Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New Girl 3x22 "Dance" (Good Cop, Bad Cop, and The Dumbest Boys in School)

Original Airdate: April 29, 2014

When I was a kid in middle school, we had a lot of school dances. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, so there was a dance – if I recall correctly – every month. I mean, we were in a small school in a small town, so what else were we going to do on a Friday night when we couldn’t drive, right? I always had fun at these dances. I remember the gymnasium being dark and packed with students. I recall wandering around the perimeter, clutching at a good friend’s elbow so I wouldn’t lose her in the crowd. I clearly remember “Baby Got Back” being played at one of these dances. I never dated in middle school so I never had a boy to dance with during the slow songs but that was okay because none of my friends did either. High school dances were essentially the same routine but a lot less awkward than the middle school ones. Still, when I think of school dances, I think about them fondly because they were some of the more fun times that took place during those awkward 6th to 8th grade years.

This season’s penultimate New Girl episode is aptly titled “Dance” and focuses on Jess’ desire as vice-principal to make the Coolidge Middle School dance a wild success for her students. She’s pouring everything she has into this dance which is not unlike Jess, if we’re being honest. But everyone else knows WHY she’s so focused on making sure that this dance is extra perfect. She’s trying to force the perfection she didn’t have in her relationship with Nick into a project. I really love when in television shows, the characters confront a single character about an issue or their behavior because they know the reasoning for their particular actions. In “Dance,” everyone supports Jess and helps her chaperone, but they know the reason why she’s going overboard with the project. And at the end of the episode, she finally admits to herself (and to Cece) that she’s disappointed and frustrated with how her relationship ended so she’s trying to control something in order to distract her and give her a sense of power amidst feelings of powerlessness. It’s a beautiful resolution on Jess’ part, really, and I’m glad that Cece was there to witness it. Elsewhere in the episode, Coach has instructed everyone to assist in chaperoning the dance and things go awry. Shenanigans are had, people are injured, and there’s some rapping involved.

All in all, I thought that “Dance” was a perfect penultimate New Girl episode (major props to Rebecca Addelman and Ryan Koh who wrote the episode – your powers combined led to a hilarious, shenanigan-filled episode and I loved it), so let’s discuss it more beneath the cut, shall we?

This episode opens with Cece and Jess discussing the upcoming middle school dance and Jess rolling out a comedically long banner that says “Love Is Forever (And Ever x 12).” Cece is the perceptive one who notes the inherent irony in the banner Jess constructed: love is forever, but her relationship with Nick wasn’t. And as her best friend, Cece is concerned that Jess is probably going to roll herself up in the banner and watch Dirty Dancing a dozen more times. But Jess claims that this is a non-issue (note: it’s always a lie when people tell you’re they are “okay” or “fine” or pretend like everything is peachy in the aftermath of something genuinely heartbreaking) and is just concerned with making the dance a success. And I believe Jess, to an extent. She’s the kind of person who is an optimistic go-getter. And with a new job and new responsibilities and new chances to prove herself, she’s about as gung-ho as the Energizer Bunny. Furthermore, Jess was an awkward middle-school student. And what she wants most of all out of this dance is the chance to make it fun for every student.

But – and this is important to know – that definitely doesn’t mean she’s okay with her break-up. And it definitely doesn’t mean that some part of her, however large or small, isn’t using the school dance as an excuse to throw herself into a project that will distance her from Nick and distract her from their relationship’s demise.

The boys and Cece all know the purpose behind Jess’ gung-ho dance-planning mission, but they have worries of their own in this episode: Nick confides in Schmidt that the break-up has been difficult but, to his credit, he’s been handling it rather well. The one lamentation that Nick has, though? He misses having goofy shenanigans with Jess. And that’s partially what was echoed in “Mars Landing,” right? Nick and Jess missed being FRIENDS. They missed going on adventures together, pre-dating. They missed their natural rapport and tendency to be weird. But the problem when you break up with your best friend is that you have to mourn the loss of the relationship and heal before you even get the chance (IF you get the chance) to become friends again. That’s the point that Nick and Jess are at in “Dance” and it’s awkward and hard because in any other episode, they would be front and center, going on “Pepperwood”-esque capers to track down the person responsible for sabotaging the dance. But… they can’t. And it hurts.

Furthermore, Nick and Jess have agreed that they need to keep Winston in the same room as them if they are alone because he naturally removes the sexual tension from the situation. Reason? They don’t want to backslide (like they did in the obviously named “Backslide” episode). And honestly Nick and Jess have handled their break-up really responsibly and this is a good idea for them. Four for you, Nick and Jess, for acting like mature adults! Schmidt, meanwhile, is beginning to get jealous of Cece’s boyfriend and this is the only part about “Dance” that I did not care for. I was completely aboard the Schmidt/Cece interactions in “Birthday” and “Big News.” They acted like such great friends and cohorts. But I’m still not aboard the Schmidt/Cece romantic train and I hope that Schmidt’s offhanded remarks in this episode don’t lead us down there again.

