Thursday, April 21, 2016

New Girl 5x15/5x16 Review: "Jeff Day" & "Helmet" (An Ode to Big Romantic Gestures... and Pranks)


“Jeff Day” & “Helmet”
Original Airdate: April 19, 2016

There’s a Tumblr post that I recently saw floating around that referenced theories from fandoms, and how often they are quickly debunked by people like me because we believe the writers aren’t smart enough to do what we believe they’re doing. But occasionally, writers of television and movies ARE smart — they plan in advance and they meticulously pepper references and foreshadowing, so by the time we reach the season finale, we are a little impressed by the way they constructed their narrative. So is the case with this season of New Girl, a season which I have no doubt is beginning to pepper in ways to reconstruct the Nick/Jess relationship for good.

This week, the show aired back-to-back new episodes: “Jeff Day” and “Helmet.” I felt solidly “meh” about one and loved the other, so instead of writing two separate reviews, I’m going to tie them together and discuss how each episode served as a little stepping stone for Nick/Jess, and how the show’s reintroduction of Sam is paving the way to character growth for our favorite former couple. Meanwhile, this episode also featured some really great Winston moments, so I’ll discuss those too.


“JEFF DAY”


The reason I didn’t care too much for this episode is two-fold: Winston’s pranks serve well as a C-plot, or at least as a bridge between the A-plot and the B-plot. And while the ending of the episode was hilarious, with Jess and Nick discovering that Winston got married (more on that momentarily), the rest of the episode felt decidedly disjointed, and I think that isolating Nick and Jess into their own storyline without the rest of the group is exactly what caused the season three problems to begin with. I’ve said it numerous times and will say it numerous more — the problem with New Girl’s third season was not in its decision to put Nick and Jess together romantically. The problem was that in putting Nick and Jess together romantically, the writers isolated them from the rest of the stories in the loft. The couple casually drifted in and out, without interacting much with Coach or Cece or Schmidt or Nick.

The same thing happened in “Jeff Day” — Jess is intent on buying a new (see: new-used) vehicle, but because car dealerships are decidedly misogynistic, she creates a fake male alter ego named “Jeff Day” and uses his information in order to purchase her vehicle online. Unfortunately for Jess, she has to go to the dealership to sign the paperwork. (Plot or logic hole here: she would never have been able to buy a car without using her actual information in order to do so. Like, you can’t use a fake name and then expect to sign a lease for a car in a totally different name. How did she make it that far in the process without entering any real information?! Inquiring minds need to know!)

So Jess has an issue when she realizes she needs to go to the car dealership and the dealer is expecting a man. Since Nick is the only person around (with Sam at work), she ropes him into her plan and Nick is all-too-eager to don his Julius Pepperwood mustache again and help. But the point of the Nick/Jess/Sam story in “Jeff Day” is this — Jess will not cut either man out of her life willingly. She will not stop speaking to Nick, and she will not break up with Sam. Both men have to exist in her life, and it’s their job to determine a way that they can do that without constantly putting her in between them.

At the end of the episode, Nick and Sam agree to continue their mutual hatred of one another, but only when Jess is not around. So they whisper insults to one another under their breaths, and Nick vows for his sons to hate Sam’s sons in the future. It’s funny in a “we didn’t get to see Nick and Sam fight the first time around” way and mildly satisfying, but this storyline was ultimately lacking in laughter because of the sheer isolation of it. Furthermore, this is the clich├ęd “Sam and Nick Hate Each Other and Shenanigans Ensue” episode that most sitcoms have whenever ex-beaus meet current beaus. While the content was not necessarily original, I’m glad that Jess was the person to call the shots in the end and take back her right to have relationships with both men.

For so long, Jess has just been the girl stuck in the middle of relationships or feuds, and this episode was the chance for her to make all of the decisions and earn the car that she wants because of her womanhood, not because a man had to help her in order to do it. She scared all three men in the vehicle during her test drive, and I think it’s nice for New Girl to remind us that Jessica Day still has that power every once in a while.

Elsewhere in the episode, Schmidt and Cece meet Rhonda, the new woman Winston is dating. Rhonda is a prankster, like Winston and — just like our cat-owning adorable cop — has the exact same prank “humor.” None of her pranks make any sort of sense, and her elaborately crafted backstory (see: lie) was understandably horrifying to Schmidt and Cece. Especially when Winston revealed he would be taking Rhonda to their wedding. Prank Sinatra made a reappearance in this episode and to be quite honest, I’m obsessed with the continuity that New Girl demonstrates in regards to its characters and their personalities. In the same episode where Nick retrieves an item from season two, Winston digs into his past and brings back horrible pranks. Rhonda is crazy, but what might be the craziest thing of all is that there are TWO people in the New Girl universe who operate the exact same way when it comes to pranks. Who knew that was possible?!

