New Girl has pulled off a wildly impressive, if not nearly impossible feat in television: they have explored new territory and advanced character developments, all while following the same exact structure for three weeks in a row.
Now, hear me out on this one. I'm not saying "Quick Hardening Caulk", "Chicago", and tonight's "First Date" were the same episodes, far from. What I'm saying is they have split the foursome into Schmidt and Winston, who have solidified themselves as the group's BFFs, and then Nick and Jess, whose tension-filled relationship continues to find itself in a grey area (a very, very sexy grey area). Nick, who has become the central character of the show (Who's that boy? It's Nick!), only converses with Winston and Schmidt when he needs to pow-wow and Jess, and his struggles with Jess (very, very sexy struggles) are what's anchoring everything.
I'm not complaining about this. I think the show is at the top of its game right now in terms of writing, performances (Jake Johnson does not waste a second of his time or ours), and overall execution. It's pleasing (and, okay, teasing) Nick and Jess 'shippers, as well as finally making Winston a well-rounded and hilarious part of the dynamic. I just wonder how long it can go on like this. I'm not tired of the Nick and Jess teasing, I think the writers are playing it safe by pumping the breaks. Not just to avoid pulling the trigger too soon on their romance (Exhibit A: Jim and Pam on The Office, who turned from sweet to insufferable) but because it's far more realistic. Friends who are dancing around the idea of a relationship, especially when such deep feelings are involved can skirt around it for years.
"First Date" didn't skirt around it's title though: Nick and Jess went on their first awkward, telling, sexually-charged date. Nick pretty much plunged right into the awkward realm when grabbed Jess' breasts (well, more her breast plate, really) to try to break up the tension. You've gotta love the guy, but making situations more comfortable isn't exactly his forte. Consider how he tried to define their indefinable relationship: "Roommates who make out, are attracted to each other, and sometimes genuinely hate each other." Okay, but what are you?
Nick was plagued by the question and turned to his old non-English speaking pal Tran (who you'll remember from "Menzies") for answers. The thing about Nick is, for as clueless as he appears, he knows the score. He knows that he and Jess have a chemistry that can't be denied, that his father just died and life is too short to miss out on things, and that he wants stability, he just doesn't quite know how to get there. But then he had the biggest realization of all while talking with Tran. Well, talking at Tran, really. He realized he was falling in love and that he needed to tell Jess: "Jessica, you are a beautiful women and my life has not been the same since I met you would mean the world if you went on a date with me." Good god, Miller. How does he do that? How does a guy who moonwalks out of awkward situations say things like that? Of course, when he actually approached Jess, it didn't come out quite so eloquently. In fact, he just sputtered out, "If so, food?" after calling her Jess-ica and Dirty J.
Unaware she was being asked out on their first date, Dirty J obliged. Jess is usually pretty loopy, but I'm on her side on this one. That was barely a sentence, let alone a proposal for a romantic date. With a "yes", Nick turned to Winston and Schmidt (I'll get to their shenanigans soon, I promise) for helped getting dressed ("I'm wearing Schmidt!") and preparation in seducing a woman. It was Schmidt had been waiting their entire friendship for. Like true pals, they didn't encourage him so much as remind him not to bring up the following: "You're cheap, you're a heavy drinker, you're broke, you have a problem with anger...and your car is horrible." That's what friends are for. Seriously.
Nick couldn't come up with a good lie about who he was seeing (he barely muttered out "Yolanda...Winston" before his buddies quickly figured out it was Jess he's be wooing) but it wasn't those two clowns he'd have to worry about. Dressed in a sharp suit and a table reserved at a fancy restaurant, he was ready for some serious romance, while an unaware Jess showed up in super casual clothes and met him at a hot dog stand. They were, for the first time in a few weeks, operating on completely different wavelengths.
Sidebar: As much as I credit Johnson as the show's MVP, which he is, I'm giving most improved to Zooey Deschanel. She has turned an animated character to a fully-fleshed out, relatable human being. You aren't mad at her for putting up her defenses with Nick, you just realize she's protecting herself. Who can't relate to that? End sidebar.
Unfortunately, that pretty much set the tone for the night: mixed messages and missteps. In Nick's case, quite literally, stepping off the curb earned him, a $340 jaywalking ticket, earned the wrath of a police officer, and at long last settled the case of New York vs. Los Angeles argument. That would never happen in New York. Ever. Jess figured out that it was a date, but Nick wouldn't confirm that it was. Fancy Man himself Russell walked in ("The only man we've both loved", as Nick hilariously put it) with his young arm candy (Jess was right about him and his preference of younger rebound women) making the awkwardness that much more amplified when he told them he was glad their relationship was "finally happening."
They were left with only one option on their disastrous attempt at a first date, which was erratic and uneven: drink. "Drinking to forget? That's my sweet spot!" Nick declared. And, wouldn't you know it, booze helped loosen these two up and have them admit how they turn each other on (for Nick, it's when Jess asks to have jars opened and for Jess, it's when Nick gurgles his beer). "It's hard for me to deal with, it's too hot," Nick said, forever ruining your life because yes please.
