Wednesday, November 26, 2014

New Girl 4x09 "Thanksgiving IV" (Uninhibited for the Holidays)

"Thanksgiving IV"
Original Airdate: November 25, 2014

My friends -- my really good friends -- are the kind of people who will do just about anything to protect you and make you happy if you're a part of their circle. I love them for that. I love that we have holiday parties and three-hour deep conversations about life and occasionally do things like hang out on New Year's Eve and make goofy videos while watching 90's cartoons. I love my friends because I know them and they know me so well that when I'm having a rough day, they know how to best approach me. When I'm struggling to make a decision, they know why and they know exactly what to say in order to help. But even my best friends get it wrong sometimes. In "Thanksgiving IV," Schmidt gets it wrong. He thinks that what everyone in the loft needs to find a bed buddy in order to be happy (and be happy for the holidays). His intentions are great, honestly. Occasionally Schmidt can act like a lovable, self-centered douchebag, but in this episode, he honestly just wants everyone in the loft to have a good and happy holiday and the best way to do so is to find each friend a partner that they are compatible with.

New Girl holiday episodes have always been heavy on the shenanigans and have typically introduced outsiders into the group's dynamic (Paul, Jess's parents, etc.). This is always especially welcome and hilarious because it reminds us that these six individuals are weird. Like, really weird. Like, collectively-adjourn-to-the-roof-and-leave-their-dates-awkwardly-downstairs weird. And while this series has been quick to remind us that Jess is awkward when she tries to be sexy and that Winston is awkward with small talk and Coach is insecure and Nick and Schmidt are just awkward sometimes, it has been even quicker to remind us that they are also real people who want to find happiness and are having a difficult time doing so because life has a way of messing with your best laid plans.

"Thanksgiving IV" was a stellar episode written by Dave Feeney (who also penned "Coach" as well as "Prince" with Rob Rosell) because it was New Girl at its best: a show about a weird group of friends trying to find  happiness with other people and encouraging each other to do so while encountering obstacles along the way. The final montage in the episode may be one of the best the show has ever done (though I am really partial to the dance montage at the end of "See Ya," too) and more than just garnering a lot of laughter from me, this holiday episode drove home some pretty stellar heart between -- you guessed it -- the heart of the show: Nick and Jess.

Let's talk about turkeys and Bangsgiving (which sounds like something Barney Stinson would have penned, right?) below the cut, shall we?

Remember at the beginning of this season when the gang attended the last wedding of the summer together? Schmidt required them all to make a pact -- they would try to score one last time at the wedding before winter began to settle into their lives. And the man reminds his friends of this fact once again in "Thanksgiving IV" when he proposes a theme for their holiday: "Bangsgiving." Schmidt does a lot in this episode to try and secure his own happiness. He's a bit selfish when it comes to gloating about inviting a woman to the dinner that Nick briefly dated. And yes, occasionally (as Schmidt is want to do) in the episode, he goes a bit overboard. But the conversation on the rooftop between the loft and Cece later in the episode really illuminates the fact that Schmidt cares about everyone's happiness, not just his own. He wants them all to make "Bangsgiving" work. Everything from the naming to the confrontation about the failed dates harkens shades of Barney Stinson, but there's something about "Thanksgiving IV" that is so positively New Girl that I hesitate to compare it to a series I once adored.

I'm rushing ahead of myself, however, so let's talk about how the gang winds up with an apartment full of dates, shall we? Schmidt's plan for "Bangsgiving" is for everyone to draw a name out of a hat. Their duty is to bring a date for that person to Thanksgiving. Everyone makes fun of Schmidt, as they often do, for his over-the-top plans and shenanigans. This is the dude who threw a "tinfinity" celebration to mark ten years living with Nick Miller, after all. But once Schmidt becomes more insistent that "Bangsgiving" become a thing, the group obliges his request and each person draws a name from the hat.

At the Thanksgiving soiree, everyone is mingling with their dates. Winston's date is named Pearl and she's a lunch lady (Jess brought Pearl for Winston). Let me just pause here for a moment, because I won't get the chance to talk about it much later on, but the Winston/Pearl story was actually really cute. Winston hesitates to get close to her because she's attractive AND a lunch lady and that's just a bit weird for him. So he babbles to her, like he usually does and expects her to run away in fear or back away slowly (which women usually do whenever Winston gets a bit odd), but she doesn't. Winston actually finds someone who thinks his weirdness is endearing, not off-putting and though they don't sleep together at the end of the episode, Winston finds someone he can have fun with. I think that's what he needs in his life at the moment, really: a person who just understands him and doesn't judge him or expect something out of him.

