Thursday, May 5, 2016

New Girl 5x19/5x20 Review: "Dress" and "Return to Sender" (Do You Get Bird Shirts?)

 

"Dress" & "Return to Sender"
Original Airdate: May 3, 2016

Most of us want to believe in and root for a really good love story. It’s why The Princess Bride enraptures us. It’s why we feel our hearts beat just a little bit faster when Annie finds Sam at the top of the Empire State Building. It’s why we swoon over those kisses in the rain, or stolen glances. Part of being human means we crave relationships with other people. And — I’ve said this multiple times before — I think a show or a movie or a book loses something fundamentally human when it refuses to acknowledge the importance, or at least prominence of, romantic relationships. New Girl has never been a “romantic” show, per se. In spite of the fact that the show was built on the foundation of Jess’ broken heart, it was never a comedy that sought to find her love (like The Mindy Project). No, this is a show that has always been about what it means to live with people who are so different from you, and to grow from relationships with them.

But while New Girl has never been a typical “romantic” show, in a lot of ways that makes the love stories within that much more important. This FOX comedy is great at delivering laughs, slapstick-silly shenanigans, and one-liners by the dozen. It’s a show where plots have ranged from “a badger is loose in the air ducts” to “Schmidt doesn’t want a bathtub in the loft” and everything in between. And while I love this show because it makes me laugh, I also love it because it draws me closer to its characters with every episode. In “Dress” and “Return to Sender,” we get more glimpses into who these characters are, but also — most importantly — how they’ve changed. The first episode is all about Schmidt and Jess’ relationship and their desire to make the wedding perfect for Cece. Both Schmidt and Jess love her so much, after all. The second episode is all about finding your best love story, and what that entails.

And while I enjoyed one episode in this installment a lot more than the other, I think that at the end of the day, both were fundamental for the show as we approach the final few episodes this season.

   

“DRESS”


Admittedly, this is the weaker of the two episodes. I think that New Girl airing two episodes back-to-back (well, whenever I watch them the day after, they’re framed that way at least) is actually benefitting the show. Had “Dress” aired by itself, I probably would have been really disappointed. But since “Return to Sender” occurred right after, I got a more complete sense of what the show is steering itself toward for the remainder of the season.

In this episode, Jess has completely and totally forgotten to alter Cece’s wedding dress like she promised. It’s not like her to procrastinate at all, and she’s freaking out... mostly because she made an explicit promise to Cece in the episode that it would be to her very shortly. When Schmidt discovers the fact that the dress is very much NOT done, he sends Jess to his office bathroom (remember that Schmidt works with all women so apparently the bathroom is solely his) where he’s set up a wedding workshop. Jess tries to begin work there, but is halted when Schmidt’s boss Kim (we remember her, right?) discovers all of the wedding prep Schmidt has done instead of getting his work done.

So Schmidt panics, tells Kim that Jess is a temp, and then Jess spends the episode predictably in shenanigans. Elsewhere in the episode, more shenanigans are afoot as Aly and Winston try to keep their relationship a secret at work. I’m pleased that they resolved this rather quickly and that Aly admitted to dating Winston, because tropes like “we’re secretly dating but have to be mean to each other at the office so no one suspects a thing” have been played out for decades and they’re rather stale at this point.

Aly and Winston are cute, but honestly that’s about all that happened in their story.

In the C-story (which was barely a story to begin with and I have a feeling we missed a lot of the hilarity that is Nick purchasing 20 burner cell phones and catfishing Reagan), Nick wants to invite Reagan back for the wedding as his date but is scared to text her. So he uses Cece to do so (Reagan never responds to her text), and then uses a burner phone (which works! She replies!). Finally, after all of the chaos of trying to text her from 20 different phones, Nick just uses his and invites her to the wedding. She can’t accept because she’s working, but you can tell that she wants to.

Again, that was pretty much the entire story.

What I appreciated about “Dress” was the end result of Schmidt and Jess’ storyline — both realized that they were freaking out over making everything perfect for the wedding because they love Cece so much that they want to give her everything. I love that they both care about her so much, and I love that they end up finding a solution to their problems. And while Jess and Schmidt can sometimes have really fun storylines, “Dress” didn’t quite land for me in this regard.

Luckily, the next installment was MUCH more engaging.


