Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New Girl 3x11 "Clavado En Un Bar" (How Do You Know When You're On the Right Path?)

"Clavado En Un Bar"
Original Airdate: January 7, 2014

On Tuesday night, I sat around with my twenty-something friends and we all discussed how we are each unhappy with our current job situations or our situation in life. It’s funny: when you’re a kid, you make up all sorts of things you will grow up to be. You think you’ll be a flight attendant or a doctor or a veterinarian. But the truth is that adults never tell you that you’ll likely have dozens of jobs as you grow – you’ll grow from earning a few dollars an hour as a babysitter to a retail or restaurant job, cashiering or bussing tables. And then you’ll go to college. You’ll probably work odd jobs making whatever money you can, tutoring or keeping that retail or restaurant job to pay for your insanely expensive textbooks and macaroni and cheese dinners. And then, if you’re very fortunate, when you graduate from college you’ll likely slip into a “bottom rung of the ladder” job. You’ll stay there for a few years and that’s where the story of me and my friends picks up. You see, we each have had our jobs for about two or two and a half years and now we’re in our mid-twenties and suddenly we’re struck with this growing desire to leave our jobs and find something else, something better. We want to stop going through the motions of our 9-to-5 and find something that we are passionate about. We want to get paid to do THAT, not to sit at a desk for the entire duration of the morning and afternoon and sink into some sort of bottomless spiral of blandness.

We all are at the point in our lives in which we are ready to switch our jobs. Ironically enough, this is where we meet Jess Day in “Clavado En Un Bar,” the first New Girl episode back from hiatus. We soon learn that she’s been volunteering at a children’s museum in her spare time and was just offered a job by her friend to work for their fundraising department. But in order to accept the job at the museum, Jess would have to give up her teaching position and that is where she begins to struggle. What does she WANT in life? And are her wants dictated by her circumstances or are they independent of them? Jess’ school situation is a lot less than ideal, as we come to realize, seemingly making her potential decision to leave an easier one. And so, “Clavado En Un Bar” finds all of the characters in the loft (and Schmidt and, later on, Cece) relaying the stories of how they obtained the job that they have now, and each person gives Jess a piece of advice regarding her impending decision. Because oh… did I mention? Jess has about 21 minutes to make her choice (what a great use of the actual running time of the show. And though it’s not TECHNICALLY a bottle episode, it’s essentially a bottle episode for the characters, which makes it amazing).

This episode is comparable to “Virgins” in terms of storytelling and what I loved so much about that episode was how much it illuminated these characters’ wants, motives, and histories and wove them together in order to give us as audience members a better understanding of who Nick, Jess, Schmidt, Winston, and Cece (and now Coach, too) were and – more importantly – WHY they were that way. Berkley Johnson did a tremendous job with “Clavado En Un Bar” which is one of my favorite episodes from this season because of how integral and touching it is with regards to everyone’s character development (especially Nick). But before I discuss how exceptional the writing in the episode, the jokes, and the return of Fat Schmidt were, let’s discuss the plot, shall we?

As Nick, Winston, and Schmidt settle in for a scotch tasting at the bar and vow to have a relaxing evening, Jess bursts in, downs their drinks, and then informs them all that she has exactly twenty-one minutes to make a decision that could alter the rest of her life. (The guys are understandably baffled by the news and her behavior.) As Jess begins to explain to Schmidt and Winston that she’s become friendly with the head curator at the children’s museum where she volunteers and has been not-so-subtly been told that she should work there full-time, Nick excuses himself to go deal with a patron. I say “deal with” and it sounds harsh, so let me rephrase: Nick excuses himself to go take care of a patron. The element of this episode that I loved most of all was getting the opportunity to see Nick Miller in an entirely new light. I already loved and adored him as the grumpy and curmudgeonly bartender, but just as Jess starts to see Nick as someone passionate and kind, not unmotivated or a failure, I do too. You see, Nick really loves his job at the bar. I mean, he complains about it and it is agitating at times, but he genuinely loves what he does. And I think that’s inspiring, really, because as my friends revealed last night, most of them actually don’t hate their jobs. They’re not where they want to be in life necessarily, but they don’t hate what they do. Nick doesn’t hate bartending; in fact, he genuinely loves it. And I think we’ve always come to presume that bartending is an easy, mindless job with little to no payoff or actual benefit to it. Schmidt and Winston and nearly every character on the series has demeaned Nick and, consequently, his job. But when Nick excuses himself from Jess’ conversation, it’s to prevent an elderly drunk patron from driving home. Nick apparently plays a “hide the car keys” game with him so often that he’s named it as such. And you know… this was actually the first moment in the episode I began to feel more tenderness toward Nick’s profession than I think I ever had before. He’s making a difference as a bartender and he’s actually looking out for the well-being of others. He CARES and it shows. That’s pretty wonderful.

