“New Girl”: No girl

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New Girl opens up its first episode sans-Jess with our favorite tenants watching a news story about a headlining trial and its especially inquisitive juror — Jess, sketched raising her hand like her know-it-all student. This, as I wondered last week, is how the show is keeping its lead character living and breathing on the other side of the camera.

The rest of “No Girl,” a perfectly titled episode involves New Girl going after the general concern that it won’t be as good without its star. Well, there’s breaking news to report on this front. It seems the show will, in fact, be just fine, if not better than it was when Zooey Deschanel kind of anxiously lingered for the first three episodes of this season including a real stinker of 30 minutes devoted to “What About Fred.”

Nick needs to raise money to take Schmidt to Tokyo for his bachelor party because he’s already purchased the $9,000 tickets. His idea: Jess is gone, so let’s rent out her room and run the loft like a hotel. Winston has girl problems, for which he always goes to Jess to solve but she’s not there. So he entertains Cece’s ideas, as she has promised Jess she’d keep everything in order while she’s away, but her plans — including taking a reactive sexy selfie together — initially turn into failures.

But Nick, Schmidt and Winston ultimately conclude that they’re going to be OK without her. Nick doesn’t need to augment his debt by inviting Schmidt’s rich borderline-friend, simply because Todd (Stephen Rannazzisi) has the funds to get them far east. And Winston doesn’t have to rely on Jess because Cece has his back.

“No Girl” is a long awaited showcase for Hannah Simone and her Cece character, a coming out party so to speak with Deschanel — pardon my phrasing — out of her way.

Seamlessly, Simone looks, feels and acts likes a lead and it’s a very important episode for her to do so. The actress’ physical allure, of course, has been her punch line for four years, but Simone’s got comedy chops all her own that she hasn’t been able to display on such a grand stage until this most recent episode. She’s really funny.

Cece’s experience with Winston is also an important one for friendship. Here she’s starting to build real relationships by making happy memories, ones that don’t involve her being Jess’ best friend or Schmidt’s love interest. Although she is those things, she also deserves to connect with Schmidt’s best friends on a much more personal level. I hope New Girl continues to put her in positions like this coming up.

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