Wednesday, February 12, 2014

New Girl 3x16 "Sister" (You Can't Choose Your Family)

Original Airdate: February 11, 2014

When I was little, I wanted a sister. I’m the oldest of three siblings, and at one point in time, it was just me and my little brother. That is, until my mom announced to us that she was going to have another baby. I begged for a sister; my brother begged for a brother. Spoiler alert: I won. Well, as much as one can “win” when they have no real pull in the outcome of a situation whatsoever. My sister is seven years younger than me and nearly polar opposite in personality. My parents discovered this at an early age, but never more so than when she became a teenager. She doesn’t have a filter; where I used to placate my mom by quietly obeying everything she told me to do and never raising my voice, my sister demands answers and argues. This often leads to her getting grounded, of course. My sister was a cheerleader throughout her entire high school life; I was a chorus and drama nerd. My sister is outspoken and outgoing and sometimes impulsive; I’m reserved and responsible. I never do anything without thoroughly thinking through the outcome first.

I’ve always been the big sister and that means that – for however much s he annoys me sometimes – my little sister is someone I would fiercely protect and defend. But what happens when it’s the little sister who takes care of the older one? Well, this is a question raised in New Girl’s latest episode, aptly titled, “Sister.” In it, we meet Jess’ wild-child older sister named Abby. There’s a reason we haven’t met Abby, it turns out: she’s got a bit of a rebellious streak and the episode picks up with Jess’ mom calling her daughter to inform that Abby is in jail. Jess then spends the entire episode trying to prevent Abby and Nick from meeting, though the latter is desperate to meet his future in-law (it’s my headcanon, shh) and keeps getting shot down at every turn. It’s Jess’ job throughout the episode to try to take care of her sister, but some interesting revelations about how Jess sees herself (and how she is seen) through the eyes of her family come to light. Elsewhere in the episode, Nick attempts to play wingman to Schmidt at a bar mitzvah while Coach and Cece endure the most awkward dinner ever with Winston and Bertie.

So before we talk about family and giant sunglasses, let’s recap the plot for the episode, shall we?

This episode was written by my favorite dynamic duo, Matt Fusfeld and Alex Cuthbertson, who also wrote this season’s “Menus.” I really enjoyed “Sister” and though it broke us apart from Winston, Bertie, Coach, and Cece who were in a C-plot, I felt like the third story was necessary in order to tie up some loose ends (Coach/Cece), but to also hilariously interject awkwardness into the story. Because “Sister” is really focused on the gang at their most awkward, but it doesn’t DWELL on them there. It reminds us that the reason for this awkwardness (Jess’ desire to take care of her sister; Schmidt wanting to restore his friendship with Nick and vice versa; Coach being wounded over what happened with Cece; Winston just wanting people to be happy for him) comes from a very real and very palpable emotional place. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t talk about the presence of Linda Cardellini, who was fantastic and hilarious as Jess’ dark and rebellious sister.

But she was more than that: she brought actual weight and consequence to Abby’s character and made the audience emotionally connect to a woman we had only just met. It opened the door for us to care about this character and what good shows do – what they have to do – is make us feel invested in a character quickly, lest we lose interest. Abby is a character I thought would be comedic relief and a source of tension. And while she is (and Jess admits to the latter part of this statement later on), she’s a lot more than that – she’s a reminder that the characters on this show are real people, not just wacky adults who go on hijinks. She anchored the episode in reality and I think it’s definitely something that was needed after the last few weeks of fun, crazy shenanigans.

Anyway, the episode opens with Winston telling everyone that they need to be on time to Bertie’s that night because though she is playing it off, the fact that all of Winston’s friends will be joining them for dinner is kind of a big deal. He instructs them to not bail… and then Schmidt promptly bails and attempts to drag Nick with him. There’s a woman Schmidt is interested in and they need to crash a bar mitzvah in order to try and woo her. As an aside, it’s nice to see Schmidt interested in a romantic relationship that doesn’t involve Cece. I’m a fan of their dynamic and chemistry but – as I mentioned last week – I’m not quite ready to head down the ‘shipping road again.

