Oct 2, 2013

New Girl: “Double Date”

By Josh Oakley


New Girl is kind of a mess right now. It’s a somewhat intriguing and mostly hilarious mess, but it is undoubtedly rather disheveled at the moment. The beginnings of season three have introduced and run through a number of plot and character variations, looking to extend the reach and depth of the show’s world. That is obviously a good thing for a sitcom to do, especially in the hope of avoiding the trap of growing comfortable. But in its efforts to grow, New Girl is shrinking, sending Schmidt back to his less-developed self.

The woefully misguided story of Schmidt with two girlfriends ends tonight, thankfully, and bows out somewhat gracefully. His break-up with Cece is powerfully acted, especially by Hannah Simone, who isn’t always given that much to do. She doesn’t oversell the material, and instead goes for the quiet, wounded performance, helping to elevate a scene that lacks a bit in the writing department. Schmidt’s monologue to Cece, concerning how much he used to weigh, feels off. Clearly this is Schmidt speaking, and not the show, but he comes across as such a deluded ass that any potential for empathy is washed away (this doesn’t come close to the problem with his behavior at episode’s close, but we’ll get to that in a bit).

Preceding that emotional climax of “Double Date”, the titular event is set into motion as the secrets Schmidt has been hiding come leaking out, not unlike the jam oozing from the radars in Spaceballs. Schmidt is behaving oddly, and Cece asks Nick and Jess if they know why. Her theory is drugs (“He’s just stopped blinking. Is that whippits?”), but Nick soon finds out the truth of the secret multiple relationships. After attempting to hide this from Jess via motorcycle helmet, Nick talks, and Jess rightfully blows up at Schmidt. While the two roommates verbally duke it out, Nick dances, in the episode’s funniest bit. There’s good material in this scene, both emotionally and humorously, but that proper blend fades in much of the story that follows.

Cece arrives at the loft, and before Jess can tell her about Schmidt, he grabs her and runs. The episode falls mostly flat between the Jess/Schmidt showdown and the break-up, with Max Greenfield working as hard as possible to find some truth or humor in the script he’s been given. Unfortunately, the show wants it both ways and, unlike in season two, is unable to handle the juggling act. New Girl wants the emotional resonance that comes with Schmidt’s cheating, but it also wants to mine as many laughs as possible in the prelude to the heartbreak. This is the foundation for plenty of great sitcom episodes, even episodes of this specific show, but it falters here for one main reason, basically the crux of “Double Date”’s faults: What are we supposed to think about Schmidt?

Obviously, he’s been behaving horrendously so far this season, cheating on two women at once. And before this we’ve seen how manipulative and rude the man could be. But he’s never exactly been the villain before, and this episode seems to toss out all of his character development from last year in its closing. Schmidt blames his failures on Nick and Jess, and threatens to destroy their relationship. Of course, I understand that to a certain degree this is a coping mechanism, a way for Schmidt to avoid looking at himself and seeing the horrible thing he’s become. Perhaps this is where the show is headed, and that’s why I don’t dismiss this episode completely. But given only what we see in these 22 minutes, I’m finding it more and more difficult to trust the show on an emotional level. Part of the reason New Girl's previous year is one of my favorite recent sitcom seasons is that it became the funniest show on television, with a perfect blend of actors’ chemistry and brilliant editing to spit out great joke after great joke. But this also became a show that was capable of feeling incredibly honest, peering into what makes friendships and relationships work, and how genuinely good people can still hurt those that they love.

The humor is mostly still there, though nothing this season has been nearly as funny as the best episodes of last season. More importantly, though, New Girl looks to be throwing aside the nuance of “Fluffer”, “Cooler”, “Parking Spot”, and other truly fantastic episodes of television, in order to shuffle around their characters to somewhere new. I am all for sitcoms morphing, and my fears of Nick from last week were quickly abated here, as Jake Johnson found the most painfully hysterical way to play this more mature (but still scared and wounded) Nick. So, maybe next week my fears of Schmidt will be gone as well. Maybe next week the show will stop pointing out how they never give Winston anything to do, and actually give him something to do. New Girl was so good for the last season and a half that I still have ultimate trust, despite three weak episodes in a row. I would just like a promise that the show still knows where its bruised but resilient heart lies.

Grade: B-

Miscellaneous:
  • “When I stand up, you’re going to see my penis and when I walk out you’re going to see my butt.” – Jake Johnson proved to me that he was back on top of the game with his fear and quick acceptance of Cece sitting on the bed with him and Jess.
  • “Did you think you could have a bunch of wives!? You can have one wife!” – This was such a great episode for Johnson all around.
  • Nick dancing to make Schmidt and Jess happy was great. Even better was the sound of him clomping around even when off-screen.
  • “You happened upon it? Where? In the town square?”
  • “I bought 10,000 minutes in 1999 and I’m still using them”
  • “I’m not convinced I know how to read; I’ve just memorized a lot of words”

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