Sunday, March 6, 2016

Jenn's Pick: The Top 20 Episodes of 'New Girl'

I knew from the moment I watched the pilot that I was going to enjoy New Girl.

But honestly, I didn't fall completely in love with the show until "Wedding," which was a few episodes later. Though the story of a quirky, awkward and newly-single woman living with a bunch of guys she found on a Craigslist ad sounded like something that had the potential to be hilarious, the tone of the show subtly shifted after a few episodes — for the better. When New Girl began, it was a show that fixated a lot on Jess' eccentricities. And though that made for a nice joke, it wasn't going to sustain the series long-term. What the show did was rather brilliant: over the years, the FOX comedy has drawn away from focusing only on Jess and what makes her funny and weird, to focusing on all of the roommates in the loft. New Girl has become a true ensemble comedy, and it's this choice that has made it such a hit. It's also what has made it more well-rounded and inclusive. A show only about a weird girl was beginning to (after even a few episodes) feel way too cartoonish and flat.

The show became better when it embraced Nick's quirks and Schmidt's oddities and Winston's weirdness and Cece's sarcasm. Over the past five years, this show has brilliantly tackled everyday subjects and made them both funny and endearing. This is a show about how being an adult doesn't mean you have all of your crap together. And that's something that is sorely lacking in television these days, where it seems like 20-somethings have apartments that are way too nice and jobs that are way too good and wardrobes that are supposed to look casual and young, but would — in reality — cost thousands of dollars.

(And, okay, the loft in New Girl is totally an unrealistic living situation for Los Angeles, but the fact that four people have to share it in order to make rent is something the show at least acknowledges.)

It's a show about adult friendship and what it means to love, lose, and occasionally just be downright confused about who you are and what you should do with your life.

New Girl celebrates its 100th episode on Tuesday (can you believe we have had 100 episodes of this show already?!) and in honor if it reaching this milestone, I've decided to rank my top 20 episodes of the show in order. This list was super hard to make and I had to cut a lot of episodes out that I really love (holla "First Date," "Tinfinity," "Fluffer," "Oregon," "Mars Landing," and more).

So what episodes DID make my cut? Check out the list below!

20. "The Story of the 50"

This was such a great episode, mostly because the entirety of it was framed around the gang telling the story of why Schmidt had to put $50 into the infamous Douchebag Jar. What was the reason, everyone? Because he tried to kiss Jess. "The Story of the 50" is still in the pre-Nick/Jess period of time in which the show was willing to explore Jess' chemistry with each of the men in the loft. So they did, by having Schmidt lean in to kiss Jess, and the audience immediately realized that Schmidt and Jess were far better off as friends than they were as romantic partners. Still, the hilarity of this episode combined with the heartwarming lengths Jess goes to make sure Schmidt has the best birthday ever rank it among one of the series' best.

19. "Clavado En Un Bar"

"Clavado En Un Bar" is a quasi-bottle episode. Apart from flashbacks, the gang is isolated to the bar where Jess has about 30 minutes (I love it when shows provide problems that characters need to solve in real time, don't you?) to determine whether or not she wants to remain a teacher or pursue a different career. As she decides, the men try and help her out by telling their own stories about how they came to find themselves in their careers. In an episode that features flashback!law school Nick, fat Schmidt, and Latvia-era Winston, it's no wonder this episode is loved so much by me. But apart from its hilarity and the beautiful flashback to the day Cece and Jess met, "Clavado En Un Bar" ranks among my best episodes because it's a perfect example of how well New Girl functions as an ensemble comedy.

18. "Cruise"

In the midst of a Nick/Jess break-up, New Girl wasted no time in trying to re-establish the show's ensemble-centric dynamic. And the perfect way to do this? By sending the whole gang on a cruise that Nick and Jess purchased while they were still dating! One of the reasons this episode is one of my favorites is because it takes the group away from the familiar — there is no loft (apart from the cold open) or bar for them to hang out in, so the possibilities for humor and heart are plentiful. "Cruise" is an episode that features a hysterical safety demonstration in which Coach reveals just how afraid he is of boats and drowning. But it's also an episode that explores the Nick/Jess relationship in the midst of their separation. It's one that reminds us (and the characters around them) that their break-up is hard and they need to work through it instead of avoiding it.


