How Netflix’s Bizarro Con Artist Family Sitcom No Good Nick Gets Away with Everything
Part 1 left us with questions. Part 2? Oh, it has ANSWERS (and we spoil them all).Photo Courtesy of Netflix TV Features no good nick
I… love?? No Good Nick?? I mean, don’t get me wrong, nothing about it should make sense. Sitcoms do not work this way, none of its weirdly random pieces—a live studio audience! A corrupt foster care system! Wacky sitcom family shenanigans! Serialized storytelling! Mob violence!—should fit together at all, let alone combine to make something coherent. But while Part 1 of Netflix’s bizarre-meets-bleak con artist family sitcom managed to overcome every odd to end up “a ripping low-stakes binge,” the recently released Part 2 goes way beyond that. And Part 2 is great.
If I was going to write a straight, spoiler-free review of No Good Nick’s second coming, that would be my big takeaway: Once you get past the (very real) disorientation of watching a young teen girl be existentially misused by every adult in her life while a live studio audience laughs at the tropey sitcom shenanigans she gets up to to pay off the mob, it turns out that No Good Nick is, in fact, excellent. It’s maybe not Russian Doll excellent, but also, on a weird level, it’s not… not? I know, I know. But truly!
In an ideal world, this would be the point at which you X out of this tab, turn on Netflix and queue up the next installment of Teen Girl Con Artist Covers Dad’s Mob Debts While Taking Revenge on Melissa Joan Hart and Sean Astin to see for yourself just how smoothly this show pulls off each of its increasingly ridiculous tricks. But man, I know all too well how obsessively confounding the series’ first ten episodes were, so if what you truly want is just the answers Part 2 gives to every wild question Part 1 prompted? Friends, I am here for you.
For more on No Good Nick’s finale, check out our TV Rewind.
Question: Russian Doll? Really?
Answer: As weird as it is that No Good Nick (an old-school multi-cam sitcom) is so deeply serialized, that fact is also key. Its arc, like Russian Doll’s, is crafted to take up the precise number of episodes it’s been given. But where Russian Doll had a tight, artful eight, No Good Nick has a sprawling, sitcom-y twenty. So sprawling, in fact, that it isn’t until midway through this newest set of episodes, when the show finally flashes back to what happened to Nick that set her down the path to criminal orphanhood and put a revenge-shaped target on Thompsons’ front door, that creators Keetgi Kogan and David H. Steinberg’s Master Plan starts to make a real case for itself. At that point, though, all the seemingly unconnected details and character choices that spent most of Part 1 just bouncing off each other start weaving together to tell a story that has a lot more emotional heft, and way higher stakes, than any multicam family sitcom has a right to.
Question: How am I supposed to care about that story, though, when the characters are so awful? Like, do the Thompsons even like each other?
Answer: Lol … no. Obviously not. Liz (Hart) is an unyielding control-goblin who lives to play the martyr and laughs at other people’s pain. Ed (Astin) is a selectively incompetent doof who willfully shields himself from having to think about all the parenting slack he’s not picking up. Jeremy (Kalama Epstein) is possibly not a diagnosable narcissist, but he is a self-obsessed, self-righteous, self-satisfied jerkwad. Molly (Lauren Lindsey Donzis) only seems sweet by dint of being a classically pretty teen girl obsessed with the idea of helping others, and not being anyone else in her family. Really, though, she’s just as selfish and primed to see herself as the victim when she doesn’t get her way as her brother and parents are. Literally duh, none of them really like one another.
But, as everything from “The Italian Job” (2.05) onward drives home (with a dagger), that’s exactly the point. Left to their own devices, the Thompsons were all more than happy to be self-serving, self-justifying and dangerously thin-skinned. But then Nick (Siena Agudong) showed up, and while she may have done so with secret and malign intentions, her constant nudges that they think about the consequences their actions have on others ultimately does turn them into better people—people who want to (and can!) actually like each other.
Question: So then, why did Nick and her dad target the Thompsons in the first place?
Answer: As we learn in “The Italian Job,” they were responsible for destroying Franzelli’s, the red sauce family Italian joint Nick’s dad (Eddie McClintock) had owned for a decade that was the last obstacle keeping Liz’s fine dining Italian place across the street from taking off. Liz stole their customer base; Molly wrangled her friends to flood their Yelp with fake bad reviews; Ed (Astin) refused Tony’s application for a loan extension when he was in the middle of installing a brick pizza oven; Jeremy (Kalama Epstein) stole the Grand Reopening! menus Nick had printed up with the last of her saved-up allowance. “Looks like I won!” we see Liz say, watching in glee from across the street as Tony gets arrested in front of his only daughter.
Cool! Very cool. Great family sitcom we’ve got here.
Question: Why did Tony go to jail?
Answer: Tony got arrested because he A) wouldn’t pack it in when all the banks refused him a loan and B) wouldn’t listen to his friend/longtime customer warning him off getting involved with the mob which meant that he C) ended up involved with the mob, who D) turned him into a convenience store thief when he couldn’t make payments on the loan they had given him. He tries to convince Nick he did it all for her, because family is everything and that’s what parents do, but as a new fellow criminal orphan friend of Nick tells her when they’re commiserating about their parents’ bad life choices, “Yeah I don’t think our parents went to jail for being great parents.”
