Everything comes back to New Girl. Joe Biden wins the presidency after days of nail-biting anticipation? New Girl saw it coming. Taylor Swift drops a wistful new album? She already tried out that persona at Cece Parekh’s (Hannah Simone) first wedding. This principle even applies to 2021’s biggest rising star, Olivia Rodrigo of “Driver’s License” fame.
On Friday, May 14, Rodrigo will reprise herself as Nini in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ second season on Disney+. Before Rodrigo ever walked the halls of East High, however, she played a student at a far crunchier school with just as many zany surprises: New Girls’ Banyon Canyon. Rodrigo’s first-ever TV role was playing Terrinea, one of Jessica Day’s (Zooey Deschanel) Pepperwood Chronicles-obsessed students in New Girl season 6.
Rodrigo has been preparing to have a comically close friendship with a competitively intense educator — like HSM’s well-meaning Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders) — for years. The first time around simply involved much more Nick Miller (Jake Johnson) comedy.
Rodrigo appears in the 2017 episode “Young Adult,” which, like all New Girl episodes, finds Jess in a low-stakes pickle. In this case, Jess — formerly the vice principal of L.A.’s trendy Banyon Canyon — is one episode into being headteacher and feeling disconnected from her students. Then, she notices the book three cool-girl students are carrying around: The Pepperwood Chronicles, Nick’s shockingly explicit bayou noir novel (“It’s about a man who has nothing, who risks everything to feel something”). In an effort to impress her students — including Rodrigo’s Terrinea — Jessica begs Nick to come have lunch with the girls.
Despite Rodrigo’s future star power, she is actually given the least amount of work to do during Nick’s initial meeting with his passionate young fans. Gertie (Makayla Lysiak, last seen as a human trafficking victim on Grey’s Anatomy) thanks Nick for his subtle introduction of a gay dog in Pepperwood Chronicles; the character helped Gertie understand that her own sexuality bears no merit on her worth. Ramona (Saylor Bell) lauds Nick’s writing on “female desire” and helps him theorize future underwear-based plotlines for Pepperwood Chronicles characters like Lady Diamante (what a name!). In comparison, Terrinea is only allowed to heap praise on Nick in the middle of Pepperwood crosstalk about kissing and a graphic scene in a fish morgue.
Rodrigo leads the lynchpin twist of the act, when Nick informs the girls that he lives with their principal and used to date her. Then Nick leaves Jess to deal with the aftermath. “Wow. You went from kind of meh to ‘sort of cool’ to ‘totally the coolest. Ever,’” Terrinea gushes. “Let’s go to the drama room and dress up like old men. PJ don’t care!” Suddenly, PJ — or should we say Principal Jess — has lost control. Soon enough, children are hosting glowstick-ridden dance parties in Jess’ office.
As Jess’ crisis starts to resolve itself, Rodrigo gets the best line of “Young Adult.” Towards the end of the episode, Terrinea, Gertie, and Ramona apologize to Jessica for disrespecting her throughout “Young Adult” and give her a gift card for a nearby coffee shop. “We have the upmost respect for you,” Terrinea says with a straight face. Nicholas Miller wrote this entire apology — no one says “upmost” but Nick (“It’s ‘up’ — up to the most!”). Jess reminds Nick he cannot have unsupervised conversations with her students, but thanks him for patching up her professional relationships anyway.
Although New Girl viewers never see Terrinea and her friends again, we’ll always have the upmost respect for them.