by Clio McConnell
This week’s “New Girl,” “Bells,” took a surprisingly serious turn. They’ve dropped the Nick/Jess/Paul love triangle for the moment (sorry, folks, no Justin Long to be found in “Bells”) in favor of moving on to some much less funny material. It’s not that the actors are unable to execute the change, but the episode’s after-school-special feel didn’t quite mesh with the usually lighthearted premise of the show.
This episode centers around Jess’ new project – teaching a group of teenage misfits (I’m sure the show has mentioned that she is a kindergarten teacher, but the discrepancy doesn’t seem too important) how to play the hand bells. With this new perspective we glimpse of Jess’ life — after all, this is the first time we hear her called Ms. Day — the writers allowed Zooey Deschanel to play her role as the freshest-faced, most optimistic teacher around.
Jess seems to have all the time in the world to help these kids, and she’s adamant that everyone, including her roommates, be supportive of them. This naturally becomes a problem when Winston joins the group of bell players, as he is secretly a “ringing aficionado” (so much so that Schmidt gets “goose pimples” when he plays).
Unfortunately, this inate talent serves to grow Winston’s ego to enormous proportions, leading to his frustration with the students’ lack of ability. Jess ultimately kicks him out of the group for “being mean” when he insults the kids’ skills, saying that they can’t even play “an instrument that a cat wears around its neck!” Jess later apologizes to Winston for exiling him, explaining that she really cares about her students, and that she’s just “making sure no one gives up on them.”
Meanwhile, a prank war between Schmidt and Nick has begun, but this battle is not as playful as some of their previous fights. In fact, the whole thing stems from rather a serious issue: Nick’s money problems. When Schmidt suggests that Nick’s DIY home improvement projects should be handled by professionals, Nick gets defensive, saying that Schmidt just “throws… money at problems,” rather than really dealing with them. What follows is an almost-brawl and a bit of nasty name calling, causing the roomies to reevaluate their priorities — and their friendship.
Max Greenfield is definitely the highlight of this episode — and, quite possibly, of the entire show. In playing Schmidt, he somehow manages to keep a straight face even as he hams it up just enough that you can’t help but laugh out loud. It helps that Greenfield’s character is still consistently hilarious (thanks to creator/writer Elizabeth Meriweather, also known for the recent rom-com “No Strings Attached”), giving everything around him a cutesy nickname—for example, his deliciously “scrummy” sushi, including “Cali rolls” and “fatty tune”—and sticking to his strict regimen of cardigans.
In my opinion, “New Girl” is much more suited to punny banter and ridiculous shenanigans than to the kind of solemn conversations that take place in “Bells.” The Fox show’s genre is comedy for a reason — namely, its crew of funny actors and writers — and should probably stick to it, no matter how convincingly Deschanel can play the earnest social-worker type, which, after watching “Bells,” is not very convincing.
Clio McConnell is a staff writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.