At first glance, “Neighbors” appeared to be the tale of the hipsters next door. That would have been a fine-enough set-up on its own, but then New Girl decided that I had nothing better to do on a Tuesday night than contemplate what Family Matters and Full House mean in terms of my mortality and whether or not I’m allowed to claim adult status. I’m guilty of occasionally pairing scarves with T-shirts, but polygamy doesn’t do much for me. I do my own laundry, but I don’t own a bed frame. Getting old is complicated and, physical age aside, it's largely a mindset, according to “Neighbors.” That’s good news for most of us... unless, like Schmidt, you try entirely too hard to indulge in youth culture despite having no real interest in it outside of being able to assuage your fears of aging.
Like what you like. I’m one of those really annoying twenty-somethings who insists that the Backstreet Boys are vastly superior to The Wanted. I have thirty-something cousins who claim that New Kids on the Block are better. However, we all agree that “Glad You Came” is a pretty sweet song even if kids today have terrible taste overall. There’s a perk to getting older: You get to have better taste than everyone else. That applies to cologne, too. Nick’s love of Old Spice could be linked to the grumpy old man persona he’s apparently been displaying since before he hit puberty, but his claim that “it’s coming back!” is actually true. (And awesome, because Old Spice smells like... well... awesomeness.)
Nick referred to the young'uns across the hall as “pan-ethnic and pansexual” as though those were the defining traits of their generation, and perhaps, for now, they are. Schmidt was horrified to learn that their disdain for him as an individual excluded him from indulging in what he probably imagined to be some sort of 24/7 orgy. He feared that the new neighbors hated him because he was “old,” but really they couldn’t stand him because he tried too hard. He was an “asshead.” His steady job and professional wardrobe repelled the new neighbors because Schmidt forced his importance upon them. The neighbors hadn't yet reached a place in their lives where great jobs impressed them. They defined themselves by other things, because to them, a job is just a job, a tool for survival, a means to an end with the “end” being “making rent.”
Jess’s ability to click with the new neighbors came, certainly, due to her own ability to just be a nice human being, but her new place in life certainly helped. She’s found a job to replace her teaching position, but it’s at the Casserole Shanty, complete with ugly uniform, minimum wage, and no benefits. When Jess was a teacher, her job was a cornerstone of her identity. While it was awful to lose that job and all of the physical perks that came with it—steady pay, dental insurance, no uniform—it was the loss of an essential part of her identity that shook Jess’s foundation that hardest. However, enjoying your job and taking pride in your position isn’t a generational trait. Jess didn’t love being a teacher because she's an adult. She loved being a teacher because she loved being a teacher. Whenever she introduced herself, it was usually one of the first things she said after her name. That pride was missing from her new gig at the Casserole Shanty and left Jess missing parts of her identity. It put her in an ideal position to bond with other individuals who, quite frankly, haven’t yet formed their own identities. Oh, they might think that they have. When I was 23 I was absolutely certain that I had found the hat that fit, and you know what? It was complete and utter fantasy. Identity is influenced by so many factors that it becomes pan-generational in a sense. Another perk to getting older: You realize that.
Unless you’re Schmidt, of course. He tried. He tried so hard, and that was the problem. He thinks of himself as young and that’s fine. He is young. However, he values things that the particular group of individuals he tried to mingle with just don't care about, and he lacks the understanding and awareness needed to bridge those differences.
Jess’s relationship with the new neighbors grew organically thanks to a shared identity: one that was rooted in aimlessness. They were in the same place in their lives despite being different ages. Jess was drawn to them because, at this low point of her professional life, she connected with the “kids” more than she connected with her gainfully employed roommates—particularly Schmidt, who insisted on giving her a hard time about her fast food job. Jess is still trying to fill the hole in her identity where “teacher” used to be, and even her lie about the Steve Urkel catchphrase was symptomatic of that. The new neighbors, being too young to remember Family Matters (though I question that and assume that their ignorance wasn’t about being too young, it was about having terrible taste in TV as children) didn’t realize that Jess’s “Did I do that?” wasn’t her own creation. This allowed Jess to try on yet another identity, that of the hip, quirky, funnygirl Jess who was full of hilarious sayings.
In the end, Jess came clean about her plagiarism of Urkel’s catchphrase because she determined that the hipster identity didn’t really complete her. It’s not the fault of the younger generation that they missed out on certain pop-culture events that are iconic to those who came before and it’s not even their fault that it’s totally pathetic that the 23-year-old living on his own still needs his mom to do his laundry for him, but relationships just tend to do better when they aren’t built on an identity crisis. To the younger crowd’s credit, I liked that they wanted to be friends with Jess anyway... even if Nick totally ruined it with his old man routine.
And speaking of Nick, his prank spree was glorious. I actually can’t wait to see what he has in store for Jess.
– One-liner of the night: “Man, I want to care about something as much as you care about ruining Schmidt’s life.” —Winston
– Jess has decided to look for a tutoring job! Yay!
– Raise your hand if “Neighbors” made you feel old even though we just discussed the fact that “old” is relative. It’s okay, me too.
What'd you think of this week's episode?