Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New Girl 4x02 "Dice" (Friends Help Friends Do Stuff)

Original Airdate: September 23, 2014

Friends help friends do stuff.

Friends help friends move (my roommate and I have really awesome friends who have helped us move our entire two-bedroom apartment - twice - in less than three hours). Friends help friends when they get their hearts broken. Friends help friends when their cars break down. Friends help friends when something terrible or tragic happens. Friends just help friends -- it's that simple. I've been blessed in my life to have some pretty amazing friends. They've helped me through tragedies, encouraged me through half-marathons, and supported me even when I didn't know I needed their support. In "Dice," we are reminded that these crazy thirty-somethings are actually really good friends with each other, above all else. And they do silly, seemingly inconsequential things to help each other out. Because that's just what friends do. Friends show up at a party with you and try to bump up your credibility among your new police academy comrades. Friends help introduce you to the modern era dating world because they know you deserve to put yourself out there but are scared to do so.

I really liked "Dice" because it reminded us that no matter what has happened romantically between the group, no matter how much or little history there is, these people care about each other and want happiness for them. It doesn't mean that they always make the RIGHT decisions, but that's kind of what New Girl is about if you really think about it: a bunch of weirdos who are friends and who sometimes make bad decisions that also nearly always come from a good place. Technically, "Dice" worked for me because it eliminated a C-story, instead focusing just on the A-story of Schmidt/Jess (which was SO welcome and I truly hope we see more of them together in the future) and the B-story of Nick/Coach/Winston/Cece which was absurdly comedic and played to all of the actors' strengths who were in that story. This episode was written by Matt Fusfeld and Alex Cuthbertson who a) used to write for Community and b) wrote one of the best episodes last season ("Menus") and I think that they did a fantastic job. They always excel at making these characters hilarious in their flaws and so utterly lovable. They truly understand the group and individual dynamics which makes me happy. Great job, guys!

So, if you're ready, grab your phone and that adorable dog at the party, and let's talk about "Dice"!

The episode opens much like it opened occasionally in season one: with Schmidt ushering out another girl-of-the-night and Jess trying earnestly to get to know the one-night-stand before she departs. I love that this is STILL a character trait of Jess' that the New Girl writers return to and have returned to already this season. Jess is awkward. She's an optimist. She spends most of her time thinking about other people and sometimes she says the exact wrong things. But that's great because that is who she is. She's grown, as evidenced by the past few seasons, from someone who had her heart broken and was so awkward and desperate that she moved in with three strangers from Craigslist to someone who is the vice-principal of an elementary school because she stood up for and spoke for herself. At her core, Jessica Day is not just still awkward and weird and optimistic and selfless -- she's also scared of herself and of love.

Remember that season one opened with Jess getting her heart completely and utterly shattered by Spencer. As a result, I think she lost a lot of herself when the relationship ended and the entire first season consisted of her learning how to trust people and trust HERSELF again. She needed to gain confidence and find her voice, and with the help of Cece, Nick, Schmidt, and Winston, she was able to. But now, the reset button has been pressed and season four of the series finds Jess in a similar-but-slightly-different stage in her development: she's voluntarily lost love and... she's scared. She's scared that she will be rejected, scared that she will return to that lonely, broken woman she was after Spencer. And Jess is desperate for help, so she turns to Schmidt to give her advice (remember how Schmidt was her "Gandalf" in the pilot?) in the episode. Because even though Schmidt is sometimes selfish and a douchebag, he genuinely loves Jessica Day and wants to see her be happy (more on that one later). He just occasionally (see: always) thinks he knows better than she does and is cooler than she is.

Initially, Schmidt rejects the notion of helping Jess date through a Tinder-like app called "Dice," claiming she lacks instinct. What he really means is that Jess lacks what he does not: the ability to move through life and romantic partners quickly. Jess is weird and she likes to go slowly and take her time in relationships. Schmidt sees that as a character flaw, honestly. But Jess is nothing if not resilient, so Schmidt eventually agrees to teach his roommate all about dating in the modern era. I think, to be honest, Schmidt just likes hearing himself talk sometimes and that's why he agrees to do it.