Question: Does literally any adult care about the hell Nick has been cornered into?
Answer: Finally, at the very end, one does. And while there are less likely contenders for the title (Jonathan Silverman’s code phrase-loving mob enforcer ranking fairly high among them), that the first adult to approach Nick’s situation with unselfish compassion is Liz “Life is a zero sum game” Thompson is a real feat of character development.
Question: What part of Molly’s Volunteer Squad was meant to be a punchline?
Answer: This was a real sticking point for me in Part 1. Molly’s rigorously diverse Volunteer Squad friend group was always clearly meant to be a joke of some sort, but it was less clear in Part 1 just what tone that joke was meant to take. Given that Becky (Kyla-Drew), Tamika (Sanai Victoria) and Xuan (Tiana Le) are antagonists to Molly more often than they’re not, it felt in the early episodess like it was the very idea of (non-white) bleeding heart liberal teenage girls that the audience was meant to laugh at. When Molly’s self-centered victimhood falls into sharp relief after “The Italian Job,” though, the obsessive do-gooderhood of Becky, Tamika and Xuan softens to a goofy teen passion, with Molly too self-involved to enjoy the goof with them. When she breaks down and realizes that Nick was right about her (“I did this. I was wrong. I was mean and dishonest and I was a bad friend!”), the payout for a dozen episodes of uncertain Volunteer Squad laughs is huge.
Question: Does the show ever lean even deeper into Hart and Astin’s 90s icon status?
Answer: Oh-ho-ho-ho, DOES it. And in a way that works as much more than a gimmick, moving big pieces of the story forward in ways that would have next to impossible without the 90s throwback.
Question: Can a show like this possibly fit in TWO love interests?
Answer: Unbelievabaly, YES. Although I don’t know why, at this point, I’m coming at this show with “unbelievably.” But, yes—fellow criminal orphan Will (Anthony Turpel) for Nick, and fellow Type-A conservative nerd Eric (Gus Camp) for Jeremy.
Will is a great match for Nick, both in that he provides a new outlet for all her wacky sitcom con artist shenanigans, and in that he finally gives her a peer with whom to share the specifics of her hard, sad, unjust emotional landscape. Eric, though, breaks Jeremy’s—and No Good Nick’s—story right open. I mean, here we are, not two weeks after Disney Channel Boyfriends, and No Good Nick is upping the ante with a kiss. But, like on Andi Mack, this coming-out storyline isn’t there just to be there, or just to add one more plotty obstacle for Nick to trip over on her way to being caught. Rather, it fits with the uptight, vulnerable Jeremy we spent a dozen episodes getting to know, adding shades to an already complex character, not redefining him. It also clears a path to some very funny conspiracy theorist jokes (Eric’s an Elvis truther) and bonds Nick and Jeremy in a way that both pays huge emotional dividends, narratively. It also lets Epstein break the audience’s hearts wide open with several bouts of deeply moving acting.
Question: Can a show like this possibly have a happy ending? (That is, can Nick possibly get both revenge and a family to belong to?)
Answer: Oh man, by now you have to know that the unlikely answer to this is an emphatic yes. By placing “The Italian Job” smack in the middle of Part 2, No Good Nick gives itself time to let Nick cycle through all the stages of grief for her lost innocence that she was able, in the series’ earlier episodes, to use her various confidence schemes to fend off. More than that, though, it also makes the real moral failures of each member of the Thompson clan much harder for the audience, who has mostly only known them as mediated through Nick’s bar-raising presence, to judge as wholly unforgivable. It might seem impossible, but in Part 2’s final five episodes, Nick is able to exact personal revenge on every Thompson but Ed, to get more and more busted up over how much worse that revenge ends up making her feel, to (with added support from Will) call her dad out for being a shitty parent, and to ultimately come clean to the Thompsons without letting them off the hook for their own shitty behavior, all while maintaining the audience’s complete sympathy. When the Thompsons—Ed, especially—feel a knee-jerk reaction to throw her to juvie wolves, we also feel sympathy, and when it transpires that the mutual love they’ve all developed for each other allows them to overcome their hurt feelings to not only work together to trap Nick’s Fagin-esque con artist foster parents, but to come together as a family that’s really labored to earn the right to call itself that, it all feels, astonishingly, honest.
So, yes! Turns out a serialized family sitcom about a teen con artist protecting her dad from the mob, evading her corrupt foster parents, working up the courage to tell her dad he put her in an impossible situation, and trying to find a place for herself in the world CAN work!
Question: Can a show like this possibly have another act?
Answer: I mean, like with Russian Doll, I would be more than happy for this single (two-part) season to be the extent of Nick’s story. But there is a cliffhanger meant to tee off a new mystery/scheme, and Kogan and Steinberg have already proven once that they can take literal nonsense and pull it together into meaningful sitcom alchemy, so, I don’t know, never say never.
No Good Nick (Parts 1 & 2) is streaming now on Netflix.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.