At its worst, New Girl has always been a bit uneven. Entering the game as a show that seemed to be interested in tackling gender issues, meandering from wacky comedy to soapy romance to substantial character material, and consistently having no idea what to do with Winston, the show has never quite felt entirely symmetrical. But from this formula sprang an unexpected humanity. The organic evolution of the stars’ relationships (specifically that between Nick and Jess) and the unpredictability of plot structure — any given episode of this show could consist of the more traditional assembly of quick scenes that pile on, and eventually knock down, antics of humorous insanity, or 22 straight minutes of characters mulling over their mortality in a dimly lit bar — made New Girl seem surprisingly fresh. So we’re a bit unnerved to see Season 3’s fourth episode, “The Captain,” coming up so short in the departments where the program usually thrives: originality and authenticity.
Schmidt, still flying high on the sociopathy introduced to his character at the end of last week’s episode, undertakes a diabolical ploy to tear his friends apart. And since neither Nick nor Jess have been watching this show, they both fall for it — Schmidt gets in Nick’s head about he and Jess leaping into their romantic partnership too soon, resulting in a bout of impotence for the anxious bartender. For the coup de grace, Schmidt gives Jess some decidedly bad advice on how to rectify the scenario, suggesting she try a complicated and mortifying sexual experiment known as The Captain. It only makes things worse.
… for the time being, until Schmidt’s role as puppetmaster becomes apparent and Nick is charged, in a moment of emotional desperation, to finally open up to Jess about everything he feels. It’s the moment she has (and we have!) been waiting for since these characters’ prerequisite archetypes were introduced in the pilot. And such a titanic upswing for Nick’s character should be met with the grandeur this tragic flaw (closing himself off out of fear and discomfort) has always carried. But nothing in “The Captain” feels as dense, sensitive, or genuine as the show’s past dramatic points. We are led to fear that next week’s episode will ret-con the whole ordeal, returning Nick to his state of being as empathetical hermit… or worse, have the feelings-hungry Jess become agitated with his effusive reformation (there are some pretty dismal signs at the end of “The Captain” that this might be the case). We want these people to grow, not regress… which brings us to Schmidt. A character who was introduced as a jerk, fleshed out to showcase the inner damages and insecurities that haunt him daily, and newly transformed into a cartoon villain. Even when Schmidt was cheating on Cece and Elizabeth with one another, he never employed malice in his decisions. But this descent into the territories of absolute evil, attempting to tear his two close friends apart purely for spite, robs the character of any of the likability he developed over the course of Seasons 1 and 2.
And then there’s Winston, who is saddled with a plot that was already lame by the time Three’s Company started using it: a miscommunication between him and an attractive young lady who thinks he’s hitting on her while, in fact, he is just trying to convince her that their two cats should mate. Never is this plot funny. Never does it seem new. And especially when it’s loaded onto a character like Winston, whose humor is almost always plot-based (he doesn’t have the weight or acute eccentricity of Nick or Schmidt to make a dumb premise funny just by being himself in it), does something like this feel like a failure. Come on, New Girl, you’re better than a B-story that relies entirely on innuendo.
So we hope that the show resurfaces soon, perhaps with the announced return Coach, the dismissal of Schmidt’s evil, or the next step (whatever it may be) for Nick and Jess. Oh, and enough with the cat. Animal humor works best in GIF form, Fox, not in half-hour sitcoms.