A few feet away, Jess is discussing her horrible school situation with the guys (apparently other teachers and their students are being shoved into her classroom, likely for months) and then notes that Candace, the museum curator, officially offered her the job and wants an answer that night. The guys are attempting to wrap their minds around the idea of Jess not being a schoolteacher and are finding it difficult. And see, that is one of the things I loved about this episode and that I have enjoyed about the arc with Jess’ job: we see her the way that we see ourselves, trying to define ourselves by the career that we have. Jess is a teacher – she thinks of herself as only a teacher and it’s difficult for her to imagine who she would be if she was separated from that. Because remember that she WAS separated from that image (“Relaunch”) and she struggled deeply. What “Clavado En Un Bar” allows us and Jess to realize though is that she was a teacher long before she ever had her first real classroom, and this means that Jess isn’t defined by her profession. Quite contrary: Jess’ personality just so happens to be her profession.

So she asks Winston, Nick, Coach, and Schmidt a question: “How do you know when you’re on the right path?” The guys contemplate rather silently until Jess notes that her question wasn’t rhetorical. Winston is the first to tell the story of how he obtained his current job (because he is a professional career path-changer), but not before Nick tries to give Jess a motivational speech about choosing the right career path. The other men groan at Nick and Schmidt notes that Nick’s job could essentially be performed by a vending machine. Knowing what the audience knows at the end of the episode, rewatching this scene (and any scene in which someone pokes fun of Nick’s job or lack of motivation) is quite sad because Nick is genuinely attempting to give his girlfriend some heartfelt advice. Everyone dismisses Nick though, including Jess, and Winston discusses how he chose to leave his basketball career behind him.

(As an aside, I love when characters in New Girl tell stories because – just like real life – the other characters interject throughout.)

So Winston discusses his basketball career, informing Jess that he was a benched player who was barely allowed to practice, but that he still didn’t quit. In fact, the coach encouraged Winston to join the outdoor Latvian basketball league which… practiced on a hill. It was there that Winston, unable to stop himself from racing down the side of the hill, hurt his ankle and was told by the doctor that he would never play basketball again. Each person who shares a story with Jess leaves her with a piece of advice that was influenced by their own story. Winston’s advice? “Walk away the moment you stop loving [your job].”

The problem, of course, that Winston then realizes is that he… well, he never actually MADE a decision to change his career. The decision was essentially made for him. (Which is another sub-category of changing career paths, really.) What I truly loved was the brilliant, if unintentional, parallelism between Winston in “Virgins” and this episode: after he reveals his stories in both episodes, he begins to question everything he knows about himself, his life, and the important moments within them. It’s played for laughs, obviously, because it’s quite funny to see Winston try and defend his version of reality to the group, but it’s also kind of sad because… well, Winston never gets to have a win. He’s like the Charlie Brown of New Girl.

