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Network Jews: Schmidt from ‘New Girl’

In the school of earnest-loser comedy, we find many teachers. They fancy themselves learned, and possess the kindly impulse to impart their wisdom onto any and all poor, unenlightened saps who will stand to listen. In the Fox sitcom New Girl, then, Schmidt (Max Greenfield) is an unholy rabbi. The hair product-gooping, driving moccasin-wearing, word-over-pronouncer preaches to a congregation of incredulous roommates, who are as sure of their own idiosyncrasies as they are of his utter douchiness—for which they make him pay, in a jar. And when Schmidt’s conviction fails to impress, he turns inward, to the recesses of his Jewish fat-kid past, to affirm the worth of his words.

On his 29th birthday, as he sits on a school bus-turned-party mobile, inquiring about the career of a male stripper hired mistakenly by the titular new girl, Jess (Zooey Deschanel), the (thankfully, clothed) gentleman asks Schmidt to describe his persona.

“Luxury. Dessert. I’m a warrior poet, man.”

So he says—and enthusiastically asserts—despite persistent repudiation by his friends. They may be willing to stock a party bus with Schmidt’s beloved kosher yogurt and chug bro juice in his honor, but they roll their eyes as he presumes to be a “Los Angeles baller” with a high production value online dating video to prove it (which he purportedly posted to his JDate profile).

Still, Schmidt appeals because, among all the residents of the loft, he has the clearest sense of who he is. Whereas Jess fumbles through insecurities about dating, overalls, and bell chiming, Schmidt maintains deep certainty. Nick and Winston, the other roommates, are half-drawn in comparison: best friends with plenty of goofy memories to mine through and very little future direction. Schmidt may be misguided, but he nonetheless marches ahead, hilariously.

In a recent episode, “Secrets,” Schmidt’s teachings—in a surprising first—are solicited by Nick, who has taken to seducing college girls but (golly, gee) can’t seem to get rid of them in the morning. Resident lothario-creep Schmidt gives him some tips that turn out to actually be helpful—at least when it comes to blowing off dates. Schmidt takes up the lecture with pleasure and pride, as he is thrilled to be called upon for his particular brand of insight. As it happens, this bit follows an opener in which he is seen hiding (naked) inside his own just-sex-pal’s sofa, popping out as a Russian supermodel points a finger: “Jew in the couch! Jew in the couch!” To which Schmidt replies, “She’s not wrong.”

Schmidt Jew jokes—like the punch lines about lesbians, black people, and Indians—operate on the assumption that everybody on New Girl is quirky; gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion are all taken to be particularities of a kind. This approach achieves mixed results, though there are some clever allusions to Schmidt’s membership in the tribe. In an early episode, Schmidt rummages through a hook-up lost and found and fondly recalls, “Rosh Hashanah ’06. Nothing Orthodox about what we did that night.” Later in the season, he explains to Jess that he was told Santa Claus never delivered him presents because his room was messy.

Today, we find Schmidt neat to the point of being a control freak. This desire to carefully manage every aspect of his life—his white whale is cleaning Nick’s room—evidently leads Schmidt to this “douchey” existence, of suede loafers and mango “chut-uh-ney,” by way of escaping the pathetic, porky days of his past. Through his frenzy to maintain order, New Girl’s false teacher can either make you laugh or, understandably, make you heave a dismayed sigh. Although you may not like him as a friend, you’ll love him as a character—and find yourself in enthusiastic company. Luckily for us, Greenfield is game to have fun in character, creating this fake workout video on his own:

Betsy Morais is sometimes a writer and other times an eater of sandwiches and occasionally both. You can follow her on Twitter.

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