A pairing that WAS golden this episode was Coach/Jess. I love how much Coach has bonded with both women on the show, especially our lovely protagonist, and how much he both empathizes with her and goes the extra mile to help her. Because at the school, it turns out that every other teacher Jess rounds up is not so gung-ho about a dance. And they’re DEFINITELY not interested in being chaperones. But Coach? Coach is supportive because he knows that Jess cares about this dance. And if it is important to her, it’s important to him. Plus, I don’t think it hurts that he gets to boss people around all night.

In the hallway, Jess runs into a girl named Wendy who is begrudgingly attending the dance thanks to her mom. While Jess is excited, Wendy is not. She’s a bit of a tomboy and dances don’t appear her thing. But there’s more to Wendy that we’ll learn about later on. It’s important stuff because it reminds Jess not only of herself, but reminds her where she is at now in her adult life. Back at the bar, the rest of the guys and Cece are chatting about Buster. When Schmidt insists that he’s a boy and not a real man, Cece flips the tables: while Schmidt and Nick and Winston are all technically adults, they’re really more like children. She’s not wrong, of course, as we’ll see later on in the episode when the men literally act like children. This giant plot (both the A and the B) in “Dance” serves as a nice reminder though that who these people were as children greatly influenced who they became as adults. And it seems only natural that when confronted by school-aged versions of themselves and/or the people they knew, they react pretty strongly.

Meanwhile, the dance is about to begin and… Jess discovers that the gymnasium doors are locked. The teacher chaperones bail because they can and Jess is left with Coach, watching “Love is Forever” crumble around them. And since Jess cannot stand for anything else related to love be destroyed in her life, she and Coach enlist the help of Cece, Nick, Winston, and Schmidt to help chaperone the dance instead. What was so subtle and that I truly appreciated about how these characters have grown is this: they all actually came willingly to help. While Jess may still have her quirks, season one versions of these characters would have had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to an event to help their roommate. But now, they all sacrifice their nights to help out their friend. (It doesn’t hurt that the guys are trying to prove how manly they are.)

Once at the dance, everyone get an assignment from Coach because he’s taking his role as chaperone super seriously. He knows how much the dance’s success means to Jess and he’s unwilling for anyone – even and perhaps especially his own friends – to screw that up. So Schmidt is on snack patrol to ensure everyone is fed and the punch remains un-spiked. Winston’s assignment is dance floor duty. He’s essentially responsible for ensuring that the kids are dancing six inches apart from each other. (As an aside, is this a middle school issue? In middle school, I remember most kids being so awkward that they didn’t know HOW to slow dance.) And Nick is assigned… nothing. There’s a reason for this: it’s because Nick isn’t chaperone material. And really, if we’re being honest, Coach is probably right. Nick is more likely to be influenced by the children than he I to actually influence them. Coach then begrudgingly assigns Nick to the parking lot in order to keep an eye out for any stragglers and Nick – excited by the opportunity to participate and Coach’s faith in him – heads out to prove that he can do his job.

So far, all of the chaperones are doing well. And by “so far,” I mean it’s literally been a minute and a half since their assignments and this is when things start taking a turn for the interesting. Winston’s dancing skills land him a gaggle of pre-teen girls who both admire him and then proceed to follow him around for the remainder of the evening. As it turns out, Winston’s perceived “heat” DOES come with some consequences. Meanwhile, Schmidt comes face-to-face with the same type of child who bullied him when he was in school. And, for Schmidt, all of the emotions from being bullied for years resurface. That causes him to handle the interaction with the child in a… well, rather child-like way. So much for being adults, right? Luckily for Winston and Schmidt but unluckily for everyone else, the power suddenly gets cut off. When Coach, Jess, and Cece investigate, they discover some obvious sabotage at play as there is paste on the circuit breaker.

One of the teachers whose name I always forget is suspect numero uno, so Cece and Jess interrogate him. But he denies having any involvement and we all believe him because really? Do we think he could sabotage a dance? He has a song that he hums for eating bananas in the dark, after all. Elsewhere in the parking lot, Nick is patrolling like the adult that he is when he encounters two kids who look like they’re up to trouble. But when the two kids accuse Nick of being a chaperone, his automatic defense is to deny being one and subsequently deny being an adult. Nick has always been complex as a character and I really appreciated this episode because it wasn’t a de-evolution in character or a ret-con or a backslide: this was Nick, longing for that shenanigan-filled evening with Jess, trying to remember what it was like to be a kid, free of all of the adult emotional baggage.

See, each person in this episode faces the reality of their adulthood. Jess realizes that you cannot consume yourself with projects to avoid adulthood. Schmidt realizes that you can try to rewrite childhood for the kid you once were, but that ultimately that childhood DOES impact who you are as an adult. Winston tries to outrun his adulthood (literally). And Nick? Nick tries to find the exuberance, thrill-seeking kid he once was in order to numb himself to the reality of being a jaded, lonely adult without Jess. That is what “Dance” is about, at its core: remembering what it was like to be a kid, but accepting that you cannot return to it.