As Winston questions everything he knows about life, Nick takes the opportunity to attempt, once again, to give his girlfriend solid advice. But Winston’s sad story propels Schmidt to relay his own, and I’ll be honest: I presumed that Schmidt’s revelation about his career decisions would begin and end exactly like Barney Stinson’s did in How I Met Your Mother’s “Game Night.” (I’m glad that it didn’t, for the record.) Schmidt’s characterization this season has been a point of contention among the fandom but “Clavado En Un Bar” was a natural return to Schmidt’s inherent (but well-intentioned) douchey behavior. Gone was the awkward and depressed cloud that seemed to loom above his head throughout the first half of the season and back was the lightheartedness that we have come to associate with Schmidt. I do believe that the writers did a great job in villainizing Schmidt without assassinating his character in the process. I will say though that I am quite pleased with how well this episode developed Schmidt, in addition to Nick. Though each character attempts to give Jess advice in making a decision, all of the other characters (save for Coach) make decisions themselves by the episode’s end.

Schmidt’s career path began as a volunteer candy striper, where he had a crush on one of the nurses. And when the good-looking and well-dressed boyfriend of aforementioned nurse kissed his girlfriend goodbye, wearing a fancy suit, Schmidt wondered aloud where someone had to volunteer to land a girl like that. The man informed him that it wasn’t about volunteering: it was about being a man and working in marketing. (And to be honest, I presumed that we would then see Schmidt a la Barney lose weight and become a marketing executive.) Instead, Schmidt notes that he couldn’t get a job in marketing, so he worked at a Christmas tree lot and became quite skilled at selling Christmas trees to other people. Eventually, his knack for selling trees earned him the attention of an old, wealthy man who then had a heart attack on the Christmas tree lot. When Schmidt visits him in the hospital on his death bed, the elderly man tells Schmidt that money – above everything else – is the most important thing. And thus, Schmidt was spurred on to become the Schmidt we see in the present.

Jess isn’t entirely sold on the message of the story, and Schmidt drops his own nugget of truth from the tale on her once she reveals that the museum job pays more than her teaching position: “Follow them duckets.” (Winston, wisely, tells the man that it isn’t always about money.) Jess is beginning to grow frustrated as it gets closer to six o’clock and she’s further from making a decision than when she began her conversation with the guys. She knows that there has to be something more to choosing a career path than simply the desire to make money: she wants to care about what she does. And I truly love that about Jess and – spoiler – I love that we get an amazing reveal that also focuses on this aspect of Nick’s characterization. We tend to think of Jess and Nick as fundamental opposites: she’s optimistic, he’s pessimistic; she’s outgoing, he’s curmudgeonly. But the fact that both Nick and Jess want to care about their careers and genuinely mean that is significant and perhaps the most important truth that can be drawn between both characters.

Coach then relays his own “origin story,” as it were. It turns out that Coach’s real name is not Coach but Ernie. Schmidt and Nick merely observed how much he coached the players at Winston’s basketball game and the nickname stuck. Jess isn’t sure what she should take away from the tale, but Coach explains: “Don’t over-think it; the call comes from inside the house. Be who you are and do what you do.”

Coach’s advice, while practical in theory, leaves Jess more confused and uncertain than ever. She’s not sure of who she is, but – more than that – Jess knows that there is potential for her to excel at many different things and doesn’t know how to choose between those. Nick wonders aloud whether or not it would benefit Jess for her to think about the first day she ever taught school in order to give her clarity and assurance on a decision. So Jess recounts her first student and how she was able to aid a student who had been bullied, began tutoring him, and watched him become the best math student in the entire school. Reminiscing was Nick’s way of attempting to encourage Jess that she was in the right field and making a difference in the lives of the students.

… Well, until Nick decides to Google that former student and it’s revealed that he is wanted by the FBI for embezzlement. Uh-oh. Jess is more lost than ever, now wondering if she had ever impacted a single student in her life. Nick can see that Jess is struggling with not just her impending decision but with her self-esteem and he does what any great boyfriend would do: he tells her a story to encourage her. Nick’s story begins in law school, where his professor advised that one student in their class would drop out before the following year.

