Wednesday, September 17, 2014

New Girl 4x01 "The Last Wedding" (Getting Back In The Game)


"The Last Wedding"
Original Airdate: September 16, 2014

Were you ever told as a child or, perhaps, an adult that in order to win people over all you had to do was “be yourself”? I’ve always found this to be interesting and in light of New Girl’s season four premiere, I think it’s even more intriguing. Following your heart and being yourself is all well and good… as long as you know who you are. But what happens when you’re exhausted from a summer packed full of weddings and still getting over the demise of your relationship? Do you like who you are after that? Moreover, do you even know WHO you are anymore, when you separate yourself from those things and the dust finally settles? What happens is this: you throw everything you are and everything you have into a singular project and then you strive for success. But frequently, there are obstacles and sometimes you fail. What Jess Day learns in “The Last Wedding” is that the whole clich├ęd idea of “putting yourself out there” isn’t for that other person you’re trying to woo – it’s really for YOU. And, ironically, the person who teaches her this lesson is the person whose mouth she last kissed four months ago. (More on that later.) Elsewhere in the episode, everyone is struggling with the end of summer and strives to make the last wedding of the year really count for them, especially romantically. The theme of identity is going to be one that New Girl focuses a lot on this season, I can tell already, because “The Last Wedding” seems to beg the question: “Who ARE these people now?”

Who are these crazy, weird, occasionally raunchy, sometimes childish 30-something year old friends now that they are all single again? When Liz Meriwether was interviewed about season four, she noted – astutely – that some things had gone awry in season three. I don’t think that season three of New Girl was horrible. I don’t even think it was BAD, necessarily. I think that the show was so ambitious in season two with considerable payoff that they wrote themselves into a bit of a corner. How could they ever possibly top the perfection of episodes like “Cooler” and “Menzies” and “Parking Spot” and “First Date”? Ironically, I think they doomed themselves because of that near-perfection – because audiences expected too much from a show that is still made by humans. But what I truly admired about Meriwether as a showrunner was that she admitted to those flaws. Where a lot of showrunners would have become brash and defensive or else skittish and cowardly, Meriwether noted that both she and the writers had failed to do everything well. She expressed regret over Schmidt’s characterization and a desire to move back toward the season one dynamics of the series come season four. While some worried that Meriwether meant regression, I took the statement for what it was: an acknowledgement that the heart of the show has been and always will be Nick/Jess but that the SOUL of the show and its origin story is the loft.

New Girl started out as a story about the dynamic between an intensely optimistic girl and three very different men. It’s always been this story, really: what happens when you live with people who are vastly different from you? Can you ever understand each other? Can you ever LIKE each other? And if you can… HOW? How do you form those relationships and how do you grow as a person when it seems like you already should be a grown-up? The beauty of the show is that everyone is messed up. Every character is still trying to figure out who they are, what they want, and how to get there. And though there is character progression and bursts of that “grown-up” attitude, I think these are characters who are still deeply flawed, deeply lovable, and deeply scared. They’re trying to navigate the mess that they call life, but the beauty is that they don’t do it alone: the show is always at its best when it focuses on relationships and togetherness.

So, as we spring into season four, we look toward season three with appreciation and remembrance because it led us here, to the final wedding of the summer, where all of the loft crew is trying to score. Oh, and Jessica Biel shows up, too.

Our episode opens with the gang preparing for the final wedding of the summer (apparently this is number twelve in a row), and it finds Jess exhausted at the prospect of attending and even more at the thought of putting herself out there and finding someone to hook up with. Schmidt is the encouraging one, which is very reminiscent of season one Schmidt as he tells her that she has been holding back from everything in the romance department since her break-up with Nick over four months ago. It’s a subtle wink and a nod to the pilot episode, where Schmidt was the one encouraging Jess to go and find a rebound. The entire episode was a wink and a nod, really, to the dynamic that the loft crew had with one another in the freshman season of the show. And I, for one, loved it. Because beneath all of the empty beer cans from True American and in spite of the swoon-worthy-ness of Nick/Jess, this is a show that is about the dynamic and friendship between these six crazy individuals. And returning to that dynamic – returning to that place of shenanigan-filled encouragement and love – is wonderful.