Funnily enough, every date who attends "Bangsgiving" is just what each of the loft members need. Nick hilariously draws his own name, which leads him to invite Tran and incites anger from Schmidt, who wanted everyone to take his personal holiday seriously. But Tran is exactly what Nick needs -- he's always provided a source of comfort and wisdom for the man and, let's be honest, Nick is just trying to keep afloat at this part in the season. Cece has a great observation about him toward the episode's end (I'll talk about that in a bit), but at this point in the show, Nick is trying to figure out who he is as a person and who he is back in the dating world. Tran makes him feel comfortable. Tran makes him feel confident. Tran makes him feel like he actually knows what he is doing in life. Tran is Nick's security blanket and we see that pretty clearly throughout the episode.

Coach's date was picked out by Winston and is a woman from his police academy training who is rather buff. This is terrifying to Coach and also a tad off-putting to him. He likes to think of himself as strong and capable and the best at all he does. He literally defines himself by sports (his real name isn't Coach, remember). So when Coach meets this woman (apologies, as I've forgotten her name), he's intimidated and insecure. But this is actually exactly what Coach needs. This date reminds him that he's competitive -- you don't realize how competitive you are until you meet someone who possesses the same level or greater strength than you. But by the episode's end, Coach and his date end up actually enjoying each others' company. They pause long enough to laugh and do push-ups together and arm wrestle. And that is exactly the kind of person that Coach needs in his life. He needs someone who challenges him, who humbles him, and who reminds him that life isn't always a competition. Sometimes you can just enjoy it. He also needs someone who will surprise him and shatter his preconceived judgments. Because Coach does spend a lot of time in the episode unhappy with his date because of his judgments and insecurities. Only when he sets those aside is he able to have a good time.

Schmidt draws Cece's name and Cece draws Schmidt's, of course. Schmidt claims that he invited a guy named Geoff for Cece, which she doesn't believe. Meanwhile, Schmidt's date for the evening is a young woman named Lucy who Nick used to date. This irritates Nick, who cites a code of honor that Schmidt needs to adhere to. And if you think it's a bit odd that Nick gets so upset over a woman who -- Schmidt accurately points out -- he dated for about two months, you would be in good company. I thought it was odd, too, that he got so defensive about it. I thought it odd that he wanted to make Schmidt jealous by pretending to hit on Cece. But then I thought about it and I thought about  Nick's journey this season and how it's centered on this lack of control. Nick feels out of control in his own life. He's just sort of coasting through and it's heartbreaking to watch episodes like "Landline," where Nick desperately just wants to connect with someone -- ANYONE -- and feel what he had with Jess again. The problem, of course, is that Nick is chasing after all of the wrong types of women.

After Nick pretends to flirt with Cece and Schmidt confronts him, knowing full well that Nick isn't ACTUALLY pursuing anything with her -- Cece pinpoints the reason that Nick has been feeling terrible lately; the reason he latched onto a reason, any reason, to be mad at Schmidt. She notes that all of the women Nick has hooked up with since Jess have been... well, not quality women. And the fact of the matter is that these women are like candy corn: they make Nick feel good for a little while -- they boost his ego and give him momentary confidence, but then he feels terrible about himself afterward. Nick and Jess both know that what they had with each other was special and in "Thanksgiving IV," we get to experience BOTH of them express their fears about relationships.

Nick and Jess have always been the heart of the series. The focus, of course, has always been on the group's dynamic as a whole and I love that we're returning to more of that in this season. "Thanksgiving IV" was essentially just one A-story with a lot of moving parts. Every character in this show is better when they're with someone else who forces them to BE better, quite frankly, and this holiday episode explored that. It also explored the fact that these characters know one another so well that they know what each person needs. It may seem random, the choices of partners that the group selects for each other in the episode, but it's not random. At all. Every person selects someone for their friend who fills a void. That's why Coach brings Ryan to the dinner for Jess. He knows that she really cares about him. He knows that Ryan really cares about her. And he just wants Jess and Ryan to be happy with each other.

But Nick knows why Jess is afraid and it has nothing to do with breaking the rules, really, which is the excuse she gives to the entire group over and over. (As an aside, everyone on the roof raises their hands and thinks Jess should sleep with Ryan but conveniently the camera doesn't show Nick's response.) Jess is a rule-follower because rules mean safety and comfort and they symbolize a lack of difficult decisions. Jess can claim that the reason she's not pursuing Ryan is because she's his superior and it's not allowed; she respects rules too much. She can justify her decision that way. It's a lot more difficult, then, for Jess to justify a decision to not pursue Ryan -- this beautiful, sweet, amazing guy -- if there are no rules set in place. The rule, the very thing that Jess is lamenting, is actually a source of comfort for her. Because the truth is that she doesn't want to think about a relationship with Ryan. She uses the rule as an excuse because she's terrified.

