What’s your favorite Nick Miller quote? I have dozens. If I had to narrow it down, though, I’d probably settle on his takes on fish (“I don’t trust fish. They breathe water. That’s… crazy”) and the sky (“The sky is too fickle. It’s a play-place for butterflies”). He’s probably said funnier things during the run of New Girl, and please do feel free to send me alternatives any time you like (today, tomorrow, five years from now on the street without even saying hello first), but I’m going with these because his simplistic and firmly held theories on nature and the world never fail to delight me. I want to see him narrate a wildlife show. I want to see him host Shark Week. I want to see him become a tour guide at the zoo. I really like Nick Miller. That’s what I’m saying here.
I’m not sure that was the plan when the show started. I mean, I’m sure the producers wanted the audience to like him, as they did with all the show’s characters, but when New Girl debuted in 2011 it was very much a Zooey Deschanel vehicle. She was the titular “new girl” who was moving in with three guys, her face was on all the marketing material, she even sang the show’s theme song. And that first season of the show was… pretty good. It was pretty good! First seasons of comedies are tough. Even an all-timer like Parks and Recreation took a little time to hit a groove. The formula just needed a little tweaking. Lose a Brendanawicz, let Chris Pratt play around, etc. It’s a process.
On New Girl, the trick was the show evolving from “Zooey and the guys” into more of a group hangout show, like a Friends or a Happy Endings. (I actually started watching the show in my post-cancellation Happy Endings funk, on the recommendation of a few people I trust.) Doing so created more of a loose and fun feeling, where everyone could play off of each other and develop their own distinct personalities. Schmidt mellowed a little (a little) in his pursuit of Cece, Winston became a prank-obsessed lunatic police officer, and Nick grew into his role as a simple rumpled man-child who tends bar and writes books and is the on-again, off-again love interest for Deschanel’s Jess.
It would be easy for that character to be a disaster, by the way. There’s a fine line that has to be danced there. Call it the Homer Simpson Conundrum. It’s got to be a ton of fun to put the strangest, wildest things you can think of into the character’s mouth (see above, re: fish and the sky), but if you overdo it you run the risk of making him too dumb to be believable as an occasionally contributing member of society. There have been times the show has teetered in that direction, which is a little dangerous because the Jess and Nick romance is a thing, and Jessica Day is a smart and nice person and you don’t want her pining after some loser goon. There has to be some heart there.
The saving grace of it all is the performance of Jake Johnson. There’s a sweetness to it that makes it charming, no matter what he’s saying, even if it’s a 35-year-old man loudly and insistently stating his case that he doesn’t need to wash his towel because “the towel washes me!”
And I love it. I love Nick Miller so much. I like all the characters on the show, to be honest, from Jess and her relentless do-gooder awkwardness to Winston and increasingly sociopathic tendencies to Cece and her voice of reason to Schmidt and his inability to pronounce basic English words. (Between Schmidt’s verbal tics and Nick pronouncing WiFi “weefee,” the show gets a lot of run out of verbal flubs.) But I think I love Nick the most because I get such strong “that is me” vibes from him.
I think that happens to everyone at some point, especially with sitcoms, where you’ll look at a character and see yourself in them in a few different ways. The most notable recent example is probably Sex and the City, which spawned dozens of discussions about who in the group was Charlotte and who was Miranda and so on. (Or, depending what kind of bars you frequent, Entourage and it’s “No, I’m E because I’m good at business!” arguments.) But Nick Miller was a largely rudderless schlub with a flamed out lawyer dream who started writing borderline insane tales about a detective named “Julius Pepperwood” while wearing sweatpants in a pigsty of a bedroom, and let’s just say me and my dust-covered law degree can relate. So I’m sure that’s part of it. And he met Prince. That’s a part of it, too.