17. "Girl Fight"

This episode is a token "truth" episode of New Girl. And what I mean by that is that this FOX comedy often tackles the hilarity of ordinary subjects and problems. The show doesn't need to reinvent the wheel in order to be funny. Rather, it simply needs to extract the humor from things that the audience is familiar with. ... Like girl fights, for instance. "Girl Fight" is one of the greatest episodes of this show because of the fact that every woman watching it immediately saw themselves in Cece and Jess' fight. We, as women, often fight in ways that are not as overt as men do. And seeing Coach and Schmidt struggle with how to handle the Jess/Cece rift was hilarious because it reminded us that men and women are fundamentally different in a lot of ways — including the way we broach arguments or difficult subjects. New Girl's cornerstone is that dynamic (of men vs. women), and exploring it in this episode not only reminded us of how hilariously and passive-aggresively women can fight, but also that it's good men and women are different.

16. "Clean Break"

One of my all-time favorite season finales is "Clean Break," which ended the fourth season of New Girl. With a rocky third season, the show really bounced back in the fourth and found its groove again by re-integrating Coach well into stories. In a short amount of time, the show managed to develop him as a character and form his relationship with May in a fun, believable way. It was honestly really sad to see him go, but him leaving also gave us one of the best episodes of this show. "Clean Break" not only provided some very cathartic tears (I dare you not to cry as you listen to "Rivers and Roads" play over this episode), but also some really great character development and closure. Schmidt and Cece's relationship was brilliantly repaired throughout the course of the season and that made their engagement feel earned and real and important. Additionally, New Girl propped the door open for the Nick/Jess romance down the road. This finale is an example of a quintessential New Girl episode — one in which our favorite characters encounter silly shenanigans (Schmidt trying to get rid of his box of Cece mementos was so hilarious), but also support one another unconditionally.

15. "Spiderhunt"

Remember how I noted earlier that certain episodes of New Girl are extremely true-to-life and that is what makes them so hilarious? Well, we can file "Spiderhunt" under this category, too. If you've ever lived anywhere (be it an apartment or a house), you likely encountered the same problem Schmidt and the gang do in this one — a missing spider. That is really the plot of this episode and it's so brilliant in its simplicity. But the more important thing is that New Girl gets to play around with an array of character pairings in this episode too. The ensemble of this show is so strong that any actor could share a story with another and it would be funny. So this episode explores the fun dynamic of Winston/Cece, then Winston/Jess, then Nick/Cece, as well as a bit of Nick/Jess. It also involves a Schmidt/Coach mini-storyline, and finally caps off with the group together with Fawn Moscato (Zoe Lister-Jones). I absolutely love "Spiderhunt" (and not just because it's basically a bottle episode) and know that it earned its place on my list.


14. "Cece Crashes"

Back in season one — before Nick and Jess ever dated or showed explicit interest in one another — there was the classic trope of "character A doesn't see character B as a viable romantic interest until character C says something." When Cece has to stay with the loft gang for a while, she wreaks a little bit of havoc on Jess and the boys' lives. But "Cece Crashes" was much more than that. It was an episode that explored the integration of Cece into the loft. Until this point, she had been Jess' friend who occasionally popped by. But this episode allowed the show to explore how she fit in with the rest of the group. Also, it kick-started the Schmidt/Cece romance in a pretty great way. (This was back when Schmidt could still be pretty douchey and unbearable under the worst of circumstances.) And, of course, this is the episode that gave us our first glimpse into the fact that Nick and Jess have more chemistry together (and perhaps latent feelings) than they are willing to admit. The beauty of this episode though is in the subtlety — it spends most of the time force-feeding Jess with thoughts of Nick that she becomes afraid and awkward. And that's what makes the end of the episode so great: she is so relaxed and natural with him that she doesn't even realize her feet are pointed at him and his at her. Ugh, I love "Cece Crashes" and it's probably one of the season one episodes I watch the most.