So the group decides to make a pact – no one is returning home alone that night from the wedding. It’s the last wedding of the summer, as Schmidt reminds everyone, and that means they all need to score a final time before winter sets in. Throughout the episode, Schmidt was delightful, weird, and almost entirely the same person we fell in love with during season one – you remember, that guy who had a Douchebag Jar, wore driving moccasins, and owned a ton of cardigans. I say “almost” because I do believe that Schmidt has grown. The mistakes he made last year and the way he lashed out at those around him really did seem to make a difference; he’s learned that he can’t be the same person he was when he first started dating Cece and he certainly cannot be the person who cheated on her anymore. So this begs the question: who will season four Schmidt BE? If the premiere is any indication, he’ll be a delightfully well-meaning, occasionally offensive, borderline weird man who is trying to figure out how to get what he wants out of life without hurting the people around him anymore. That is a Schmidt I can get on board with.

The entire gang is really encouraging to a nervous Jess as they tell her to pursue the best man at the wedding (I love how they all want her to put herself back out into the dating world again), but she agrees and greets Cece before heading toward the best man himself. The appearance of Cece at the wedding sparks something in Schmidt… something that Nick takes notice of. Can I just pause to say how grateful I am that “The Last Wedding” focused a lot on Nick and Schmidt’s dynamic and friendship? Yes, most of it was raunchy as the entire storyline focused on Schmidt trying to convince Nick to agree to a four-way with two attractive bridesmaids. But the heart of the story was one that we’ve seen exemplified in episodes like “Tinfinity” and “Bells” – Nick and Schmidt take care of each other. It often seems like Schmidt is the more capable one because he makes more money and hires plumbers instead of fixing things himself. But the truth is that NICK is more capable than Schmidt believes and he often takes care of his best friend. Their relationship is pretty wonderful, actually, and it’s an extremely integral pillar of the show. This episode reminds us that Nick is the kind of friend who will tell Schmidt what needs to be said and not what Schmidt necessarily wants to hear. They are the friends who will yell and scream at each other, insult each other, and also have really good heart-to-hearts. I love their dynamic and I’m so happy that “The Last Wedding” was an episode that focused on how honest and good Nick Miller can be as a friend.

Nick tells Schmidt that the latter needs to stop pining over Cece because it makes him weird and that’s unhealthy. So Nick vows to be a good friend to help Schmidt score with a lady which leads the two of them into one of the most awkward and hilarious New Girl stories to date. At the bar, Jess is chatting up the best man – Ted – when another woman swoops in who looks oddly like Mary Camden from 7th Heaven. Kat, the brilliant and beautiful scientist, decides that SHE wants to go home with Ted and will therefore be competing against Jess for his affections. Oh, and she will win.

The season premiere finds Jess in a somewhat familiar situation – in season one, she emerged from a break-up, socially awkward and afraid of love because she was afraid of being hurt. What’s wonderful about how Jess was developed is this: she’s fundamentally the same character. She has the same fallbacks (weird voices and awkwardness) and the same insecurities (putting herself out there for other people; being rejected). Kat reignites that fear within Jess that she won’t be enough for someone and that she is destined to be the “other” girl – the awkward reject who is forced to watch the Kats of the world swoop in and claim everything she wants. But what Jess has this season that she didn’t have at the beginning of season one is this: a group of friends who love and care about and support her even at her craziest.

And they DO support her by trying to give her advice on how to beat Kat and win over the best man. All of their good intentions fail when they remember how awkward Jess actually is, and it’s Winston who delivers the best (and worst) advice: Jess just needs to be wherever Ted is throughout the night so she can keep tabs on what Kat is up to. (If it sounds an awful lot like stalking, it’s basically because Winston Bishop – soon-to-be-cop IS suggesting that, hilariously.) Meanwhile, no one else in the group is having much luck in the romance department: Coach unfortunately has hooked up with every single woman at the wedding and when the two attractive bridesmaids make their proposition to Nick and Schmidt, the former literally runs away from the conversation in horror. (As an aside, the gag of Nick’s tap shoes throughout the episode was never more hilarious than in that moment as well as later on during a scene with Winston and Schmidt.)