Nick reveals that he hated being around his former law students, but during his second year of school, he hated being around himself. I think that THIS was the most impactful moment for me in Nick’s flashback tale: he was doing well and yet he still hated himself. We tend to think of Nick as a self-loathing guy because of his failures. Because of the fact that he dropped out of law school. Or because of the fact that he works in a bar and lives with roommates and is in his 30s. But the sheer irony is that at his MOST successful (he wasn’t the person who dropped out after his first year), Nick was unhappy with who he was. That really struck me, quite frankly, because Winston’s advice to Jess echoes in Nick’s tale. Nick wasn’t happy with who he was becoming, so he sought a place where he would enjoy the people he was surrounded by.

That place, as it turns out, was the bar. In it, Nick found solace. And though he didn’t love law school, his grades were great and he signed himself up for the California State Bar. But one day, the bartender passed out and Nick stepped up and became a bartender. There’s more to the story, as we will soon discover, but Jess has two minutes to make a life-altering decision and she’s no closer to choosing than she was nineteen minutes earlier. As Cece approaches the bar, Jess looks to her best friend for clarity and advice. Cece corrects a statement that Jess makes, though: Clifton – the man wanted by the FBI – wasn’t Jess’ first student.

It is then that Cece reminds Jess of a story: it’s the story of how she first met her best friend. Cece was in the library, struggling to read a book having spent so much time crying, and struggling even more to understand what she was reading when Jess approached her. The little girls bonded over their eyesight woes before Cece revealed that she just recently lost her father. Nose pressed to the book, Jess tells Cece that she’s always welcome to come to her house and listen to her dad rant and rave about things. This makes Cece feel better momentarily and – uncaring about if someone sees her – Cece presses her nose to the book so that she can read better.

In the present, Cece tells Jess: “I was your first student,” which touches both Jess and the audience. It’s a great reminder that these two have a wonderful, beautiful friendship. And honestly I hope we get to explore their relationship even further as the series continues. Jess’ joy is short-lived, however, when her phone rings and she finally delivers her answer to Candace: she’s turning down the job offer. The gang celebrates Jess making a decision and as Winston, Schmidt, and Coach depart, Jess appears to still be unsettled by her choice in career path. Nick and Cece share a look (isn’t it lovely that these are the two people who know Jess best in the world now?) and Nick attempts to reassure Jess that even though her decision was difficult to make, it was the RIGHT one.

Meanwhile, Nick’s motivation (and his argument with Cece and Jess over whether “A League of Their Own” is classified primarily as a sports movie) is interrupted by Kevin, the drunk and elderly patron from earlier, singing to himself. Nick then pours the elderly man a shot… of tea. As it turns out, Kevin’s sister worries about her brother’s drinking so Nick gets into the bar early and soaks tea in water so that it resembles alcohol and then serves it to the man. I honestly was so impressed by this scene because it’s such a subtle way – again – of showing the audience how MUCH Nick cares for the people he interacts with and how this isn’t just a mindless, dead-end job for him. He cares about bartending and he cares about the people who step foot into the bar. Just like he does with his friends and family, Nick takes care of them.

At school, Jess has managed to make the best of a bad situation. She’s taken charge over her classroom and managed to incorporate all of the other teachers’ subjects into her own curriculum. Principal Foster expresses how pleased he is with Jess for managing to make the best of a bad situation and then informs her that he’s going to tell the important staff and/or board members… how much they can count on him. Jess’ mood could have easily dissolved into disappointment and disheartenment, but instead – as she informs the guys at the bar later that night – she’s using Foster as motivation to accomplish a new goal: if HE can become a principal, why can’t she? And I love this version of Jess, quite frankly. I love how much she cares about her job, but I also love that she never lets seeming defeat get in the way of her dreams and goals. She wants to be in a place where she can make a difference in the lives of those around her (don’t we all?) and so she is constantly optimistic.