13. "Big News"

After the fallout of "Mars Landing" (again, a beautiful episode that was very close to being included on this list), there was "Big News." This is the episode in which Nick and Jess struggled to keep their break-up a secret so that Winston would be able to spend the day celebrating his acceptance into the police academy. It's an episode that is so great in so many aspects. First, it provides us with the trope of "a character needs to keep a secret from their friend," which allows us to realize how bad Nick and Jess are at keeping secrets. Everyone besides Winston discovers that Nick and Jess broke up before the secret is revealed. And though this episode is emotionally painful because of the couple's split, it's also really emotional because it binds the group together. Weirdly, you might expect an episode all about a break-up to be sad, but it's actually hilarious. Between Nick taking too much medication, to a drunk Jess dressed up in a cat costume, there are no shortage of laughs in the episode. But it's the moment in the GIF above that made me so emotional. The group stands together, holds hands, and hums. They're one unit and are always there for one another — through honey roasts and break-ups and breakdowns. (Additionally, "Big News" features Nick and Jess talking on the phone at the end of the episode, with her watching Dirty Dancing and him giving her tissues and calling her "honey" which really solidifies how great this episode is.)

12. "Chicago"

This episode is one of my absolute favorites. You'll see a lot of episodes from the second season of New Girl in this list, and that's because this season was absolutely impeccable. Everything that happened post-"Cooler" was flawless (and I'm sorry I couldn't include every episode in this list), and this episode is no exception. When Nick's father passes away, the gang ventures to Chicago to meet his mother (Margo Martindale) and the rest of his family (including the hilarious Nick Kroll). This episode isn't just great because Jess puts on an Elvis costume and Nick realizes how in love with her he is (his heart eyes, not explicitly stated in the episode). It's a great episode because — like "Cruise" — it takes the gang away from the familiar. We get the chance to see Winston help Schmidt overcome his fear of dead bodies and funerals, and we get to see Nick break down and finally accept that his father is gone. It's such a great episode (the helium-voiced condolences from Winston, Schmidt, and Jess still make me giggle), and it helps remind us that these friends are always there for one another, whether in Los Angeles or out at sea, or in the cold north of Chicago.

11. "Wedding"

This was the first episode that I realized New Girl truly had something special. I say it all the time, but up until the slow dance chicken dance to "Groovy Kind of Love," I was still a little bit apprehensive about its trajectory. Jess seemed to outlandish and the rest of the group too mean and rigid. But "Wedding" (though featuring a very goofy and cartoonish Jess) changed that. It set up the Nick/Jess dynamic that had been subtly hinted at during the pilot, and it allowed Nick to grow and move on from Caroline for good. Additionally, this was an episode that brought the group together. Though "Kryptonite" featured the men (and Cece) standing up for Jess to Spencer, "Wedding" was the episode that proved this group would be there for one another no matter what. It's such a lovely little episode and definitely my favorite of the early first season stretch.

10. "Menzies"

Men, cover your ears and eyes. And ladies, listen up — "Menzies" is probably the most accurate depiction of what it is like to be a woman on your period that there ever was (thank you, Kim Rosenstock!). Seriously, my friends and I quote this episode to one another all the time. Without fail, every month, I'll text Jaime: "It feels like I want to murder someone, and also I want soft pretzels." I love this episode, which is why it is the first one to round out my top ten of all time. "Menzies" is flawlessly-written with hilarious dialogue, the introduction of Tran, and an underlying character issue. Though Jess claims all of her problems stem from the fact that she's on her period, Nick points out the truth: she's using that as her excuse because she's scared. She was fired and she's unsure of what to do next. So she wallows, and it's not until Nick nearly drowns her that she comes to terms with her current situation and makes an effort to change it (by getting a job as a creative writing teacher for adults, yay!). Honestly, this episode is a go-to whenever I'm having a bad day because I know it will never fail to make me laugh. And between Winston's sympathy PMS, Nick's way-too-cool nature, and Jess wailing over a tiny puppy in a tiny cup, how could it not be one of my favorites?!


