extent it’s hard to argue. Deschanel has built a prolific career throughout the past few years through a winning combination of acting prowess and by simply being adorable. Last September, FOX decided to capitalize on Deschanel’s indisputable “X” factor by launching the pilot of New Girl, a single-camera sitcom starring Deschanel’s Jess Day, whom the show has branded as “simply adorkable.” The pilot opens with Jess looking for a new place to stay after discovering her ex’s unfaithful ways — her search leads her to an ad for three men (Schmidt, a successful young professional obsessed with climbing the Los Angeles social ladder; Nick, a bartender who recently dropped out of law school; and Winston, a former professional basketball player in Latvia) in their late 20s looking for a fourth roommate. After some initial trepidation, the three agree to let Jess live with them, and what follows is a sitcom that is genuinely funny, witty and full of heart.
The second half of the first season opens with the four roommates staring at a jar stuffed with cash. Known as the “Douche Jar,” this container appears every time one of the roommates does something the other three consider to be douchey (for example, buying a Groupon for a sex hypnotist) — if found guilty, they have to put money in the jar. However, as the episode shows, only Schmidt is ever found offensive enough to warrant a contribution to the jar. This time, the group has determined that he needs to put in $50 for an unspecified act, setting up the remainder of the episode appropriately titled “The Story of the 50.”
The episode then flashes back three days earlier, where Schmidt is lamenting over the fact that his 29th birthday can no longer be held because the party bus he wanted was rented out to Frankie Muniz. After some prying, Jess discovers that Schmidt (whose desire to climb up the social ladder stems from being severely overweight as an adolescent) really just wants a spectacular party to impress his old college buddy Benjamin, a career-driven sleazeball who continues to try to one-up Schmidt. As annoying as his character is, though, hearing him and Schmidt sing a parody of Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City” as “We build this Schmidtty/On Tootsie Rolls" was probably the highlight of the entire episode. Once Jess realizes that Schmidt simply wants to be respected by his belittling friend, she sets out to throw him a surprise party with the help of Winston and her drug-obsessed boss, an elementary school vice principal.
While Jess is busy planning, Nick is trying to impress a successful lawyer, played with hilarious dry wit by Lizzy Caplan, or as I will refer to her, “Janis from Mean Girls.” Nick, unwilling to show his sophisticated lady that he lives in a loft apartment with three roommates, is reluctant to bring her back home, but she insists that she’s fine with his unorthodox living situation. She agrees to accompany Nick to Schmidt’s surprise party which takes place the next day in a school bus in lieu of a party bus, and chaos ensues.
It is in quirky and bizarre situations like these that New Girl truly thrives. Jess accidentally hires a male stripper to perform on the bus, a situation that could easily turn into a comedy cliché. Instead, the stripper keeps his pants on, doles out some life advice and leads the bus in a sing-along. After getting uproariously drunk on “bro juice,” Benjamin aggressively hits on Jess at the same time that Janis from Mean Girls tries to convince Nick that he shouldn’t be ashamed of who he is — she has some secrets too, but as long as they’re open with each other, they’ll be fine. Then, as the characters notice Benjamin harassing Jess, (Bonus line: “Why don’t you go from Zero to Hero?… The hero is my penis.”) the gang tells him to back off and leave. When he protests, Janis from Mean Girls steps up to the plate and repeatedly punches him in the face, knocking him into the bus driver and sending the school bus careening off the road and into a telephone pole. With the party effectively ruined, Janice confesses that not only is she an extremely skilled martial artist, but she’s working through some serious anger issues. Nick tells her that he doesn’t care — he’s still into her.
Meanwhile, Jess apologizes to Schmidt for throwing possibly the most bizarre surprise party in the history of surprise parties, but he doesn’t care: No one’s ever done something this nice for him before. After a moment of silence, he leans in and tries to kiss her and Jess responds with an always appropriate, “Oh my god, NO!”
The episode flashes back to the present, where the gang demands that Schmidt put $50 into the jar for trying to kiss Jess, while he insists he was trying to wipe a piece of fuzz off her face.
This episode is a pretty standard return to form for New Girl: awkward scenarios, crazy characters and a healthy dose of sap. It’ll be interesting to see where Nick’s new relationship takes him — I certainly hope Janis from Mean Girls sticks around.
The after credits montage of Schmidt’s “Douche Jar” offenses:
- “Guys, has anyone seen my good peacoat?”
- “Jess, I just got a Groupon for hypnosis lessons! Think what we could do with that… sex stuff.”
- “Have you seen my sharkskin laptop sleeve?”
- “Have you seen my croquet cleats?”
- “Have you seen my other timepiece?”
- “I thought of a great nickname for an uncircumcised penis — Bishop with a Turtleneck!”