“RETURN TO SENDER”


This episode was so great on two different levels: the Sam/Jess love story (which I’m still not sold on but I’m glad they took a very different approach to Sam’s best female friend than other shows would have done) and the Nick/Schmidt love story.

First things first: New Girl is always so great about taking tropes and flipping them on their heads. If you thought “Return to Sender” was going to be about Jess going to some insane hijinks-level stuff in order to take down Sam’s closest female friend, Diane, you wouldn’t have been wrong to assume that. Mostly everything we know to be true about female relationships from television would support this idea. The plot would have played out that Jess ends up wounding Diane in some way, which in turn wounds Sam, and the two would have eventually made up but not after Jess “learned a lesson.” And while the episode began like this — with Jess jealous over how close Sam and Diane were — all it takes is one moment for New Girl to completely switch gears and remind everyone that it is a constantly inventive show.

When Jess begins to choke, it is Diane who administers the Heimlich maneuver and saves her life. Jess, immensely grateful, thanks Diane in the bathroom... where the latter then reveals she’s in love with Sam, and has been for a long time. This floors Jess, understandably, and she then is unsure of how to proceed. Until Diane tells the story. It’s straight out of a romantic film — she wrote him a letter detailing her feelings, he never responded, and then she realized that her letter had been returned to her. Jess, instead of mistrusting this woman, feels for her.

In fact, both Cece AND Jess feel for this woman. It’s because in addition to the romantic movie clich├ęd plot, Diane is a genuinely nice human being. She’s pretty, soft-spoken, saved Jess’ life, and backed off from telling Sam how she felt once she met Jess. Literally, it’s like our New Girl characters stepped into their very own romantic film. And the funniest thing to me is that Jess and Cece become shippers of Sam/Diane. She makes him laugh with his mouth open, full of joy and reckless abandon. Jess can’t help but look at their story — the way that it is crafted and woven — and want Diane to stand a chance. It’s kind of funny, of course, because Jess is Sam’s girlfriend and yet there she sits, at the bar, rooting for someone else.

I think this stems back to what happened in “What About Fred?” Jess wants a love story. She always has. She wants the passion and the romantic music swelling. She wants a love story she can tell her kids about. But she doesn’t know how to find it. And though Sam doesn’t return Diane’s affections at the end of the episode and goes back to Jess, I can’t help but feel like the Sam/Jess of it all is doomed to fail anyway. (That could be the Nick/Jess shipper in me talking but I’m not sure New Girl has made a strong enough case for why I should care about Sam/Jess again.)

Jessica Day is a genuinely nice person. And it would be wonderful for New Girl to stop right there and let her defining quality be her niceness. But over the years, Jess’ niceness has transitioned and morphed into selflessness. She lets Sam and Diane talk, regardless of how it will end for her. Because she believes that everyone deserves a shot at their perfect love story. Everyone deserves to have that “what if?” question answered. But not only has Jess evolved — Cece has too. She’s gone from being a person who doesn’t understand bird shirts, to one who metaphorically wears them. (Thank you, Winston.) She’s gone from being a little calloused to a lot soft.

Love changes you. It has to. There’s no possible way around that.

But love hasn’t made Cece soft (though it certainly has made her a little bit sappier). Love — and having Schmidt in her life — has just made Cece a better version of the person she already was. She sees the world differently, she sees stories differently. I absolutely love that we got insight into Cece’s character this episode and how her love story has changed the way she sees other stories. It forges a deeper connection with her and Jess as friends, and with her and Schmidt as partners.

This was probably one of my favorite Jess stories in a while because it was funny, poignant, and New Girl refreshingly didn’t try to villainize a woman. (WHAT? TWO WOMEN WHO LOVE THE SAME MAN AND AREN’T ACTING PETTY OR CATTY AND GENUINELY LIKE/RESPECT EACH OTHER? MADNESS!) It was a great story.

Also a great story was the B-plot this episode, involving Schmidt and Nick and Gavin — we remember him, right?! — doing wedding planning shenanigans. And by “planning” I mean tasting wine and apparently alcohol Nick hides underneath his floorboards in the loft. (Because Prohibition happened once, and it can happen again!)