It seemed like things were finally getting on track for these two until they bumped into Russell again (Dermot Mulroney is rocking some crazy long hair now, no?) and said they he had "no opinion" about either of them (which is, somehow, more infuriating than an opinion) and dared them to define their relationship, setting them right back at square one. With a question looming of them that they were too afraid to answer, but knew what the answer was, it was back to boob grabs ("They've got a good squish to 'em") and lingering.
Back at the apartment, the scene was a familiar one to "Cooler" and "Quick Hardening Caulk" in that it was Nick and Jess alone, with the air hanging heavy between them. Nick opened her jar and then gurgled his beer in front of her. They walked to their bedrooms together. There was a screaming silence. All they could muster out was "Goodnight Miller" and "Goodnight Day", closing the door on the whole thing. Whether that be their first real hookup or an actual relationship, well, that's for us to find out as this mixed bag season (started muddled and became crystal clear) winds down.
Nick and Jess still may not have any definition of their relationship, but we know that Schmidt and Winston have teamed up to be best of buds and the comic relief for all that mounting tension from the other pair. This week, these two combined forces to try and split up Nick and Jess (which seems abrupt considering how they both realized how important these two are to each other at the funeral last week) because Nick is the glue that holds them together.
They schemed and plotted and it, unsurprisingly blew up in their face. Winston and Schmidt, who spent a good portion of the episode fighting about where the communal cell phone charger (the bathroom or the "stupid, stupid kitchen"), failed miserably at coming up with a plot to ruin their date that was already self-imploding. Thankfully, it introduced two of my new favorite characters to New Girl: Outside Dave, a homeless guy who doesn't help them, so much as lock himself in their bathroom and wreak havoc on Schmidt's pomade caddy, and the other homeless guy who serenaded Winston against his will to George Michael's "Father Figure." (By the way, that guy was played by an incredibly talented stand-up comedian named Ronald Funches. Do yourself a favor, next time he's in town, check out his act. You won't be sorry).
Yes, their sequence was slapstick-y, silly, and rooted entirely in sitcom reality (one of their ideas was to set a bear loose in the restaurant), but I love the Schmidt and Winston dynamic too much to care. I love that Winston had some of the funniest moments, including his inability to be on the same page about Schmidt. (He wrongly guessed Nick was a male escort and that they should kill him with a knife to get him not to go out with Jess). I love that they segued to a flashback by saying they should do "some good ol' fashioned rememberin'." That is some 30 Rock-levels of brilliance.
Much like I'm sure the show will take a breather from Nick and Jess (they either have to dive right into this thing or separate them for a little while or viewers are going to grow impatient), they'll do the same with Schmidt and Winston, which is really too bad. With Schmidt away from Cece and Winston away from any sort of plot point, these two really needed each other and it's working on every level. But as much as I like these two pairings, what makes New Girl work is the ensemble: the fab four need to get back together soon.
Here, now, are the other best lines and moments from "First Date". Bear with me, there's a few.
- "You cant outrun the Jewish!" - Schmidt, to Winston
- Nick explaining that the upper part of the boob is "the most underrated part of the boob."
- Nick explaining that his "off-the-charts" sexual chemistry with Jess feels like "no laws, Wild West, whiskey for a nickel, whores caked in mud."
- A flashback to Hippie Nick, Fat Schmidt, and Dreadlocked Winston.
- "Burn them! Burn them all!" Schmidt's plan for Nick's clothes.
- Jess, seeing Nick all dressed up: "Why are you wearing that suit, did you just apply for a loan?"
- Jess' instruction to calm Nick down: "Make tiny fists with your toes!"
- Fancy Nick being suave: "What an establishment! My favorite in the city!" "I guess all the good ones aren't gay or married!" Bonus: His wearin' a suit spin dance move.
- "If a happening happens and you don't know that it happens, did it happen?" I don't know, girl from The Happening, you tell us.
- Schmidt's plan to "poison every pie on every window sill" to get revenge on the homeless. Winston quickly pointed out he was an actual homeless person, not a cartoon hobo. Bonus: his pronunciation of roof. "I'm going up on the ruff."
- Nick still being in love with Russell. ("Two pens? That's how it's done.")
- The cop's motorcycle falling over, just as he's about to give Nick his fourth ticket of the evening.
- Those longing, last looks between Nick and Jess.
- That second appearance by Ronald Funches, singing "Dude Looks Like a Lady" in his skivvies. ("Like the movie Mrs. Doubtfire!")
- WORST: Yeah, sometimes there's a worst. The Ford product placement again. It wasn't as obvious as when Jess modeled, but it's still pretty apparent. Come on, this isn't like Chuck, New Girl doesn't need saving, does it?
[Photo credit: Adam Taylor/FOX]