Review: ‘New Girl’ – ‘Winston’s Birthday’

A review of tonight’s “New Girl” coming up just as soon as the school goat hangs himself…

On one level, “Winston’s Birthday” is a meta joke about how little the show seems to care about – or, at least, know what to do with – poor Winston. While Jess and Nick are trying to figure out what comes after their night together (and Jess is potentially getting a new job), Cece is freaking out about her wedding and Schmidt is battling his new impulses to rekindle things with Elizabeth, Winston is off on the margins, hoping against hope that any of these people know or like him enough to do something for his birthday. (He spends half the episode being referred to as “Wilson,” even, thanks to Jess’s dad.)  And when he does ultimately get the perfect gift, it’s a complete accident.

Mainly, though, the episode is a morning-after story about what comes next for Jess and Nick. It’s on the frantic side, if intentionally so, to keep both of them too distracted by outside problems – her new job, Cece’s face tattoo, the arrival of Jess’s father(*) – to really deal with it. But after the chaos dies down, we see the two of them share a look on the roof suggesting the show isn’t ready to try to stuff this genie back in the bottle just yet – and given how well the show has dealt with things so far, they shouldn’t be. 

(*) I can’t decide which guest appearance made me happier: Curtis Armstrong, who is always funny (and holds a special place in the hearts of Gen X’ers for being Booger, Charles De Mar and Herbert Viola); or Rob Reiner, a great comic actor who has mostly restricted himself to cameos since he moved into directing 30 years ago. Also happy to see Mary Lynn Rajskub pop up as Jess’s teacher friend, though her presence on my TV feels like less of a rarity these days. I’m assuming Jess will get the job just so Armstrong and Rajskub will be able to pop up from time to time, just like Rachael Harris last year.

But as much fun as it was to watch Nick bond with Bob, and to see Jess once again around children – and the first real time since the writers figured out a way to make Jess quirky and weird without seeming like an oblivious fairytale princess character – the episode’s highlight involved Schmidt and Elizabeth. Not only does it keep Merritt Wever in the fold for as long as “Nurse Jackie” will loan her out, but it’s genuinely and amusingly addressing the transformation of Schmidt from the guy in the fat suit to who he is now, rather than just relying on the fat suit itself as the joke. I’m also a devout believer in the power of funny dancing, and we got two different ridiculous dance numbers (one with fat suit, one without) from Wever and Max Greenfield.

In fact, Elizabeth is such an entertaining match for Schmidt, and Shivrang has turned out to be such a good guy (as well as an effective straight man character) that I’m really hoping the show goes against the cliches and has the wedding take place without a hitch in the finale next week. You can keep Cece happily married without requiring Shivrang to be on the show all the time, since she’s not a full-fledged member of the group, and the Schmidt/Cece tension and bickering can continue whether or not they ever get back together. Going “The Graduate” route (if that’s where the show is actually going) would not only be a cliche but make both of them look bad, given that their current partners are both so sympathetic.

The Jess/Nick story has been an example of the show going to a predictable place but doing it incredibly well, so I should probably give the creative team the benefit of the doubt for whatever they have planned for the finale. It’s been a fantastic season so far, and I’d like to see them stick the landing next Tuesday.

Some other thoughts:

* Though Winston’s marginalization is the joke, the writers at least took pity on him and gave him that awesome Eddie Murphy-style leather suit for his non-party.

* Bad driving safety by Jess, keeping both earbuds in as she went from place to place. You’re only supposed to keep in the one with the microphone, so the other ear can theoretically hear traffic noises.

* Gottfried Armstrong and Rajskub are welcome, but the kids in that class also seemed promising, particularly the one who offered Jess cigarettes and a ride in his car.

* Because Jess and Nick only had sex the night before, Schmidt has no idea, yet his demeanor upon finding them on the roof certainly played like he knew another couple had beaten him and Elizabeth to the rooftop.

What did everybody else think?