I liked this Winston story because it got the chance to see Lamorne Morris flex his prank-pulling comedy chops, which are always a hoot. But the episode ultimately fell flat in terms of the integration of Schmidt and Cece into the story. They simply existed throughout the episode to look horrified at Rhonda’s pranks and tell Winston to not invite her to the wedding. That being said, the final prank — where Rhonda and Winston get married in order to prank Schmidt and Cece — being the last prank for the Winston/Rhonda team for a while and having lasting consequences is pretty great. Rhonda ships out before Winston gets the chance to annul their marriage, so the fact that Winston is in a prank-marriage is pretty fantastic. Everyone’s reactions at the end of the episode were spot-on and wonderful.

Overall, “Jeff Day” was just an okay romp into pranks and shenanigans. But what really sold the hour-long New Girl block for me was...

   

“HELMET”


New Girl doesn’t ever want us to forget things that happened in its past. It brings up Winston’s pranks. It revives alter egos (Julius Pepperwood’s mustache), and it is fairly accurate in terms of continuity. So when Jess ends up having a romantic-style dream about Nick Miller, it seems only likely that this would turn into a shenanigan-filled episode slightly reminiscent of “Table 34.”

I said recently that the reintroduction of Sam struck me as really interesting. This isn’t the first time New Girl has brought back a past love interest of Jess’ (both Russell and Paul have made returns, as well as Jess’ not-really-love-interest Bearclaw), but it definitely feels like this is the most significant love interest to bring back to the show. Why? Simply because of the circumstances surrounding their break-up and the result of Sam’s departure. What I think is really important in New Girl reconstructing season two is that they’re doing so very slowly and very subtly. There are not extremely overt parallels to the pre-Nick/Jess kiss, but there are shades of the second season bubbling to the surface. In particular, Cece’s response to Jess’ admittance of her dream (“Noooooooo”) upon opening her bedroom door perfectly parallels her reaction to the Nick/Jess initial kiss (“Whaaaaaaaaaaaa–”), and Schmidt/Winston stories were generally at the forefront of season two as well.

So it appears that New Girl is slowly building season five to parallel season two — both seasons will end with Cece’s wedding, both seasons have featured Nick and Jess being separated with obstacles, both seasons have featured Sam, both seasons have fixated on character growth from Schmidt and Winston. (And both seasons involve Prank Sinatra, of course!) The question then is this: if New Girl is paralleling season two, are they also trying to parallel the Nick/Jess of it all?

Up until this point, my guesses have been strictly based on what I believe to be true of the show (and perhaps projecting what I want to be true of the show). But with “Helmet,” it’s almost impossible to say that the show is NOT building toward something between Nick and Jess again. Now, whether or not this means that the two will end season five in a place to try their relationship again at the beginning of the sixth season remains unforeseen. But I think it’s pretty telling that “Helmet” is — on the surface — an episode about hijinks, but is really an episode about how Nick and Jess feel toward one another.

The episode ends with Jess promising Sam that her relationship with Nick is not one of romance. This isn’t season two all over again, Jess essentially says... while recreating season two. Because in spite of the fact that Jess insists that there is nothing left within her that feels something romantic toward Nick, when Jess shows up at dinner to meet Sam’s parents, she’s still carrying – unbeknownst to her — a small piece of helmet on her dress. Now, that could mean absolutely nothing and I’m probably reading into this way too much but it appears that this scene is an indication that Jess is carrying Nick with her, whether she consciously realizes it or not. He’s that piece of helmet.

And let’s talk about the helmet, shall we? Nick is often presented in New Girl as this totally aloof, completely irresponsible person who believes that dragons are a part of ancient history (I don’t think that Jess has room to talk since at the end of “Double Date,” she and Nick both admitted that they think horses are from outer space. Actually, just go back and watch that scene because their confessions are perfect.), he’s also the most loving and sentimental person in the loft. Nick gave Jess a gift when they were dating that seemed completely and totally absurd — it was a Chicago Bears helmet and instead of valuing it, Jess throws extra change into it. She couldn’t see the gift’s value because from the outside, it looked rather pointless. If this isn’t a perfect parallelism to the way that Jess (and we, as the audience) occasionally sees Nick, then I don’t know what is.

