New Girl "Chicago" Review: A Portrait of Nick Miller As a Young Man

New Girl S02E20: "Chicago"

Jess bought balloons from a nice guy in a van and it was all fun and games and huffing helium until Nick received an unfortunate phone call from home with news that his dad had passed away. Whaaaaat? (Somebody really needs to .GIF Cece's drawn-out "what" from "Table 34.") Why so serious, New Girl? And why so good at it? 

"Chicago" could have been one of those gimmicky episodes with an obvious endgame in sight, an excuse to meet the rest of Nick's family while giving professional musician Zooey Deschanel a platform to indie-warble her way through some Elvis tunes. And while both of those things certainly happened, "Chicago" was much more than that. 


Margo Martindale (Justified, The Americans) guest-starred as Nick's neurotic mom, Bonnie, and it's was clear from the moment we met the Miller family matriarch that she is definitely the parent Nick takes after most, what with the odd quirks, the short temper, and the habitual avoidance of uncomfortable situations. As soon as the prodigal son stepped through the front door of the Millers' perfectly normal-looking suburban house (I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't that), Mom let him know he would be planning Dearly Departed Dad's Elvis-themed funeral. Nick, in turn, pawned off his eulogy responsibilities on Jess. 

New Girl's sophomore season has been the season of Nick Miller and it seems like each week, we get closer and closer to a more complete picture of who Nick really is. Every character on New Girl can, at first glance, be reduced to a single stereotype. Jess is the quirky girl. Cece is the sexy girl. Schmidt is the douchebag. Winston is the responsible one. Nick is the screw-up. Yet underneath the easy labels, they're increasingly complex characters with histories and motivations probably more at home on a drama series than on a sitcom. New Girl has proven time and again that it's capable of tossing out the TV rulebook and winging it. 

Last week, Jess found herself attracted to what appeared to be Nick's newfound sense of self-discipline and while a Nick who cared about his job and tried to do his own laundry was new to all of us, I got the sense that Responsible Nick wouldn't've surprised his family at all. When we met Nick's dad earlier this season, there was some resentment on Nick's part because Walt wasn't the kind of parent who parented particularly well. His schemes and scams took him away from his family and forced Nick to step up and take his place. When Nick returned home this week to attend his father's funeral and his mother immediately handed over the reins to the entire event, her action was based on an expectation and awareness of Nick that we as an audience have only seen flashes of. Bonnie clearly cared a great deal about getting Walt's funeral just right. No matter her own personal grief or issues surrounding what was probably an equally complicated relationship with Walt, I don't think a woman who was so concerned with holding the perfect funeral would have delegated such heavy responsibilities to the village idiot. She knew Nick could handle it because Nick proved while growing up that he could pick up the slack for his often AWOL and sometimes incarcerated father. 

And then I'm guessing he turned 18, ran off to college, and indulged in a little Nick time that ended up becoming a decade-long bender of pawning off his responsibilities on everyone else simply because for the first time in his life, he could. 

Jess was, understandably, unable to write a eulogy in Nick's place. In the face of her refusal to just crap out some nice words and the pressure to do right by a father felt some admittedly unkind sentiments toward, Nick shut down and retreated to a bar. He couldn't stand up in front of friends and family and talk about what a terrible job his father had done raising him, and he didn't want to make something up (that's what Jess was for). And that's where the serious business of Nick's relationship with his father took the spotlight and closed the book on the understated "to be continued" that ended our sole interaction with Walt Miller. 

Despite only making a single appearance on the series, the death of Dennis Farina's Walt Miller was just as unexpected for us as it was for Nick. Walt blew into Nick's life after a long time away, talking about making a change in his ways, only to leave again once the truth about his visit to L.A. was revealed. The door was left wide open for more scams, more daddy issues, and probably, eventually, a happy resolution. I commended New Girl when the episode aired for being willing to leave a broken parent-child relationship broken for the time being, rather than forcing the characters into a forgiveness scene that didn't ring true just for an aww-factor. 

But I really thought that eventually the Miller men would make up.

Nick eventually returned to his father's wake with an Elvis impersonator in tow. Both guys were totally skunked, and Bonnie moved to call the whole thing off. Better no ceremony than a crappy one, right? Funerals are mostly about making the living feel better, anyway, so it's kind of an exercise in masochism if they only making you feel worse. 

Jess couldn't write a eulogy for Walt, but she could dress up like Aloha from Hawaii Elvis and lead mourners in a rendition of "In the Ghetto." Nick found it in himself to sober up and give a heartfelt—but honest and fair—eulogy for his dad. Jess took his hand. I "awwwed." I hope you're happy, New Girl.

And most tellingly, concerning the Miller family modus operandi, Bonnie apologized for depending on Nick so much. Nick is the sort of guy who thrives on being acknowledged for the good things he does and I think this acknowledgement was a long time coming. 


What did you think of "Chicago"?



NOTES

– One-liner of the night: It's gotta be Schmidt's entire fake eulogy for Winston. 

– Nick's "Who booby trapped me?!" over the balloons. I snorted. It was gross. 

– The airline lost Schmidt's suit and he was forced to make do with... I don't even know. '90s mafia? Night at the Roxbury? His turmoil over the useless buttons on the double-breasted jacket was amazing.

– That was all-of-a-sudden-he's-everywhere Nick Kroll (The League, Kroll Show) as Nick's younger brother. 

– I was totally waiting for Schmidt and Nick's Boston cousin to knock over the casket when they were fighting. 

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