If any fictional character is having a good time right now, it’s Nick Miller. The hot curmudgeon played by Jake Johnson on Fox’s sitcom New Girl hates socializing, loves rewatching old films and doesn’t frequently shower. He’s perfectly suited for a never-ending quarantine.
“His general grumpiness really resonates with me,” Phil Backus, a longtime New Girl stan, tells me. “Also, his self-deprecation and alcohol dependency hit home, but that’s not as funny of an answer.”
Nine years after the show debuted, New Girl is having an unexpected quarantine renaissance. Streaming on Netflix, the show has found something of a second life. New Girl feels like a trusted old friend to socialize with while we all avoid our real friends.
The show, which debuted in 2011, chronicles Jess (Zooey Deschanel) breaking up with a cheating boyfriend and moving in a group of bros she met on Craigslist: douchey Schmidt (Max Greenfield), eccentric Winston (Lamorne Morris) and unhinged Nick Miller (Johnson).
At its peak in the early 2010s, New Girl was for a moment the quirky darling of network comedy, during an era where handlebar mustaches, glass mason jars and thrift store dresses were enviable styles.
However, the show suffered after the manic pixie dream girl bubble burst. Deschanel, once Hollywood’s queen of “adorkable,” stopped being an It Girl shortly after New Girl debuted. This may explain the fall in ratings: The pilot debuted to over 10 million viewers, dropping by half to just over 5 million for seasons two and three.
But the show only got better with each season. The characters shed their sitcom caricatures and developed nuanced personalities. Winston embraced his goofy qualities, Schmidt fostered a softer side and Nick found his path. He progressed from apathetic bartender to bar co-owner and later successful author. “The show leaned into its weirdness,” Alanna Bennett, writer for The CW’s Roswell, New Mexico, tells me. “It was a goofier version of the Friends model.”
In most sitcoms, the leading man never fully grows up. Friends’ Ross Geller remains an insecure, men’s-rights-y schlump throughout the show’s run, while The Office’s Jim Halpert was always low-key an asshole (and future cop) dressed like a nice guy. Parks and Recreation’s Ben Wyatt is — say it with me — boring.
Miller, however, begins New Girl as a reckless sad sack who manages the rare feat of failing upward while shedding his stereotypical toxic masculinity. “Nick is such a garbage man, but the fact that he is trying is endearing,” Bennett says.
After a successful first season, Johnson’s acting career soared. He dipped his toes further into Hollywood, appearing in Drinking Buddies, Let’s Be Cops and Jurassic World. Along the way, Johnson went from bozo to himbo thanks to perfectly disheveled hair, an adorable scrunched-up face and a full beard. “That little bit of facial hair he gets? *chef’s kiss*,” Backus says.
A hot, sweaty Johnson is the literally only reason to see the lackluster comedy Tag. “Jake Johnson is very hot, so I saw that movie. I don’t really remember the movie much, but I remember liking him in it,” says Erin Pierchala, 21, from Buffalo, New York, a student at Binghamton University and vocal Miller fan on Twitter.
Bolu Babalola, author of Love in Colour and fervorous New Girl stan, would appreciate it if we paid more attention to Johnson’s nose. “That’s a real sexy nose. That nose will really be there for you. That nose will always pick you up from the airport. That nose is hella kissable,” she says.
Calling herself CEO and president of the Nick Miller stan club, Babalola is not shy about her love for the New Girl character. “He went from an unfulfilled bar manager who drank too much to successful YA author. Not bad for a man who doesn’t know how to read,” she says.
In a 2020 lens, New Girl still holds up, while many of its more critically acclaimed contemporaries have all lost their good boy status. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was accused of cultural appropriation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a happy cop fantasy and Modern Family ended its run this year as a regressively stereotypical show.
Nearly a decade after New Girl debuted, Deschanel has receded from starring roles and now dates a Property Brother, while Max Greenfield and Johnson became breakout stars. Johnson is a growing movie star, while Lamorne Morris, Max Greenfield and Hannah Simone (who played Jess’ best friend, Cece) continue their success on TV sitcoms.
Greenfield’s portrayal of Schmidt certainly has fierce supporters, including one hilarious TikTok impersonator. But Schmidt was always supposed to be the hunk. His success follows an expected sitcom path.
Johnson, however, has taken after fellow sitcom star John Krasinski and embraced a role as both a movie star and a nice-guy celebrity. In March, Johnson, who voiced Peter B. Parker in the animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, began sending voice messages as the web-slinger to downtrodden kids in quarantine.
Seeing Johnson do some good in the world is needed confirmation for New Girl stans who adore Nick Miller’s tender relationship with Jess. He valued patience and showing up for her over the need to hook up. “Despite it being out of his comfort zone, Nick makes a conscious effort to emotionally evolve. Honestly? That’s hot,” Babalola says.
As we continue to realize most men suck, Johnson and his New Girl character might be the rare straight white guy worth saving during the ongoing apocalypse.