So when Nick confronts Jess and Cece about the dream the former had, Jess takes the helmet and defiantly puts it on her head where it then gets “stuck” (you can tell it is definitely not stuck on her head, and the show really should have tried to make it fit a little snugger for the sake of believability). It’s then and then only that Nick reveals the truth behind the helmet — Walt, his now-deceased father, gave him the helmet. Jess is horrified and extremely emotional about this news. Nick gave something to her that his father had given to him. Nick gave something extremely valuable away, and Jess treated it like it was a piece of junk. We’re taken aback by the origin of the helmet (and by Jake Johnson’s perfect reaction to that moment), and so is Jess.

This plot twist and device is so important to me for so many reasons, chief among them being the fact that Jess never realizes how many sacrifices Nick has made for her, or how deeply he loved (and I believe still does and always will) her. Jess takes Nick for granted, brushing him off as that dumb boy she used to date. But in moments like these, Jess is given some much-needed emotional whiplash with the realization that Nick would do anything to help her out, even when there is nothing in it for him.

(I still can’t get over the fact that Nick has been in Jess’ room since they’ve broken up and every time he sees that helmet is probably a little hurt that it contains change, but also proud that she still kept it. Ugh.)

When the full realization of Nick’s sacrifice hits Jess, she refuses to do anything to compromise the helmet, even when it means that Sam goes to dinner with his parents without her. Nick sees Sam walk away and knows that he can’t let this time turn out the same way that last time did. So he finds tools, counts down, and breaks the helmet in order to free Jess. In a cheesy, symbolic way, he’s freeing her from their past relationship and allowing her to completely move on with Sam. (Which is made even more ironic by the fact that Jess can never completely move on with Sam! That helmet piece was still there!)

And where I’ve struggled with Nick/Jess is in the notion that Nick makes all of these big gestures and sacrifices for Jess but she rarely makes them in return. It feels often like Nick loves her a lot more than she loves him. And I was really happy to see the end of “Helmet” reverse this trend in the best way possible. Because when Jess returns to the bar, she doesn’t just bring Nick a framed piece of the helmet, but she tells him that it should live in the bar — with Walt watching down on him, proud of all he has accomplished. The moment isn’t undercut with a joke, and Nick’s response is one of genuine emotion (you can hear him sniff). This tender moment is what I’ve been waiting for — the acknowledgement that Nick has made so many grand gestures to show how much he loves and cares about her, that now it’s time for Jess to reciprocate.

That is why I have hope for an inevitable Nick/Jess reconciliation. Nick has done his fair share of growing since he and Jess broke up, and has proven that there is nothing he wouldn’t do for her. Now it is time for Jess to prove that she loves him just as much. The framed chunk of the Bears helmet is a start, and my hope is that as the show moves us toward a recoupling, we will see more and more of her efforts toward him.

Elsewhere in this episode, Schmidt is there as Winston struggles with his feelings for Aly. I love that these two had a story together. Why? Because it also perfectly parallels the second season (“Quick Hardening Caulk”), where Schmidt is trying to get over his feelings for Cece and does so by projecting them onto an animal. Similarly, Winston becomes obsessed with Furguson beating out Patches. And he does this because Aly’s boyfriend (guest star Kal Penn) is a talent agent for cats and for Patches, specifically. Winston feels inferior to Aly’s boyfriend, but Schmidt is determined to do everything in his power to help Furguson land a movie deal.

Just as Winston went to absurd lengths to help Schmidt, the latter is willing to reciprocate in equally absurd ways. (I cannot overstate how hilarious that shot of cats chasing Schmidt really was.) That, to me, is the best part of their friendship — ever since “First Date,” the two have shoved off their awkwardness and embraced shenanigans together. But equally as important as the shenanigans was Winston admitting that he feels inferior and still is in love with Aly. I’m really rooting for those two, and am hopeful that by the season finale, Aly will drop her cat agent beau and accompany Winston to Schmidt and Cece’s wedding.

Overall, the hour-long block of New Girl was good. I definitely enjoyed the emotional components of “Helmet” more than the plot of “Jeff Day,” but both provided some significant stepping stones toward plot and character developments as we approach the season’s finale.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • “We’re still in your point.”
  • SHARKASM. Winston’s puns are the best puns.
  • “Either you eat bread, or you don’t eat bread. There’s no in between!” #gpoy
  • “You gave me something that your dad gave to you?” Guys.
  • Furguson in the trash can was so adorable.
  • Max Greenfield can sell almost anything, and his twitching after the cats chased him was hysterical.
What did you all think of the back-to-back episodes? Hit up the comments below and let us know!

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