Sep 17, 2013

New Girl: “All In”

By Josh Oakley

Reality is hard. Opening doors that cannot be shut easily, committing to paths that may take us far from former objectives, really and truly making a change – these are all difficult things. Jess and Nick are so frightened by the prospect of living in their apartment, as a couple, that they run off to Mexico and set off the main story of New Girl’s third season premiere. This is a flawed episode, with emotional beats that don’t fit within their context, and a number of jokes that don’t fully land. But this is also New Girl, a show with an ensemble that crackles with chemistry and some of the best performers on television. “All In” threatens various exploits for the season that may not pay off well, but it’s far from a travesty.

Jess and Nick spend their time in Mexico lounging on the beach wearing the tattered remnants of their outfits from Cece’s botched wedding. They live in a constructed shelter for about four days, before attempting to sneak into a resort, where Nick is promptly arrested. This thread is the weaker of the two stories tonight, mainly on the comedy front. Jake Johnson, last season’s breakout, was given little to do, and the potential of a happy Nick begins to seem worrisome. So much of that character was dependant on his old man grumpiness that a more content version of Nick may fall a little flat. But that’s a large concern for a single episode, and he does still get out a good line about being in international waters. Johnson is immensely talented (those who haven’t seen this summer’s Drinking Buddies should rectify that immediately), but the actor can only do so much with weak material.

Speaking of doing the best with what’s given, Max Greenfield gives a whirlwind performance in “All In”, squeezing every line into a delivery so funny it borders on delirium. But Greenfield is good enough to know when to pull back, and sells even the sensitive side of his hackneyed predicament. That situation involves Schmidt failing to choose Cece or Elizabeth, and telling both of them he dumped the other. It’s a whopping sitcom cliché, in the middle of a show that normally tweaks the formula at least slightly. The most unfortunate aspect is that with all of the other goings-on, the plot doesn’t have time to resolve, and the “bringing two girls to prom” trope will seemingly be an entire arc. All we can hope for is some twist in the formula, something to make the story interesting down the road. Luckily Greenfield will be there, proving tonight that he can pivot between pathos and mania in an instant.

After Nick is arrested, Jess returns to the apartment in an effort to get Winston and Schmidt’s aid in getting Nick out of jail. The three go to Mexico and Jess winds up trading her car for Nick’s freedom. In the scene that reunites the foursome, the show goes for an emotional wallop and comes up short. Jess tells the guys that they’re a family, and though it’s a sweet moment (Zooey Deschanel has become good enough to actually sell a line like “I got a really great deal on Craigslist. I got all of you.”, which wouldn’t work in lesser hands), it’s completely unearned. Yes, Schmidt has spent the episode insisting that he needs Nick as his best friend, but by having the characters separated for the majority of the half-hour, it’s odd to choose that moment to pause for a gooey sentiment. Now, listen, I love gooey sentiments, and this show can pull them off beautifully, but it normally prepares for them much better than it does here.

The episode ends with Nick and Jess making out in front of the apartment door, Schmidt guaranteeing a continuation of his unpromising complications, and Winston’s colorblindness causing his puzzle to be a serial killer-esque mess. Oh right, Winston! Yes, the oft-forgotten roommate spends “All In” working on a puzzle, which we quickly find out is a rather terrifying prospect for him. The running joke is pretty funny, but it seems like yet another cop out on giving the character something real to deal with. This may be a casualty of an overstuffed finale, and I do hope there’s more for Winston this season than last, but the start isn’t promising.

I suppose we’ll have to wait until next week to see if the threatening signs of “All In” bleed into the season as a whole, or are contained issues of dealing with multiple cliffhangers. Much like Jess and Nick, terrified to enter the next phase of their lives, we’ll all open the door and see what troubles or prospects season three of New Girl has in store. This is one of my favorite shows on television, so I’m hundreds of miles from giving up, or even losing hope. This cast can do a lot with weak scripts, and those scripts are rarely weak. Tonight was an exception to the excellence of New Girl in 2013, and I hope it stays that way.

Grade: B-

  • Greenfield’s best delivery of a nothing line: “The picture’s on the box! It’s a Japanese garden!”
  • Winston saying “'bout to get into some puzzle trouble” and beginning to strip is proof that they should be giving Lamorne Morris more to do on this show.
  • More proof: “I needed your underwear… to sew… into my underwear”
  • As I said above, New Girl is one of my favorite shows on television at the moment. I’ll be covering it weekly here at Wine & Pop. Just a warning: as they have in the past, some of my thoughts on the show may get very gooey. You’ve been warned.

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