The Morning Round-Up: ‘New Girl’ & ‘Raising Hope’

A good night last night for both “New Girl” and “Raising Hope,” with reviews coming up just as soon as I get smart by watching NBC comedies…

In writing about “New Girl,” I’ve noted that the writers have been experimenting with where they dial in the various characters – in particular Schmidt, who’s often the funniest part of the show but doesn’t always feel like the same person from week to week. With “The Story of the 50,” it feels like we finally have a Grand Unified Field Theory of Schmidt, in which the douchebag can co-exist with the neurotic people-pleaser, the shy former chubby kid, etc. All the pieces were there already, but the 29th birthday party story fit them all together nicely. That story also offered up my favorite flavor of Jess, in which she’s goofy and overly enthusiastic but not an imbecile.

The episode also gave us several notable guest stars, at least two of which should be recurring roles at least for a bit. I’m always happy to see Lizzy Caplan, who not only did an amusing Bill Cosby impression to duel with Jake Johnson’s(*) but fit in nicely as Nick’s too-good-to-be-true love interest. Rachael Harris’ Tanya seems like a great professional foil for Jess, cynical and bitter where Jess is open-hearted and cheerful. And while I can’t imagine an easy circumstance to bring Matt Besser’s male stripper back, he was involved in some of the episode’s biggest laughs, whether it was Jess trying to keep his pants on during the gospel song or Schmidt hitting him up for suggestions about a career in stripping.

(*) Though that scene couldn’t quite live up to the dueling Michael Caines.

“Raising Hope,” meanwhile, continued a very strong second season with another very funny, very sweet episode that, as usual, found a way to simultaneously laugh at and with the Chances. It would be so easy for this show to seem mean-spirited, but it has such obvious love for these knuckleheads and the way they approach life from oblique angles that I never feel bad for them. The flashback to Virginia and Burt helping Jimmy out with his “capers” conundrum was a particular highlight, not just because Burt built the cup fort twice, not just because of his obvious anguish at discovering a word could have two meanings, but then the callback near the end when they realized they were like The A-Team. Also, while there are times when shows cast Fred Willard and don’t bother writing him a character because hey, it’s Fred Willard and he’ll make it funny, “Mrs. Smartypants” gave him some good, biting material to play.

“Raising Hope” isn’t remotely the ratings success “New Girl” has been, and as a veteran, fully-formed show, it’s probably less interesting to write about than a show like “New Girl” that’s still figuring itself out from week to week. But in episodes like last night’s, it is tremendously confident and funny and satisfying. I wish more people were watching it.

What did everybody else think?