New Girl has never been shy about tapping viewers’ sense of nostalgia, and this week’s episode is no exception. When “Neighbors” begins, we find Jess lounging on the couch, enjoying the ’80s TV classic Mr. Belvedere. When the guys object to her slackerdom, she suggests they join in on the TGIF marathon, then starts showing off her Urkel, Alf and Frasier impressions, much to the disgust of her roommates.
Schmidt condescends to Jess and demands to know what her plan is. She responds nonchalantly, claiming she’s cool with her new part-time job at the Casserole Shanty
— although based on the uniform and the bean-heavy meals served, that clearly can’t be true. It doesn’t help when Schmidt brags about his professional status and his lost respect for the laid-off teacher. That kind of “help” could only push her deeper into the throes of Millennial aimlessness, which is exactly what happens when a quartet of 23-year-old hipsters knocks on the loft door. These are the new neighbors.
The hipsters show up — appropriately clad in fedoras, knit caps, over-sized glasses and tasseled earrings — to inform the loft that they’re throwing a party later in the evening, and things might get noisy. It’s not an apology so much as a bratty warning, so you know this is going to be a pretty ruthless, one-dimensional parody of young urban artists. That’s okay. The jokes may be easy, but they’re still funny. I especially liked the references to found furniture and night biking.
Schmidt mistakenly thinks the kids are inviting the lofters to the bash, and even after they assert that “it’s just going to be a bunch of young people,” and later claim the evening’s been downgraded to a “chill hang”, Schmidt still doesn’t catch the hint.
Nick and Winston have no interest in the artsy types, but Jess and Schmidt are taken in — Schmidt, because he worries that his advanced age is diminishing his coolness, and Jess because, like recent college grads and “artists”, she’s in between jobs and feeling uncertain about her future. Where Schmidt sees a youthful challenge, Jess recognizes like-minded souls and a safe haven, free of the judgement of her (slightly) more mature loft-mates.
The hipsters gravitate to Jess, of course, because she’s a fun and quirky weirdo, but also probably because she’s played by indie-darling Zooey Deschanel, and New Girl loves its meta-moments. The show recognizes that the same viewers who love Deschanel might loath a character like Schmidt, and so, in “Neighbors”, the young hipsters hate Schmidt. They groan, change the subject and avoid eye contact whenever he speaks. They make their disdain painfully obvious. And all the while, they embrace Jess as one of their own, especially after she shows off her grating Urkel impression, “Did I do that?” (The kids have apparently never heard the catch phrase and think Jess made it up herself. I know! Please willingly suspend your disbelief.)
Feeling defeated by Jess, the ever-competitive Schmidt begins obsessing about his youthfulness, or lack-thereof.
Winston and Nick view Schmidt’s age-insecurity as an opportunity for pranks. The two argue over who is the true “Prank Sinatra,” and Nick explains that he is the master because Winston either goes too soft or too hard, either barely bothering a victim or nearly killing him. Nick, on the other hand, gives a nuanced and effective prank performance, as he proves throughout the episode. In all kinds of gross-out ways, Nick convinces Schmidt that he’s becoming deaf, blind, short, constipated and incontinent. It’s funny that old soul, get-off-my-lawn Nick has the pranking skills of a middle school student. Obviously, age is just a number, and “old” and “young” are pretty open to interpretation.
The prank marathon weirdly brings out the go-getter in Nick; he wakes up at the crack of dawn and spends over $1200 on his perfectly executed pranks, showing that beneath the stubble and layers of flannel, there’s an ambitious side to Nick Miller.
Winston sees Nick’s passion and decides he needs something in his life to get truly excited about, if only to expand his life expectancy. He marches into an office board meeting and announces that he can’t be an assistant anymore. In the moment, it seems like career suicide, but as it so happens, that youthful zest gets Winston a promotion. Meanwhile, during a hazy discussion about moving to Prague for unknown reasons, Jess wakes up and realizes that she isn’t 23 anymore, and she doesn’t want to be. She needs a real job.
Jess Gets Back on Track
When Schmidt asks Jess why he isn’t cool and Jess accuses him of trying too hard, Schmidt admits that he’ll never stop trying so hard. And that, in essence, explains his career success. He isn’t afraid to try. He’s not afraid to strive. He never gives up, unlike Jess. It’s a harsh statement, but it makes Jess realize that she could still teach, even if, at the moment, it isn’t full-time at a public school. “Driver’s ed, CPR,” Schmidt suggests. It’s a little bit disheartening, but that’s the economy at the moment. Jess takes it to heart, puts on a blazer and finds a tutoring job. And with that, “Neighbors” ends on a hopeful note.
(Image courtesy of FOX)