So in "Thanksgiving IV," when Jess decides to pursue Ryan for "one good bang" to get out of her system, the man is affronted. He doesn't want to just sleep with her to get over her. (And neither does Jess, really, she's just detaching from her feelings because it's easier than the alternative: pursuing them and getting hurt again.) So he leaves the party, saddened and a bit disgusted that Jess cares so little for him that she sees him as a momentary conquest when he sees her as the future. Both dejected after their failed "Bangsgiving," Nick and Jess head to the roof and have a beautiful heart-to-heart.

Lest we forget, Nick KNOWS Jess. He's always known her so completely and utterly well. She seeks him out for advice in "The 23rd." She asks for his opinion in "Halloween." Like, can we just all acknowledge the fact that Nick and Jess constantly pursue discussion with each other in regards to their relationships with other people? So when Jess and Nick begin to talk, they talk about their fears in future relationships. They're both admittedly terrified to start something with another person because of what happened to them. I still don't think they're fully recovered from that relationship, honestly. They live together and exist together but there's a part of each of their hearts that is damaged, still, and maybe that will never heal. Nick and Jess really loved each other and it's scary because now they're having to love WITHOUT each other. Jess has already had two great loves in her life (Spencer and Nick) end, and what if that happens with Ryan?

But, as I said, Nick knows Jess. So when she claims that her hesitation to pursue something is because she's a rule-follower (citing her reaction to Ferris Bueller's Day Off), Nick knows she's lying. He knows that she's afraid. He knows it because HE is afraid, too. Cece's words ring in his mind on that rooftop and he realizes that in order for both of them to move forward, they need to be okay with possibly getting hurt again. I don't think Nick and Jess would have traded their relationship for all of the marbles in the world. And I think that it's this realization that allows Nick to encourage Jess; he's reminded that love is scary but that his love with Jess was worth it and they need to take risks in finding other people who make them happy, too.

That's exactly what Jess needed -- a talk with her best friend and the person who knows her and her heart better than anyone in the world -- in order to confront Ryan at his house and explain exactly what she wants. The interesting thing is that Jess is the only person (presumably, even though it's implied with Coach) who really gets a "Bangsgiving." Because that's exactly what she needed. The episode ends with a delightful montage of everyone getting exactly what they needed: Winston and Pearl being goofy together, Coach and his date hanging out, Nick meeting Tran's granddaughter and getting to know her, Ryan and Jess watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off in bed together, and then Schmidt and Cece.

I've saved them for last, because I think their story has been really well-executed recently. When Geoff shows up really late to the party -- because he hit a peacock on the road and watched it die in his arms -- Cece has a choice to make: she can pursue him or she can spend time with Schmidt. Cece chooses the latter and the Schmidt/Cece portion of the montage is them playing a board game together that Tran left in the apartment. It's such a wonderful and touching scene because Schmidt was the one who suggested they all needed to find someone to hook up with before winter. And in the end, we find that what he needs most isn't a bed buddy: it's a friend, a companion, and a night of laughter with her, nothing more. Schmidt mocks the idea of playing a board game during "Bangsgiving" when Nick brings it up at the beginning of the episode, but we find that's exactly what he DOES need. He and Cece both need each other and they need to be silly together and they need to get to know each other again as friends if anything more than that will ever happen.

"Thanksgiving IV" was more about turkey and beer: it was about the idea that sometimes you don't know what's best for you or what you really need. But thank God we have friends who do, right?

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • "You look like Jewish Pharrell."
  • "Remember last Thanksgiving when I almost died?" CALLBACK TO "THANKSGIVING III." That made me so happy.
  • "Your rule sounds a little kidnappy."
  • "I don't think I can even look at him without getting pregnant."
  • I would really like to keep Julian Morris around forever on this show. Make it happen, Liz. Or figure out how to clone him quickly.
  • Nick falling off the treadmill in the flashback made me laugh so hard that I actually cackled.
  • The gag with Jess's dress and the buttons coming undone was hilarious and also really well-acted physically by Zooey. Actually, all of Zooey's physical comedy in this episode was extremely on point and genuinely funny.
  • "If we don't go back soon, they're gonna get spooked."
  • "One: really? Two: what?" #gpoy
  • Nick flirting with Cece was hilarious and I could have watched that for another half an hour.
  • "... You're BARELY fighting."
  • Nick quoting Ferris Bueller was one of the best parts of this entire episode. And he delivered it so sincerely, too.
  • Jess ate the entire pie before she got to Ryan's house and I love her more now for it.
  • Did I mention how much I loved the final montage? I loved it.
Thank you all for reading the review! Happy Thanksgiving and I will see you all back here next week. :)


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