As Nick bonds with the “bad kids,” Schmidt grows frustrated with Tommy – the little bully that could – picking on HIM and challenges the child to a race. Again with the adult-like behavior, right? Poor Winston, meanwhile, is being followed around by a quickly-multiplying group of giggling pre-teenage girls and it’s hilarious, while not really serving as a plot device. Jess and Cece are still trying to determine the sabotage culprit, with the former growing more and more crazed by the moment. Cece knows the real reason behind Jess’ crazy and so do we, but the woman isn’t quite ready to admit that to herself yet. After all of the hard work and effort and care that Jess put into the dance (her relationship), she’s left with nothing but a perceived imperfect mess (her relationship). And so, Cece encourages Jess to let it go (the dance/her relationship) and accept that she did her best (at the dance/her relationship with Nick). But when Jess goes into the bathroom, she discovers the real culprit of the night: Wendy.

We then get one of the greatest conversations on this show and a Jess/Cece scene that I’m proud of. Wendy didn’t want the dance to occur because she believes that none of the boys want to dance with her. Cece and Jess then tell Wendy that the reason boys don’t want to dance with girls is because they’re dumb. And both Cece and Jess know how dumb they can be, after all. They can break your heart whether they’re eleven or thirty. So then Jess gives this delightful Winger-esque speech to Wendy:

“Look, are boys dumb? Yes. Do they do disappointing, stupid, stupid things that really… hurt your feelings? Yes. Sometimes things don’t work out the way you planned them. Actually, they never work out the way you plan them. But in the end, it’s all worth it. And that’s why you have to try.”

Does this speech sound remotely familiar? If you recall how brilliant New Girl writers are at parallelism, then perhaps it does: it’s quite similar to the speech that Jess gave her class in last year’s penultimate episode “Winston’s Birthday.” Back then, she said that the messiest parts of life were the best parts. And as she gives Wendy this speech in “Dance,” I can’t help but think that Jess remembers her own words from a year ago and finds comfort in the messiness and uncertainty and the pain in losing Nick because of them. But when Jess decides to call the dance, it is Cece who encourages her not to – there is still dancing that Wendy needs to experience and still joy left to mine from the mess.

Out in the parking lot, Schmidt is about to have his showdown with Tommy (they’re engaging in a foot race), while Nick is preparing to roll through the parking lot on a shopping cart. (As another aside in this post, I’ve always thought a shopping cart race would be fun.) Winston begins to be chased by the girls who are obsessed with him so he takes off sprinting too. And my favorite shot of this entire episode is this scene, complete with everyone racing to an invisible finish line. I can’t explain why, exactly, but it was visual perfection. So that’s why!

The shenanigans are brought to a screeching halt by the only real adult left out of the boys: Coach.  He sends the kids back inside and reprimands the men for… well, for NOT being men. And essentially being the worst chaperones ever. But ironically enough, Jess and Cece don’t need men to help them out with the dance. They need stupid boys. It’s a nice reminder that these girls love the guys for who they are and not because they always say and do the right things. They love them, not because they’re men, but because they ARE stupid boys. And to save the dance, the stupid boys start rapping and it’s hilarious and weird and awkward and essentially everything you would hope it would be.

But the episode ends with real music being played and the entire group dancing together, including Nick and Jess. Because you know what? Even after an episode apart and hijinks ensuing, I think that these two will keep coming back to each other because they genuinely could not exist without their friendship. Even though they have broken hearts that are still being mended, Nick and Jess recognize how vital their friendship with each other is and how much they can’t stay apart from one another for too long.

And I think that’s a pretty great big step in adulthood for both of them.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
  • This review officially mark my 200th post on the blog. TWO HUNDRED. That is crazy and I cannot say enough about how grateful I am for everyone who has ever read a post that I’ve written. You guys are the best. Truly, you are.
  • Schmidt’s one-sided hug was the actual best thing ever.
  • “If they wanna bang, they’re gonna have to bang through me. … Wait.”
  • “Where are you going?” “In life, nowhere. But I know I don’t want to be here.”
  • “Cece scares me sometimes.” “Just the tip of the iceberg, man.”
  • “Sticks and stones may break your bones… but not if you’re a fat kid with calcium deficiency.”
  • Winston dancing to “Call Me Maybe” is literally everything I have ever needed in life.
  • “Son of a… penis. Ah, that wasn’t better.”
  • “*hums* Banana in the dark.” Why was this one of the funniest lines? IT WAS.
  • “What do you awful women want?!”
  • “Upright dancing!” Cece was so underrated this episode and so fantastic.
  • “I’m like a Hebrew cheetah!”
  • “A dog would be better than you. A plant wearing underwear would be better than you. Ray Charles’ GHOST would be better than you.”
Next week is the season three finale of New Girl entitled “Cruise”! Prior to their break-up, Nick and Jess booked a cruise and are now taking the rest of the gang along with them. And since it is the season finale, you know that a curveball or two has to be thrown our way. Until then, folks, have a great weekend! :)


Post a Comment