9. "Eggs"

Checking the box in another "this is way too true to life" column is the episode "Eggs" (which is written by Kay Cannon, whom I adore). This episode focuses on a few different stories, all of which are really excellent. In our C-plot, Nick is trying to write and finish his zombie novel because he desperately needs to but Winston is the only one pushing him to do so. It's a great little story about how bad Nick is at finishing things, and how occasionally he needs people to push him to be better. By the end of the episode, he finishes his novel ("Z is for Zombie") and Winston reads it aloud, culminating in what may be my favorite underrated group moment of the series. It feels so organic that these people would sit and listen to Nick's novel being read aloud to them, doesn't it? Also in this fantastic New Girl episode is a story about Schmidt realizing he was in love with Cece and doesn't just want to casually hook up with his boss anymore. It's great and mostly because he's the last one to come to this realization. But the focus of the episode is really the fact that these characters are getting older and have to plan for their futures. After Sadie, Jess' gynecologist friend, makes an offhanded remark about losing eggs the more you age, Jess panics and Cece remains calm and detached, not wanting kids for a long time. While the episode ends with Jess in a good position, Cece is not so fortunate and realizes that she needs to start a family soon if she wants one. It's a subtly heartbreaking episode, but one that is an example of things adult women actually struggle with. New Girl manages to unearth both the pain and the joy (and confusion) of adulthood and unpack it in "Eggs."


8. "Birthday"

Speaking of Kim Rosenstock (who coined the amazing "Menzies"), one of my other favorite episodes was also penned by her — "Birthday"! I don't even know where to start in explaining how wonderful this episode was, except to tell you that I sobbed during the video that Jess received. This episode showed us everything that was right and good with Nick and Jess' relationship — how caring and considerate Nick was (as well as sentimental), how much Jess was loved, and how much he wanted to be the man she deserved. Jess, in the end, dissolves into tears because no one has ever been that thoughtful and that wonderful to her before. "Birthday" was great not just because of the sentimentality of it, but also because of some fantastic and hilarious moments (please, I beg of you to watch this episode and not laugh at Coach and Winston baking their competing cakes). It gave us a great story with Schmidt/Cece, and a near-flawless ending. I couldn't ask for more in a New Girl episode, and I loved everything about this one from start to finish.

7. "Virgins"

Here is your friendly reminder that the second season of New Girl was a lesson for every other comedy in how to be great and avoid the sophomore slump.

Though Nick and Jess getting it on (finally, after episodes of make-outs and first date tension) was definitely one of the highlights of this episode, it's not the only reason I love it as much as I do or ranked it as high as I did. "Virgins" is an amazing "origin story" flashback episode. Penned by creator and showrunner Liz Meriwether, this was a flawless example of how to have your characters do all of the plot-driving for you without making it seem awkward or weird. Most of "Virgins" is spent in flashbacks, as each character tells the tale of how they lost their virginity. And though it seems like it wouldn't work to have sitcom characters recounting stories for a half hour, that's precisely WHY this episode worked as well as it did. We have become invested in these characters and their present-day circumstances that we all really wanted to know how they became the people they are today.

Add in the fact that "Virgins" provided the most hilarious flashback voices for Nick and Winston, the return of fat Schmidt, characters interjecting their own opinions into the flashbacks, and prom night Jess Day, and you know why I love the episode as much as I do. "Virgins" really is one of the greatest episodes of New Girl, and it's because of the decision to step outside of the box while still remaining totally and completely true to its characters that it is as beloved as it is.


