Last night’s New Girl was surprising, thrilling, and even a little bit hot. However, my enjoyment wasn’t sparked by—SPOILER ALERT!—the smooch shared by Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson), even though that kiss was so special that, afterward, Deschanel broke her own world record for “widest eyes outside of an anime cel.”
No, what I found so stimulating about the episode was its masterful depiction of the way social pressure can turn confident people into bumbling fools—i.e., the essential, inescapable gawkiness of growing up.
Superficially speaking, the characters’ social ineptitude revolved around their inability to hook up. When Winston finds himself standing next to an attractive woman, he can barely form words. For reasons too ridiculous to explain, Nick could only go clubbing when wearing a women’s trench coat, and his chat-up lines all revolve around his history of terrible relationships. Schmidt’s problem, as James Poniewozik wrote in Time, is that he is “self-debilitatingly confident.” And Jess is such a “cooler” when it comes to making love connections that the guys leave her home alone.
Watching awkward social interactions is like listening to bad singing: It only works when we know, on some level, that the performers are faking it. Last night’s collection of creepy come-ons, pathetic pickup lines, and general excruciation worked because deep down we’re sure these guys are kind, caring (that’s Schmidt’s big problem), and smart. It’s funny that they’re terrible pickup artists, because each one would be a real catch.
Of course, there is at least one answer for the agonizing pressure of human interaction: drinking games. After a dispiriting night on the town, the residents of the loft—and an assortment of friends and sometime lovers—found themselves at home playing True American, which serves the same inhibition-releasing purpose in New Girl that whisky plays in the work of Eugene O’Neill. Once the liquor kicked in, and the crushing weight of expectations lifted, everyone relaxed and found happiness. Even—or especially—Nick and Jess.
The challenges of growing up—finding a partner, a fulfilling job, one’s place in the world—can feel so immense that it’s a wonder humanity has survived this long. Last night’s New Girl reminded us how we’ve managed: by putting aside all the fretting and just getting on with things.
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