A review of tonight's “New Girl” coming up just as soon as I take the thing that looks like a meth lab and put it in the thing that looks like a pipe bomb…
Back when “New Girl” did its post-Super Bowl episode with Prince, I did one of my periodic rants about how happy couples don't ruin sitcoms and that Jess and Nick getting together weren't the root cause of the problems plaguing season 2. And I still feel that way, even after an episode where the two of them broke up because they realized they enjoyed being themselves as friends more than pretending to be other people so they could stay a couple. A whole lot of things went awry all at once this season – Schmidt turning evil, the adjustment period when Coach returned, Winston became completely crazy except when he wasn't, etc. – so that you can't point to any one thing as being the root cause. It's a weird show that's always precariously balancing on the head of a pin, and it takes very little to throw that balance out of whack.
That being said, there were some issues with the Jess/Nick 'ship, especially the ways in which she had become more sensible over the previous two seasons while he had become more of a deranged creature barely capable of functioning in adult society. It's not a coincidence that the best moments of their time together tended to involve Nick temporarily being a grown-up, whether throwing Jess the birthday surprise or telling her the story of how he passed the bar. And at a certain point this season, it felt like Liz Meriweather and company recognized that the things that make Nick funny were getting in the ways of him being half of a plausible and happy pairing with Jess, and they started looking for a way to hit the eject button. And if the creative team's heart isn't in a story, you don't want them continuing with that story just because you like the idea of a particular couple, or want to prove a philosophical point about romantic storylines on sitcoms.
And as eject buttons go, “Mars Landing” was excellent. I would have easily watched an entire episode that was just the gang being hungover from a particularly intense round of True American, as it's something the entire cast is really good at, but especially Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson. I don't know if the network would have let them get away with a plotless episode about the group babbling incoherently while groping for liquid courage, but I'd have enjoyed it. This approach worked, too, though, since it was Jess and Nick's weakened physical condition that ramped up the tension over building the weird German toy for Sadie's baby, and since the other subplots were also fueled by people being at much less than peak capacity. Schmidt struggling to define emoji for Cece, for instance, would still be funny with a sober Schmidt, but was extra-amusing because of his dire condition. Ditto Nick struggling to explain the importance of naming their first child Reginald VelJohnson Miller – a sober Nick might have been able to make the “Die Hard” argument – while pointing out that this is still a vast improvement over Ass Baby Miller.
And the Nick/Jess fight evolved nicely, from the gibberish and sobbing at the start to a more fully-realized debate, a brief moment of calm as they both feared pushing things too far, and then ugliness and insanity as Nick starts outlining his whole vision of the future as a long-haul space trucker. It was a story that put the full range of our leads on display, for both silliness and sadness, and the actual decision to break up didn't feel like a cheat so the show could return to an earlier status quo. And given that they're not only still roommates, but for the moment still occupying the same bedroom, I imagine things will not return to exactly how they were before “Cooler.”
That story was so strong, in fact, that I imagine the show could have gotten away with setting the bulk of the episode in their bedroom and giving the rest of the cast a light week. But both subplots were funny enough – I especially enjoyed a hoarse, hungover Coach ranting about how all the women he dates look just like him – that they worked as a nice accent to the drama happening with Jess and Nick. I wasn't expecting much from Cece's younger Australian boyfriend, but that's been a charming relationship so far, and putting Cece in a position to continually embarrass herself gives Hannah Simone a lot more to play than when Cece is the icy sex goddess.
There's been a marked uptick in quality since the calendar turned to 2014, and this was easily one of the best episodes of the season. I'd have liked to see the writers find a way to make Jess and Nick work – and perhaps they still intend to – but if it leads to better stories going forward, I'm okay with it.
What did everybody else think? And did the presence of Alexandra Daddario from “True Detective” as one of the new neighbors make you wonder if perhaps Crazy Winston might be the Yellow King?