“The Last Wedding” is a great episode because the characters are doing what they do best – support one another – in the way that only they know how to: by being extremely weird and awkward. Cece and Winston cheer Jess on as she dances next to Ted, while Nick agrees to the four-way with Schmidt because – and only because – he feels a sense of sadness for his friend whenever Cece is mentioned. Nick knows what the relationship did to Schmidt and I don’t know… in a way, I think he almost feels a sense of residual guilt from it, so he does whatever he can in order to help his best friend. Unfortunately for Schmidt, Winston explains how extremely awkward it would be for them both and Nick flees the conversation because that is just what he does whenever he is uncomfortable. Jess is striking out with Ted and Kat manages to lock her into the men’s bathroom with the best man, causing Jess to do what SHE does whenever she becomes uncomfortable: hide.

It was so great to see these characters again because it really does feel like we’re returning home, to familiar faces. We KNOW who these people are. We know their habits and their hang-ups. We know what makes them laugh and cry. And we know their defense mechanisms. So it’s unsurprising that the two people who know each other best in the show would find themselves in a conversation on the toilet in the men’s room that was strangely reminiscent of “Wedding.” Note that in THAT episode, it was Jess who encroached on Nick’s territory and told him what he needed to hear: that he could spend all of his life in a photobooth mourning the loss of his relationship with Caroline OR he could move on. In “The Last Wedding,” Jess doubts herself. She wonders whether she will ever get married, whether she can ever put herself back into the dating world or if she is just destined for a life hiding away from people and from love.

Nick Miller – beautiful white man that he is – does what he ALWAYS does: he encourages Jess. She’s “the kind of girl a guy would come back for,” remember? He believes in her (“Menzies”), he knows that she deserves the best things in life, he will apologize to her for something he doesn’t even know yet (“Katie”), and he loves her. Above all else, Nick Miller will always love and care about and support Jess. And she will always love and care about and support HIM. That is just a constant feature in the show, like the opening credits or Jess’ bangs. And whether or not these two are romantically involved, they’ll always share a connection stronger than most. But more importantly: they’ll always be there for each other. Sometimes love means being honest and sometimes it means doing things you don’t want to do so that you won’t have to see the other person hurting (like Nick agreeing to that four-way after he realizes that Cece is single and he HAS to do it or else Schmidt will spiral and Nick cannot bear to see that happen… and then Schmidt refusing because of Nick’s hoof hands).

With everyone but Jess striking out of the last wedding game, it’s all on the brunette’s shoulders as she puts herself out there totally and completely to Ted. She stops trying to pretend that she is put-together, seductive, and as intellectual and ruthless as Kat. She approaches him as Jessica Day: flawed, broken middle school vice principal whose first crush was on a Batman cake. And it seems like Jess is about to be successful until Kat butts in. When it’s clear that Ted cannot make a decision – any sort of decision regarding choosing between Kat and Jess, the women realize that they’re probably better off without him. Kat goes home with the pastor and Jess goes home seemingly alone… but that isn’t the case.

No, Jess goes home surrounded by her crazy, wonderful friends. They spend the evening tearing wedding invitations from the fridge and tossing them into the garbage together because that’s what they do and that is who they are. But you know what I think Jess learned in “The Last Wedding” I think she learned that when you have friends as weird and encouraging as hers, sometimes the push itself is really the lesson.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • This episode was penned by J.J. Philbin and it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that she is one of my favorite New Girl writers. She did a fabulous job by blending the stories and characters together, giving the episode a touch of heart and a LOT of laughs. Brava, lady!
  • “God, I hate that you knit.”
  • I really love Jess’ dress in this episode!
  • “… I feel like there’s one more of us.”
  • “She looked like the snowman from Frozen.”
  • “From a purely biological standpoint, you’re shorter, weaker, and dumber. No offense. I love your shoes!” Girls do this. We really and truly do.
  • “Do guys still like an Oakland face with an L.A. booty?”
  • “Bang Bang” has become my summer running JAM so I’m thrilled it was in the episode.
  • “They’re all either married or taken or mad at Coach.”
  • “You have no idea what you just did to me! You have no idea, young lady.”
  • “Don’t just keep saying ‘interesting.’ Say WHY it’s interesting.”
  • “Just be yourself. And if he’s not into Jessica Day, then there’s something wrong with HIM.”
WELCOME BACK, NEW GIRL FRIENDS! I’m so excited that season four is off with a bang and I can’t wait to review next week’s episode. Until then. :)

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