New Girl 3.08 “Menus” Review: Environmentally Earnest

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It’s really easy to write things that feel overly sentimental and fake. Sometimes we just try too hard and the words that we’ve put to page just feel too forced and inauthentic. One of the classes that I’m taking this semester at school is called Writing Hope, and in this class, my professor has been pushing us to focus on the details and scenes that make our characters and situations feel real and relatable; essentially, he wants us to be able to produce work that is as genuine, emotional, and authentic as you can get and shy away from the easily manufactured clichés and contrivances that riddle much of today’s culture. It’s one of my favorite classes that I’ve ever taken in college.

Anyway, where I’m getting at with this in relation to New Girl is that this week’s episode, “Menus,” could have felt incredibly corny and schmaltzy with its ending, as Jess and the guys run out onto the beach with kids from her class. Schmidt attempts to bury Winston in the sand while Nick and Coach go out for a run, and Jess stands there watching, wearing a hot dog hat given to her by one of her students, with that beautiful Zooey Deschanel smile sweeping across her face.

With the music, lighting, and framing, this final scene from New Girl should have felt cheesy; instead, it was the complete opposite. Due to the strength of the New Girl writing staff, all five members of the loft (yes, I’m including Coach even though he’s only shared the screen with the gang for two/three episodes) have become real, fleshed-out people, even when faced with the ridiculous and zany sitcom antics that much of New Girl is made up of.

When Jess is victorious at the end of “Menus,” when Nick goes out for a run with Coach, and when Schmidt smiles as Jess offers him back his key to the loft (Don’t worry, though, he already had fifty copies himself), I can’t help but smile because I don’t feel emotionally manipulated. These are all earnest, earned character moments that are believable and true; even though it embraces the crazy quirkiness that is typical of a network sitcom (especially one featuring Zooey Deschanel), New Girl has actually crafted some of the most authentic and relatable characters on television, a challenging feat that only enriches both the comedic and heartfelt moments that the show produces, ensuring that they never come off cheap, fake, or forced.

And this is why New Girl remains one of my favorite shows on television, even in the face of some growing pains as it deals with the new reality of Nick and Jess’ relationship this season. (To be perfectly honest, the series is at its best when the Nick/Jess relationship drama is pushed into the background in favor of more character-based roommate interactions and issues.) Every week when I tune in, I feel like I’m being welcomed back into the home of friends, characters that I truly care about as much as real people, and just like my writing professor says, that’s all due to the real, specific details that the series provides for each of its characters: Nick making a Friday Night Lights reference by calling a wheel-chair bound Winston “Jason Street,” Schmidt attempting to hide a camera disguised as an alarm clock in the loft in order to feel closer to his friends, or Jess attempting to motivate one of her students, Clarissa, by telling her that “As long as hot dogs are hats, anything is possible.” All of these moments are so true to the characters that have been thoughtfully constructed over the past two-plus years, and they really help to give validity to the emotions (funny, frustrated, or something completely different) that each one of them is feeling throughout a certain scene or moment during this episode, something New Girl does on a pretty consistent basis.

When Nick gives his giant, Jeff Winger-esque speech to Coach and Jess near the end of “Menus,” he calls them “doers” that need to be around to inspire people like him. Well, New Girl can call itself a “doer” as well, a series that is doing all the right things and, hopefully, inspiring other sitcoms to take notice and follow its lead.

Other thoughts:

- Nick’s disjointed but entirely honest speech near the end of the episode was really great. I love the slow maturation of Nick Miller that we are getting. He’s still a guy that will eat dumplings for breakfast and thinks that working takes too much time, but he also realizes when he needs to step up and be there for his friends and girlfriend. He may be an adult-sized child sometimes, but for a lot of season three of New Girl, Nick has actually just been acting like an adult, albeit in his own interesting and weird ways.

- I can’t express how great Zooey Deschanel was in this episode. She nailed everything from the comedy (Jess showing the outrageous pictures of the ocean that her students drew to her principal was my personal favorite moment of the night) to her honest, exasperated pleas for change (“There are menus everywhere and there are kids who wants to see the ocean…”). It was a tricky balance of emotions, but I think Deschanel really pulled it off well, especially during that final scene on the beach.

- While I loved Winston saying that he wasn’t a quitter and calling out “IRONSIDE!” at the beach, the guy really needs to catch up on his TV news. That show was cancelled weeks ago.

- PEANUTS—Physical Education Activity Nuts! Did I mention how happy I am that Coach is back for the rest of season three?

- “Are you okay to drive? You’ve got crazy eye.”—Nick to Jess

- “I thought God just didn’t give me those.”—Nick on his abs or lack thereof

- “Nick’s in jeans.”  “Nixon jeans? What are Nixon Jeans? They sound really cool!”

What did everyone else think about this week’s episode of New Girl?

[Image Source -  Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Greg Gayne/FOX]

Chris is a graduate of Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, where he majored in English and Film. He has been writing for TVOvermind for two years and has written about several different television shows, such as New Girl, Breaking Bad, Glee, and Homeland. Along with writing for TVOvermind, Chris also writes for two of our sister sites, Uncoached and Worthly. Contact him through Twitter (@ckinger13).
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