Episode 20: Chicago
By: Carlos Uribe
New Girl is a show about Jess and her three best friends (Winston, Nick, and Schmidt)
Chicago is a busy episode of New Girl but it works really well. The characters have to go to Chicago after Nick's father dies from a heart attack. Death is always a tricky subject for a comedy because it's such a serious and sensitive topic but it can also be hilarious. It's a balance that the writers test this week but they largely manage to keep it within acceptable boundaries. While at Chicago, the show also takes the time introduce us to the rest of the Miller family. In a nice move from the writers, the family believes that Nick is the responsible one. When he was little, he had to step up and take care of them when his dad wasn't around. It does set up a different Nick than the one we're used to and we even get a glimpse of him. It's to the show's strength that it doesn't go to the usual approach of having Nick complain that the reason he's irresponsible in California is because of his home life. It seemed like the series was going to go there but it was more interested in having Nick deal with his father's death. He actually tries to use planning the funeral as an attempt to avoid writing the eulogy. The eulogy representing his feelings about his dad and therefore having to confront them. While he was trying to process his feelings, Schmidt faced his fear of dead bodies and Winston became emotionally unstable from losing his father figure. Jess didn't have much to do per se but she was basically trying to be there for Nick while inadvertently winning over his mom. Chicago is an episode with a lot of great feeling and humor. I think the opening scene really set up the balance well: Jess and friends use balloons to change their voices when Nick tells them that his dad is dead. When they try to console him, they can't help but speak in funny voices. It's a contrast that is established early in the episode and pretty much continues until the end.
The Miller family doesn't get a lot of time to really shine. Margo Martindale plays Nick's mom. She's really into Elvis, giving her dead husband the perfect funeral, and not approving of Jess. There's a recurring element where Jess tries to be there for Nick's mom but it isn't until she dons Elvis costume and gives the dead dad his dream funeral that Martindale finally approves of Jess. It's a nice move but it felt a bit forced since the plot wasn't allowed any room to breathe. It could have worked better if this was given more attention or if this was a developing plot every time Martindale got to make a special guest appearance. Nick has a brother who is a douche but he does get the biggest laugh out of me when he thinks that brothers have to get married in order. He also has a cousin whose only real trait seems to be that he wanted Nick's dad's necklace because it belonged to his own father. That's not really a trait which is a problem. I like the idea of getting to know the Miller family and I hope that the show finds a way to bring them back so that it can develop them more. It doesn't help matters that they're just there. The cousin is the only one who has any real agency. We could have learned a lot more if they all had an agenda that they tried to achieve. Right now, they're just flat one-dimensional characters-which is disappointing.
The entire episode was basically building up to the eulogy. The plot doesn't really spend a significant time with Nick planning the funeral. The only two major aspects is getting Elvis and trying to write a eulogy. The former is really a way for Jess to prove herself in front of Martindale's eyes. The latter is to force Nick to express his feelings on his father's death. Only he doesn't know how he feels because that means having to face them. He tries to pass the task off to Jess but she can't help him. She only knew his dad for like an hour where she helped him run a scam. She didn't have an emotional connection to him. She simply can't write a eulogy about a man that she barely knew. When she makes Nick realize that she can't help him with this specific task, he runs off. He gets drunk but he doesn't really come up with a eulogy. It isn't until he steps up on the podium that he's able to finally get his thoughts out. He doesn't consider his dad a good or a bad man but one whose going to live on in their memories. It was a nice and moving speech that didn't betray Nick's frustration with his dad's schemes but expresses his love for him as well. The plot built up to an emotional climax that it managed to completely nail. That's why I like this episode so well: it managed to make me laugh but it also managed to make me feel. It helps that we get a lot of Nick freak-out moments. The only disappointing thing is that the recent Nick-Jess development didn't get played at all this episode. You would think it would have impacted the proceedings at least slightly but it honestly felt like they had gone pre-kiss. This makes sense considering the ground they were covering but it would have been nice to be more consistent with the recent plot arcs.
The final two plots have to do with Schmidt and Winston. The two are going through very different things. Schmidt doesn't want to go to the funeral because he's scared of death. He tries his best to get out of it but Winston forces him to go. He does at least try to make Schmidt feel better about death. There is a great moment in the plot that expresses just how Schmidt feels about his death when Winston plays dead. It's a moment that gets one of the biggest laughs of the night when Winston moves and terrifies Schmidt. Schmidt's fear is only conquered when he's forced to defend Nick's dad's necklace from being stolen by Nick's cousin. Schmidt is able to beat back the cousin and this leads to a great visual gag where he's like one of those drinking birds that go up and down. While Schmidt deals with his fear, Winston also has to face his fear. For better or for worse, Winston basically had a father figure in Nick's dad. Their connection was so strong that Nick's dad admitted to everyone that he loved Winston more. Winston keeps his cool for most of the episode until he's forced to keep everything together. He loses it. In the end, he's allowed to have some mementos from Nick's dad. This was also a funny plot and helped make the funeral climax so much funnier.
Suburgatory recently did an episode where George attended an old man's funeral. That episode got bogged down partly because it treated death too seriously. Nick's dad's death is treated seriously by New Girl but it never allows it to dominate. This stops the comedy from getting too depressing and allowing it to actually be funny. There's a reason I keep finding myself falling in love with this show more and more-it's because it's being written so well and it knows it's character that it simply keeps delivering great episodes. Chicago is a pretty great episode-it's sad that Nick's dad had to die but the funeral and all worked well.