As everyone dejectedly agrees to the dinner (which involves ten or eleven cream-based soups), Jamie Lee Curtis aka Joan Day – YAY! – calls Jess in order to inform her that Abby has been arrested for stealing and is in jail. The mother instructs Jess to bail her sister out and then ship her back to Portland on the first flight available. It would seem that Jess is used to these sort of instructions, so she obliges but is careful to conceal the reason for her sister’s visit from Nick and the rest of the group. Nick, throughout the episode, is exceptionally endearing. All he wants is to meet Abby and when Jess begins to shiftily avoid the topic and avoid introducing Abby to him, he presumes that it is HIS fault and that Jess is ashamed that he is her boyfriend. It’s this recurring fear of Nick’s that we haven’t seen surface in a while – the fear of not being enough for Jess. I think that, honestly, this is why he held off on pursuing her as long as he did. He never felt worthy of her. And that’s a character trait that is embedded deep within him. He often feels like a failure in other aspects of his life, but with Jess… he has always been enough for her. And I can’t help but wonder if “Sister” was that particular fear (which has been buried for quite some time this season) resurfacing.

Nevertheless, Jess feigns excitement about Abby coming to town, but Cece knows the truth, having grown up with the women, and the two discuss how Nick can NEVER meet her out-of-control sibling. Jess is ashamed of Abby, of course, but never vocalizes those feelings. She knows her sister ruins everything and she doesn’t want Abby to ruin her relationship with Nick which is – arguably – one of the most important things in her life at the moment. So she tells Nick that he can meet Abby and her at the airport later that afternoon with absolutely no intention of having him meet her wild sister at all. And as Cece and Jess leave the apartment, Coach confronts Winston about their new dinner predicament: with Schmidt, Jess, and Nick all bailing, that leaves Coach and Cece essentially on a double date with Winston and Bertie.

Coach is still hurt and awkward around Cece because of their date in “Longest Night Ever” (someone pointed out on Twitter that stylistically this episode felt a lot like that episode as well) in which they had a great time and then she never texted him back. Winston tells Coach to be a man and to go to the dinner anyway. He wants him to stop agonizing over the text message scenario and move on. As we’ll see, that’s easier said than done for Coach.

Meanwhile, Nick agrees to be Schmidt’s wingman (the flashbacks to Nick’s prior wingman duties are hilarious), but only until Jess calls him and then he is going to dinner. (Have I mentioned how adorable it was that Nick just wanted to meet Abby?) Jess arrives at the jail to pick up Abby and send her home, but that’s proving to be problematic. Abby wants to meet Nick and Nick wants to meet Abby, but Jess wants to do everything in her power to keep these two pieces of her life apart. It makes sense, of course, that Jess would want to do this: she’s just gotten her life back into a stable position. She has a job she enjoys. She has a boyfriend she loves. And the thought of anything jeopardizing that comfort that has literally taken her three years to find again is utterly paralyzing. Though Jess deeply loves her sister, she feels responsible for her as well. She feels responsible for the way she behaves and the trouble she gets herself into. And though she is the “baby” (something I’ll talk about later), Jess has clearly always been the responsible caretaker. So she tries to separate her two worlds by lying to Abby and Nick. In the car, Abby has changed her flight to a later time and Jess begins to slightly panic at the thought of her meeting Nick.

Schmidt and Nick are in the process of crashing a bar mitzvah so that Schmidt can hit on a Hebrew teacher named Rachel. He begins to monologue about how he’ll tell the story, years from now, about their meet cute. What I love about Schmidt in this episode is two-fold, really: 1) I love that he’s so hopeful and romantic, even though – clearly – Rachel is a loose cannon. The fact of the matter is that we’ve spent most of season three, or at least the beginning half, trying to re-acquaint ourselves with Schmidt. And now that the man has seemed to move forward from his transgressions, it’s endearing and telling that he only seems to notice the good in Rachel before he really talks with her. What else I love about the episode is this: 2) It returns us to the Schmidt/Nick dynamic while addressing the lack thereof recently. Schmidt questions, repeatedly, what happened to the friendship they used to have. I think the answer is, of course, that Nick has been spending the vast majority of his time with Jess. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s a truth. And the second reason that Nick and Schmidt’s relationship hasn’t been quite on par with what Schmidt remembers is because the latter made a huge mistake at the beginning of this season. Moreover, he made a huge mistake involving Jess’ best friend. I think Nick distanced himself from Schmidt because of that. Yes, he defended and protected him in “Keaton,” but that doesn’t change the fact that there was damage done to the fabric of their relationship that could not be fixed by a few wacky hijinks or words. They have to re-learn to be friends. And that takes time. I think “Sister” is a stepping stone for them, though.

