There are few factors more complicating for a television show than when an actress gets pregnant. It creates a logistical issue that cannot simply be ignored. If it is an actress in a smaller role, you can shuttle her to the sidelines for a little while, or put her in bulky dresses or have her hide her expanding stomach behind boxes or desks or whatever. However, when a main actress is pregnant, this is not really a practical option. This is the issue that New Girl faced when Zooey Deschanel, the titular new girl (though she is decidedly no longer new), found herself expecting a child.
Obviously, Jess couldn’t start carrying a box around all the time, so they were left with a couple of other options. They could have tried to build their schedule around Deschanel’s pregnancy, as Parks and Recreation did when Amy Poehler was pregnant, but that’s tricky. And while you can work a pregnancy into a show, that very much would not work within the realm of New Girl. Jess could not be pregnant with child. Jess with a baby would have been a disaster. That left New Girl with the option they went with; writing Jess off the show temporarily.
Thus, last week Jess went off for a month of jury duty. At a previous time, it would have been a mistake, perhaps even untenable, for New Girl to try this. But now, in the fifth season, the series has built up its supporting cast well enough to, hopefully, make this work. Now, it’s just “Nick and Schmidt and Winston and Cece and their wacky antics,” which would work as a show, even without Deschanel. Shows have pulled similar moves before with success. Hell, the final season of The Bob Newhart Show had several episodes that were decidedly light on Bob Newhart. Television shows, good ones at least, learn to think on their feet. So, how did New Girl manage in the fittingly titled “No Girl?”
All in all, they managed. Jess still hangs over the loft, and appears briefly in a courtroom sketch, but we do not see any action for Deschanel. Instead, the remaining four carry the day, with the help of a variety of guest stars, including Fred Armisen. Nick and Schmidt, a dynamic duo as always, are paired off, while Cece and Winston are left to their own devices, with Jess figuring more into their plot.
Not wanting to get their douchebag ex-friend Todd involved in Schmidt’s bachelor party, or in Nick’s words, bachelor’s, party, Nick decides he will pay for him and Schmidt and the bachelor’s party to go to Tokyo. To make this happen, Nick rents out loft space to various vacationers, including the aforementioned Armisen. It leads to a lot of chaos, and it gives the gang a lot to play off of. It makes sense, because a busier episode is going to, by its nature, be fuller. Also, a little girl does Al Pacino impressions, and a bit from Rocky V. Things fail, Nick and Schmidt turn to Todd, but then decide against it, because they are a team.
Meanwhile, Winston is having lady troubles, and, with Jess gone, Cece tries to take Jess’ place. However, she is a very different woman, so her advice is different. Also, she gives a crestfallen Winston (having been broken up with), caffeinated tea. Jess doesn’t give Winston caffeine. Eventually, Cece tires of giving advice that isn’t working, and tells Winston to follow his heart. His hearts tells him to have Cece tell his ex-girlfriend he’s dead so he can make her cry. It turns out she has been cheating on Winston, so it goes down a little easier.
In the end, it feels like a typical episode of New Girl, which would not be notable except for the fact Jess isn’t around. That makes it fairly notable, and quite reassuring. There’s nothing special about “No Girl,” but it’s funny and packed with jokes and enjoyable. You don’t miss Jess, and if she wasn’t getting name dropped you wouldn’t even be aware she is gone. Now, Deschanel is a key part of this ensemble, and her return will be a reason for rejoicing, but “No Girl” proves that New Girl is so solid, they don’t always need their star to make a good episode of TV.
Chris Morgan is not the author of THE book on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but he is the author of A book on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He’s also on Twitter.