We get a lot of Nick/Schmidt stories, and they generally involve one of two topics — either the idea that Nick and Schmidt are total opposites and clash over how to do things or that Nick and Schmidt take care of one another. Episodes like “Tinfinity” and “Keaton” fall into that latter category. Also in that category? “Return to Sender,” which focuses on the fact that Nick has always been there for Schmidt when Gavin lets him down. Besides flashbacks to Fat Schmidt, which I always appreciate, it was nice to see the progression of Gavin’s promises and Schmidt’s heartbreak when he inevitably breaks those promises. Nick is always there for Schmidt, picking up broken pieces. And although the last conversation we saw between Gavin and Schmidt was tentative and hesitant, this episode finds them on a bit better footing as the wedding approaches.

But when Gavin promises to take Schmidt to dinner, you can see the young man’s resolve falter a bit and then smoothly try to recover. Schmidt doesn’t want to get his hopes up like he has before, but he can’t help it – he wants to have a relationship with his dad. But Nick knows better. And so he runs after Gavin who is on his way downstairs. Because Nick has seen this scenario play out dozens of times, and Jake Johnson delivers a fantastic monologue, demanding that Gavin show up.
Nick: Look, we both know how this is gonna go down, Gavin. You’re gonna get Schmidt’s expectations up and then you’re gonna bail. Just be better. Be his dad. Just be there for him even when it’s not fun. And sometimes, it’s really not fun. I know. I’ve been doing it for fifteen years. 
Gavin: Thank you. 
Nick: Don’t thank me. Just promise me that if you show up to dinner tonight, you’ll show up tomorrow and the day after, and the week after, and basically forever.  
Gavin: I will. 
Nick: Will you, Gavin?
Jake Johnson can play Nick wildly absurd (we see that at the beginning of this episode), but he absolutely nails these serious moments. Because Nick cares more about Schmidt than nearly anyone else in the world. He’s been caring for him throughout nearly every big moment in life. Nick has always been there. And he wants Gavin to show up, too. But what I really love is the fact that Nick doesn’t just make Gavin promise to show up to dinner. He makes him promise to be present — to be a father, and love his son in the way he deserves to be loved.

It was an absolutely beautiful moment, and one of the defining ones for Nick’s character this year. Gavin DOES show up, and he shows up with something better for Schmidt — proof that he is all in. The warehouse where the Schmidt/Cece wedding was about to take place was garbage, so Gavin literally offers up his vineyard instead. It’s a lovely little moment and I absolutely adore that Nick got to witness it and the impact his words had.

Both A and B-plots in “Return to Sender” were about love: romantic and familial. And what New Girl continues to do, regardless of whether an episode was weak or strong, is remind us that love is at the core of all of these characters and it is the very thing that makes them so beautiful and endearing.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • “Outercourse. It counts.”
  • Nick whispering to Cece to text Reagan and then Aly, Winston, and Cece being terrified of his voice is HILARIOUS.
  • “I CAN’T MAKE YOU BEAUTIFUL UNLESS YOU LET ME IN.”
  • “When do you do the work you get paid for?” “Rarely.”
  • I absolutely love that Greg Cromer (a.k.a. Doc Potterywood/Rich from Community) is the cop that discovered Aly and Winston’s relationship.
  • “I’m FLUMMOXED.”
  • “How many robots are too many robots?”
  • Nick saying “out of the boo” and “Eyestein” is so perfect and so in-character with everything we know to be true of Nick.
  • I love any episode in which we get flashbacks to Fat Schmidt, you guys.
  • I could have listened to Winston and Cece do their “nooooooo babe”/“yeahhhhhhh babe” bit all day.
  • There was a C-plot (?) in “Return to Sender” involving Winston getting Sam a bird shirt for his birthday and Sam refusing to wear it. Winston was offended and it was hilarious.
  • “We have so much in common. Arguably, too much.”
  • “I’m gonna be honest — I’m having a very hard time rooting for myself right now.”
  • I absolutely loved the gag of the elevator taking forever during Gavin and Nick's conversation.
  • “... This song isn’t even on our jukebox.” That had me cracking up for some reason. I love when shows get super meta and/or point out the absurdity of coincidences in television shows.
What did you all think of these episodes? Are you rooting for Sam/Jess and Nick/Reagan? Will Sam ever wear a bird shirt? How long until Winston’s prank marriage resurfaces? Hit up the comments below to continue the conversation! :)

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