(The reason that Schmidt needs a wingman is because Rachel is the daughter of Schmidt’s rabbi and… well, the rabbi hates him. So what Schmidt really needs is for Nick to distract the rabbi while he hits on Rachel.)

At the loft, Coach and Cece are being awkward when Abby and Jess enter, and Abby senses the awkwardness. She then adds to the awkwardness of the room, and Jess promptly ushers her out. At the bar mitzvah, Nick is worriedly checking his phone and informing Schmidt that Jess still hasn’t called. Schmidt tells him to put aside his concern and enact their plan: Nick will distract the rabbi while Schmidt hits on her. Nick doesn’t have to do much to distract the rabbi except to let him rattle off a bunch of jokes. Unfortunately for Nick, the wingman situation goes awry when he gets distracted by a phone call from a babbling Jess, making excuses for why Nick can’t meet her sister. This visibly crushes the man and he tries to hide his disappointment as he hangs up the phone. Schmidt doesn’t hide HIS disappointment, however, when he chastises Nick for ruining the situation with Rachel by letting the rabbi out of his sight.

Schmidt then laments what has happened, not during the night but to his friendship. He bitterly reminds Nick of when they used to be best friends – of when he used to care about things and people other than Jess. And while I don’t condone Schmidt’s inherently selfish behavior, perhaps there IS a grain of truth to his statement. Perhaps Nick did sacrifice some of his friendship with Schmidt in order to maintain close to Jess. And perhaps that is something that he needs to now remedy.

Abby and Jess open a bottle of wine back at the loft and actually begin to enjoy each other, laughing about the crazy things that their mother does (prompted because Abby gestured exactly like Joan). It was so refreshing to see Jess and Abby bond and laugh and do the things that sisters do. And while I think we all would have enjoyed seeing Emily Deschanel as Jess’ sister, this is the scene that really sold me on Linda as Jess’ older and dysfunctional sibling. There was such an ease with which they conversed that reminded viewers that we really don’t know much about Jess’ family life. We know a bit about her parents and her childhood, but not as much as perhaps we should at this point. Seeing Abby and Jess laugh with one another in this scene was refreshing and exactly what New Girl needed to remind us of who Jess was and – most importantly – WHY she was this way. Abby tells Jess, in the midst of their laughter regarding their mother, that Jess was always “her [Joan’s] perfect little baby.” This strikes a chord in Jess and she informs Abby that she is not a baby. It’s interesting how the presence of one character can reveal traits about another, isn’t it? The presence of Abby allows the audience to better understand Jess and why she feels the need to hide Abby from Nick. She’s the younger sibling, but she’s always the more responsible one. But… Jess is still treated like the baby in the family and she’s still VIEWED as the baby by Abby and Joan. While Jess has always done everything right and is treated with respect from her mother – Joan calls Jess her baby and tells her that she’ll fix everything in the relationship between her and Abby – I think she finally begins to realize exactly how Abby is treated and how she must feel all the time. Abby is the older sibling and should be looking out for Jess, but instead she only sees herself as a failure. It’s kind of heartbreaking, really, because I think Abby knows that her life is a wreck, but doesn’t really believe Jess sees her that way… until Abby intercepts a text message from Cece that asks if Abby ruined everything yet. It’s then that the woman is visibly hurt and leaves the apartment without Jess.

At the bar mitzvah bar, Nick apologizes to Schmidt for letting him down and for being distracted. Schmidt, admirably, comes to Nick’s defense and tells him that Jess has absolutely no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed. And so, for the second time that night, Schmidt asks “what happened to us?” This time, however, Schmidt is referring to their wingman skills, as Nick admits that they used to be the best and have somehow managed to fall apart. So they come up with a plan: in order to make up for his earlier distraction, Nick is going to help Schmidt get the girl.