Meanwhile, Winston explains to Nick, Coach, and Cece that he's having difficulty making friends at the police academy. I love that a) Winston is getting some real character development this season in terms of his cop arc, b) that everyone knows Winston is weird, and c) Winston continues to BE weird and walk the line between intelligence and absurdity much like Britta Perry in the later seasons of Community. The police academy story has given the New Girl actors some great ensemble material ("Bad News" being the stellar example) and "Dice" is no exception. It's great to see a show where characters are free to be weird, but still retain important friendships. It's even better because this episode focuses on the fact that the group knows Winston is awkward socially and occasionally they poke fun of him... but they're never mean-spirited or sabotaging about it. They genuinely care about Winston (this "genuine caring" idea is the thread that holds both A and B-stories together) and actually want to help him in any way they can. Cece gives Winston actual advice on how to befriend his cop classmates.

... But that doesn't stop the group from making some stupid and self-centered decisions, of course. Nick, Coach, and Cece decide that since Winston is becoming a cop, they should do something illegal before he becomes one just in case it is their last opportunity to do so. The group votes that they get stoned and if it seems like the story can only become more silly and weird from there, you'd be right. It IS absurd but it's the kind of absurdity that New Girl has always thrived on. This is the show that invented an entire drinking game, after all and featured an episode where Schmidt bought a lionfish.

When Jess calls Schmidt to give her a ride after she went to a guy's place after meeting him on Dice (he was creepy), Schmidt's resolve begins to crumble. Jess is too naive and too gullible and way too much of a deer-like creature to be navigating the waters of app dating without a seasoned guru. I think Schmidt feels bad for Jess -- bad in the way that you feel for one-eyed dogs on those Sarah McLachlan commercials -- and agrees to help Jess the following morning. I love the Schmidt/Jess story because it feels so reminiscent of their season one dynamic (think "The Story of the 50") with Jess being this eternally bubbly, occasionally awkward, naive woman who just wants to be liked by others and Schmidt playing the part of... well, himself. A lot of people criticized the characterization of Schmidt last season and though I did not hate his character, it was a part of his personality that I accepted. "Dice" returns us to seasons one and two Schmidt -- a guy who is hilarious and self-absorbed and yet who still wants to do good by his friends. That is the Schmidt/Jess dynamic that I love: him constantly being exasperated by her goodness and niceness.

Elsewhere, Nick and Coach and Cece are high when Winston invites them to a cop party so that they can talk him and his character up to the others. Winston Bishop always just wants to be included, you guys. He just wants other people to like him and he's super awkward when he tries too hard to do that. And he thinks his friends up his cool factor. Basically, everything about the B-story in "Dice" is true to who Nick, Cece, Coach, and Winston are (both while sober and not) and it walks the line between "way too absurd to be a B-plot" and "the actual perfect B-plot." The group arrives at the cop party and most of them are stoned which then makes them realize... they're stoned. And around cops. Whoops. The rest of the episode features Coach, Cece, and Nick hilariously trying to avoid getting caught in their inebriated states.

Back at the bar, Schmidt reveals to Jess that he's set up ten dates for her that afternoon. The woman is rightfully horrified as she doesn't feel ready for ONE date, let alone ten. But Schmidt believes in her and believes in his coaching skills. But mostly, I think he just wants to see Jess try because he knows her potential better than she knows her own. And that's extremely endearing, especially in light of what happens later in the episode. Schmidt doesn't throw Jess into the dating world because he wants to see her flail and drown -- he throws her in because he knows she can do it. And if she can't, he'll be right there with her, keeping her afloat... with lies. That's what Schmidt suggests to do when the date isn't going well: excuse yourself from the situation with an elaborate twist on a generic story. You see, Jessica Day is too nice. She's too nice to tell Outside Dave to move off her car, too nice to tell her co-workers what to do, too nice to get out of a date. Jess is NICE. And Schmidt teaches her that sometimes she can't be: sometimes she has to be abrupt and rude and leave a date when it is going nowhere because otherwise, she will waste her time and miss out on something potentially awesome.

At the party, we learn one thing of importance. Well, two if you count the fact that Winston really like Charlotte's Web: Cece feels lost. She's working as a bartender while still doing modeling, but she has no idea what she wants to do with her life or who she wants to be. In an episode where she gets high because she's an adult and she feels like she can, it's also important that these moments (one at the end with Coach and Nick) are interjected. Even though it's a silly, fun, weird B-story, it's still important because it provides us with some character growth (or at least a character questioning her future). And I do have to wonder if Cece mentioning her and Shivrang's wedding invitation in the premiere sparked this miniature existential crisis. Either way, the Cece moments of the B-story were great because I feel like, and hope, they're setting her up for some genuine self-discovery this year. Plus, she talked to an adorable dog in this episode, so.

