New Girl ended its seven-season run Tuesday with a special one-hour finale that featured the nuptials of Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) and the birth of Winston (Lamorne Morris) and Aly's (Nasim Pedrad) baby. As we look back at the Fox comedy's contributions to popular culture over the years, it's clear that the show will likely be remembered, most notably, for introducing the world to the unruly drinking game of True American, which returned for one last hurrah in the finale. However, it's real and lasting legacy will actually be Nick Miller.
Although Max Greenfield's overly confident Schmidt was the show's breakout character early on, Johnson's apathetic but goofy Nick actually proved to be the man who had true staying power. Infinitely relatable but also incredibly grumpy, Nick was the most grounded of the four friends who called the loft home for most of the series' run — and this is despite the fact that he didn't have a bank account, had seen the evidence but still didn't believe dinosaurs actually existed, and was also frequently shown to be incapable of taking care of himself. In the end, Nick, who liked getting older because he felt like he was finally aging into his personality (honestly, we get it), was the one person who managed to stand out by merely being himself. It's something that Johnson says he doesn't take lightly.
"There's a lot of me in Nick. ...When people really relate to Nick, I feel in a lot of ways they're relating to a lot of me, and I really appreciate it," Johnson recently told TV Guide following an early screening of the series finale. "There's a lot of those lines that, you know the one about the reading, the I don't know how to read, I've just memorized a lot of words — that was improvised, because I feel that way. So there's a lot of moments that the line between Jake and Nick do get blurred."
Of course, there's also a lot of Nick that is not also directly part of Johnson--we're willing to bet he doesn't actually believe horses are from outer space--but he does appreciate that he was able to bring Nick to life for seven seasons and that people strongly related to him. "Those people are my people," he explained.
Perhaps one of the main reasons fans loved and easily identified with Nick was that he was genuinely familiar. The character of Winston took far too long to pin down before the series sort of settled on the male version of a cat lady, and Jess regularly verged too far into quirkiness to be entirely realistic. Meanwhile, Schmidt tried too hard and was often over the top to the point of caricature. But Nick was actually someone viewers could conceivably believe might exist outside of a television script. He was a little weird, sure, but he was also handsome and funny, and not just because he was a character in a comedy series, but because he just was. When Nick cracked a joke or made a snarky remark, we laughed because it was the kind of thing we could actually imagine one of our friends doing or saying. It's the underlying reason why so many fans felt like they knew him.
But Nick also didn't always know what he was doing, and that aspect of his character spoke to a lot of viewers who'd also reached their 30s and realized they were not the successful, functioning adults they had hoped or expected they would be. Over the years, Nick and the other characters of New Girl pointedly showed that most adults don't know what the hell they're doing most of the time, but that things still work out. After all, it's a common misconception that when one reaches a certain age or reaches a certain milestone that they'll suddenly become a successful adult with all the answers. It's just not how life works. But even if Nick didn't always know what he was doing with his life, he knew what he wanted — or didn't want — at least in certain areas.
In the Season 2 premiere, for instance, he refused to make fancy, fruity drinks for a party Schmidt was throwing. His reasoning was that he'd grown up and no longer cared about creating cocktails that could make women lose their minds like he'd done in college. "I only want to make a drink a coal miner would want," he explained. "Straight forward. Honest. Something that says, 'I work in a hole.'"
With that one line, viewers were able to completely understand who Nick was a person. More importantly, it revealed that Nick understood too. He hadn't yet worked hard to achieve his dream of becoming an author — that would start to come together later — but he definitely knew who he was and was not. For instance, he was not overly complicated, he was just a regular guy who didn't want to have to try too hard. He knew what he liked and what he didn't, which was the song "Cotton Eye Joe" and doors, respectively.
Most of the time Nick wanted to be left out of the gang's latest shenanigans, but he was also willing to drop what he was doing to help one of said friends. In fact, his bromance with Schmidt was arguably the most important relationship of the entire series (sorry to Nick and Jess), and it culminated in Nick telling Schmidt he loved him in the series finale. But for Johnson, that wasn't actually the most important moment of the Nick and Schmidt friendship.
"It's funny, I remember [creator] Liz [Meriwether] was really pushing me on that moment," Johnson said. "Personally, that didn't feel like a big moment, because Nick clearly loves Schmidt. If it's about him saying it, I'm like, we've missed the point. They've been together — they're a real married couple. ... I think [Nick] shaving [Schmidt's] mustache was the biggest moment."
Johnson is not wrong, and not just because that moment from the Season 7 premiere echoed another famous moment from popular culture. Nick admitting exactly why he hated Schmidt's hideous mustache and then shaving it off was obviously very funny, but it was an intimate gesture that revealed how close and trusting the two men were. They might now be married to other people, but they'll always belong to each other.
Although Nick's relatable qualities and surprisingly deep relationships with his friends are what allowed fans to easily latch onto Nick as a character, it was Johnson's endearing performance that kept them laughing and coming back for more. And we'd be remiss if we didn't specifically point out Johnson's uncanny ability to portray an inebriated Nick with impressive skill. Honestly, if there was an Emmy for drunk acting, Johnson would have won it multiple times over the course of the show's run.
Despite the overwhelming number of shows being produced today, it's not often that we get to see someone like Nick, someone who is simply allowed to exist as a weird and grumpy thirtysomething who is too cheap to pay for people to fix things but still appreciates the finer things of being a fancy man. Too often characters have to be defined by quirks in order to stand out, but Nick didn't. New Girl allowed Nick to lean into his more relatable tendencies and unabashedly be himself, and in doing so, he made a lasting impression on fans. Ten years from now, Nick will be what fans remember best about New Girl. Yes, sometimes he wanted to go in his room and do weird stuff on his computer, but let's face it: at some point, we all just want to be left alone to go do weird stuff on our computers. So, while we'll miss you turning lemonade into lemons and your simple but brilliant musings on life, Nick Miller, you'll also live on in all of us grumpy weirdos who also think people are the worst.
(Additional reporting by Megan Vick)