Jess finds Abby at a hotel bar where she practically drags her sister to the airport and also doesn’t apologize for believing that Abby ruins everything she touches. Elsewhere, the awkward dinner/double date is going just about as awkwardly as you’d anticipate, though the two most awkward individuals (Winston and Bertie) are the ones who find themselves uncomfortable with Coach and Cece’s behavior. And, finally, Coach confronts Cece about the way she ignored him after their date. The two begin to yell at each other – she about how she doesn’t know how to process Coach’s attempts at small talk and he for the way she ignored him. The yelling turns passionate as they recall their two-hour make-out session on their first date and then attempt to recreate it, to a disastrous end. As it turns out, they cannot recapture the magic of that night no matter how hard they try (and they do try). After the fiasco, Coach admits that perhaps Cece was right to never call or text him back since they are clearly a hot mess together. The two agree to try and become friends and put the awkwardness behind them. And what I loved about the resolution of this story was that, as my friend Jaime noted, the Coach/Cece dissolution had nothing to do with Schmidt. The reason they did not work together was simply because they did not work together.

At the airport, Jess drops Abby off, but not before the older sister gets the chance to say a few things to Jess. Abby admittedly understands why Jess would be hesitant to have a relationship with her – she ruins things and has wrecked her life to the point where she is flying to Portland, the place she always swore she would get out of, in order to live with her mother. And though I don’t know much about Abby, this bit of information makes me feel emotionally more connected to her. I understand, better, her motivation for constantly running and getting into trouble. She wanted to rebel and to flee Portland, which I presume was a dull and boring life for her. She wanted adventure and, at the end of the road, she tells Jess that she’s right back to where she started. SHE is the baby, not Jess.

The bar mitzvah finds Nick and Schmidt about to put “Operation Woo Rachel” into practice, with Nick explaining that he will “do what [he does] best… be an embarrassment.” It’s an off-handed remark, but one that is super striking. Because as much as Schmidt and Nick bond in the episode, Schmidt never asks Nick how he feels about Jess’ refusal to let him meet Abby. And Nick – poor, chubby, damaged flower – believes that all he is truly good for in life is to be an embarrassment to the people around him.  So Nick REALLY ups the awkward and embarrassment factors on the dance floor when he dances with (and kisses) an elderly woman that he and Schmidt met earlier in order to provide a distraction for the guests so Schmidt can schmooze Rachel. This, of course, goes horribly wrong for Nick when he gets punched in the face by one of the guests (instead of getting fake-punched by Schmidt).

When Nick arrives back at the loft, he confronts Jess about her behavior and explains that he understands why she’s embarrassed of him; he’s an embarrassment. It’s then that Schmidt storms into the room, demanding that Jess realize she’s dating a champion and that she has no reason to be embarrassed of her boyfriend at all. Jess is a bit stunned by the persistence of the guys’ remarks because she has no idea where they’re coming from. Schmidt and Nick are baffled, too, until Jess explains that she is in no way, shape, or form embarrassed of Nick. It’s an adorably endearing sentiment that is followed up by the presence of Abby, who explains to Nick that Jess is embarrassed of HER. As she departs, Nick and Jess discuss their families and the latter admits to lying about her sister because… well, because Abby is a train wreck. Nick notes that they shouldn’t lie about their families: his is less than perfect, too, and so is everyone’s but they should never hide flaws from each other. Jess understands, and the pair decides that Abby can temporarily stay in the loft. Jess knows that Abby needs her.

And you know what? I think it’s the first time that Jess has ever understood WHY.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
  • “Good God. Is that a common barbers’ comb?”
  • “If you acapella sing at me one more time, I will rip that stupid little dress off you and shove it down your mouth.” Linda’s delivery of this made me laugh during my initial watch and re-watch so much.
  • “Have you seen a girl that looks like me but with chaos in her eyes?”
  • “You’re monologuing lately.” “I’m unaware of it.”
Thank you all for reading this review! I believe “Sister II” is where we will pick up with New Girl next week. Until then, folks. :)

1 comment:

  1. Tremendous review! Nailed it on the head about Nick and Schmidt. Nick focused on being the perfect BF to Jess that he has sacrificed to a certain extent his friendship with Schmidt (also WInston and Coach to less extant)

    I think though in Nick's mind that even if he ignores Schmidt occasionally that he and Schmidt will always be close friends due to the long-time bond they have had. Nick worries though about being perfect with Jess cause it's new and the one thing in the world he does not want to screw up.
    (You mentioned all this before but it was so smartly thought of it bears repeating.)

    Once again Great review!