Schmidt coaches Jess on how to reject guys she's not interested in by writing down exit strategies on a card. She's concerned about this because she's such a nice person, as she tells Schmidt -- a person who thinks about others constantly. When the man asks how she gets anything done in her life when she's constantly thinking about others, Jess admits that it's difficult. This is such a great moment because it demonstrates the fact that empathy can, in fact, be a negative thing in a person's life when it means neglecting taking care of or thinking about yourself in favor of thinking about others all the time. And then, there is this beautiful moment between Schmidt and Jess where he tells her that "[she] is the prize" in these dates -- those guys are lucky to be on a date with HER. Here's why I loved that moment, in a nutshell: from the very beginning of the series, Nick and Jess have always had a romantic connection but Jess has never had that with Schmidt or Winston. Her friendship with them has been a bit more uneven because of that, honestly. Nick was the first person in the pilot episode to run to Jess when she got stood up; Schmidt was the last. Nick was always on Jess' side even when he didn't realize it; Schmidt was the one who needed to be convinced that this girl -- this weird, singing, awkward girl -- was worth having in their lives. Over the years, I've loved watching Nick and Jess grow closer, obviously, but what I've really enjoyed is watching moments like this between Schmidt and Jess or stories between Coach and Jess. There are no romantic undertones there. And though there is nothing WRONG with the Nick/Jess romance, their relationship was always rooted in (and will always be rooted in) that palpable romantic tension.

Schmidt and Jess have always had a different relationship, though. They've always tolerated each other but never really UNDERSTOOD each other. And the beauty of this moment in "Dice" was that it reminded us of how much Schmidt is on Jess' team, not because he wants something from her, not because he feels anything romantically for her, but simply because he is FOR her. He's on her side and that was so beautiful to see in Schmidt. This is the character who has evolved from reluctantly running toward the restaurant in the pilot to voluntarily staying by her side as she embarks on dates because he knows that is what she needs. How beautiful is that?

On her ideal Dice date, Jess meets a guy and applies everything Schmidt has taught her... which backfires when she accuses the guy of trying to take her home. Jess and Schmidt have a heart to heart, then, when the woman explains that the reason she is dating is to find love. And perhaps that is the reason she's so scared of trying again -- she's scared to fall in love again, not necessarily to date. Jess is a romantic; we learned in her relationship with Nick that she likes to plan her future and her kids and her husband and wants to meet someone who will fit right into that picture like a puzzle piece. Schmidt, on the other hand, is consumed with one-night-stands because I think a part of him believes that's all he'll ever be good for. He ruined his relationship with Cece. He ruined his relationship with Elizabeth. And maybe this Schmidt -- this guy who dates on Dice -- is where he is in life because that's where he is most comfortable and safe. It's a place where he cannot get hurt or hurt others.

But Jess and Schmidt cannot help but rub off on each other -- she makes him think about the possibility of opening himself up to love again; he reminds her that sometimes it's okay to think about yourself first. I love that about them, really and I love that this episode explored their dynamic as friends and roommates.

I really loved "Dice" because it reminded us that friends support each other, no matter how silly or integral the cause. At the end of the day, New Girl is about six people who have their own quirks and are navigating life together. What could be better than that kind of friendship?

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:

  • "You are JUST describing e-mail."
  • "... Hey Winston Bishop."
  • "If pot were a piano, Nick would be a nine-year old Chinese girl."
  • "I haven't gotten a non-text message in two years."
  • Jaime pointed out to me that the loft has a chore chart on the fridge and I think that is the cutest thing ever.
  • The sound gag last week with the tap shoes was great, and the sound gag this week of the Taboo buzzer was hilarious as well.
  • Winston's wardrobe this episode was HILARIOUS. Does he really own a bird-print shirt?
  • "I just thought of every single possibility of what could happen at that party and none of them are bad."
  • "We gotta go! Ma called: the bees are back!" "THE BEES ARE BACK!"
  • "You have so much hair. Where did all that hair come from? You're like a lioness."
  • Hannah Simone's delivery of "...... over there is better" was HILARIOUS.
  • "I'm the pie!"
  • Coach and Cece hugging and humming "Pomp and Circumstance" was AMAZING. And the resolution of the B-story was pretty great (Winston knows the gang is high and gets the cops to pretend to bust them, effectively terrifying Coach, Nick, and Cece and making Winston a part of the team. D'aww.)
  • "Flush flush, what's the rush?"
Thank you guys for reading this review. I'll see you back here next week! :)


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