Jess’ decision-making process had an impact on Winston, too, as he decided to quit his job. Recognizing the fact that he has never really made any career decisions on his own, he quits his job as a sports radio host (burning every bridge possible as he does so). Unfortunately for Winston, he then cannot decide what he wants to drink at the bar. I feel you, Winston. I can make large-scale decisions, but never small-scale ones. Meanwhile, Cece slides… er, FLINGS Winston’s drink at him because she’s started a job as a bartender. After listening to Jess’ struggle, Cece realized that she could try something besides modeling. And since she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to be, bartending is Nick’s solution.

And as the group celebrates, Nick finishes his story for Jess by removing a piece of paper from his pocket. Jess reads it and is stunned: Nick passed the California State Bar. He explains that he “wanted to prove that [he] dropped out of law school because [he] wanted to be a bartender, not because [he] couldn’t be a lawyer.” And in that moment, the audience and Jess has a newfound respect for Nick: he’s not a slacker who didn’t finish law school because he couldn’t handle its pressures. He’s not a loser or someone who is unmotivated. And now, looking back at all the ways Schmidt (throughout the episode especially) and Winston and Coach and Cece and even Jess used to demean and insult Nick’s job actually pains me. And I think it pains Jess momentarily too, to realize that the man she’s dating IS capable of everything and it’s not all in her head and she’s not projecting her expectations on him and she’s not going to “make him better” or more motivated or successful. The truth of the matter is that Nick could have been a lawyer – he could have had the suits and the cars and the wealth and the prominence, but he CHOSE not to. And that is such an amazing decision made by the writers because it puts the power of the decision in Nick’s hands and it makes him so much more wonderful as a character. I love that Nick chose to do something that made him happy and that he was good at over something that made him miserable but that he was also good at.

The beauty and tragedy is that people often see what they want to see when they look at career choices: they look at having more money as having more happiness and having a higher education or a better degree as more successful. But what Nick’s advice to Jess is at the end of the episode is the advice she needed to hear all along: “I want this. It makes me happy.” Life’s too short to be in a place where you’re miserable. And even though Jess’ job situation is less than ideal, I think that she recognizes the truth in Nick’s words – as she looks around the bar, she IS happy. And perhaps that’s the takeaway lesson from “Clavado En Un Bar”: you may be stuck in a job you don’t like or stuck in circumstances that aren’t ideal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still find happiness.

And I think that’s a message that my twenty-something year old friends and I definitely need to apply to our hearts.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • I knew the episode would be awesome when Schmidt began to describe the scotch.
  •  “Who’s anti-future?” “I don’t know… the Amish, the dying, the television industry, print media, the record industry, railroad industry, karaoke machine owners…”
  • “Well you have found my flabbergast button and guess what? You’ve pressed it.”
  • “… That story contains ZERO decisions.”
  • “Invisible? You were like a three hundred pound wall of peppermint bark.”
  • “What if someone gave baby Winston a flower? Then what would I be?” “BEEKEEPER!” “Hummingbird farmer.”
  • “Yeah, that’s right. We had an ethnic, gay bully.”
  • “Love you in that scarf. Why don’t you wear scarves anymore?” Schmidt’s interjection into Nick’s flashback was the ACTUAL BEST.
  • The girl that they cast to play young Cece IS SO SPOT-ON IT’S ALMOST SCARY.
  • “Yes, of course, all of my quotes are from sports movies.”
  • The tag directly ties into the episode and it’s LOVELY because it focuses on Schmidt walking past a Christmas tree farm and then enters and begins to talk to a man about purchasing a tree. He slips back into Fat Schmidt Christmas Tree Marketer mode and it’s just so wonderful because it reminds us that Fat Schmidt is really there, beneath the surface of this new Schmidt, and that he’s a guy who doesn’t forget where he came from or what has made him into the person he is today.
Thank you all for reading this review! I’ll back next week for my review of “Basketsball.” Until then! :)


  1. Great review and I loved how you understood everything about Nick in this story. (Also he's right. League of Their Own- Sports movie.)

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