6. "See Ya"

Besides having my favorite line in the entire series ("He's a Jew in the desert; I don't want him to wander."), "See Ya" is probably my favorite New Girl season finale. It's an amazing example of how a show can up the stakes during a situation in which the audience knows a character won't actually leave. So often we watch TV shows where writers try to create this fake-out sense of tension — they want us to believe that our favorite character is dead or construct some sort of heightened panic — but it leaves us rolling our eyes because we KNOW it's a misdirect. And even though New Girl presents the fact that Nick is moving out of the loft and in with Caroline, this episode doesn't feel like it is forcing us to believe that entirely. Because while the episode's plot is about Nick leaving, it's not really about that at all. It's about these characters coming to realize what they mean to one another. It's the episode in which Jess pretends to throw away her keys into the desert in order to spend time with Nick and evaluate his decision to get back with Caroline. It's an episode in which Schmidt pushes Cece away because he's scared. It's really, at its core, an episode all about how well these people function together and how much they love one another. (The moment in the desert between Nick and Jess where she says she'll be okay because she met him? CRUSHED MY SOUL.)

5. "The 23rd"

Every year, this remains one of my go-to Christmas episodes and favorites, because of how completely and utterly sweet and also heartwarming it is. The episode not only features a plethora of laughs (from the opening scene with the loft boys wearing the roller skates Jess got them for Christmas), but also a lot of heart at the end with the entire gang at Candy Cane Lane together. Christmas is such a magical time and I absolutely love when episodes of TV shows focus on holidays. But it's more than just the twinkling lights that make me fall in love each year with "The 23rd" — it's the fact that the end scene is such a perfect example of the show's heart. New Girl is about Nick, Jess, Schmidt, Winston, and Cece (and occasionally Coach). They all do stupid things sometimes, and they all say the wrong things occasionally. But the point of this show isn't that adulthood is about being perfect. The point of the show is that adulthood means doing stupid things TOGETHER and for each other. So Nick and the rest of the group yell to the residents of Candy Cane Lane to turn on their lights because he knows (they all do) that Jess needs to feel better. That is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

(As an aside, this episode features one of the most #gpoy lines ever: "What are you doing in here?" "Eating cookies and avoiding confrontation." That's literally me in a nutshell.)


4. "Cooler"

I like to talk about New Girl's second season in terms of two different sections — pre-kiss and post-kiss. And the kiss that I am referring to, of course, is the game-changing one between Nick and Jess during "Cooler." This episode is arguably one of the series' best, and definitely one of the best of the second season for a variety of reasons (most of them having to do with that exceptional and satisfying kiss). In an episode featuring True American, you know it will be great. And the game itself is absolutely hilarious, made even better by the fact that it culminates in the tension between Nick and Jess. Nick — when forced to kiss Jess for the game — accidentally lets it slip that he doesn't want their first kiss to be in the context of a drinking game. ("No, not like this.") It takes us aback because he didn't mean to say it, and it takes Jess aback too. And then, at the end of the episode — when Nick returns the coat he had been wearing that supposedly gave him confidence — before Jess goes to bed, Nick grabs her (!!) and kisses her (!!!) in what will go down for me as the best, most satisfying first kiss between two characters ever.

But apart from The Kiss, "Cooler" is an amazing episode. It introduces us to Brenda Song, who gets to have a storyline with Lamorne Morris' character, Winston, in which he says: "AY GIRL WHAT YO NAME IS." (Probably the best thing Winston has ever said in this show.) It's an episode that is all about New Girl shenanigans and hijinks at their finest. But the best thing about the show is that it portrays silly things like drinking games with real, emotional consequences. It used True American as a conduit for a Nick/Jess kiss (one that originally wasn't scripted), and that decision led to the show's greatest stretch of episodes to date. The fact that New Girl is bold and unfraid to do things like "Cooler" is what makes the show so consistently great.

3. "Background Check"

This New Girl episode is one of the absolute funniest to date. "Background Check" functions like a quasi-bottle episode (there is a scene with Coach driving around town trying to find a "little brother" that he made up for Winston so it's not technically a bottle episode) in which the entire loft tries to hide — what they believe is — meth from an officer from the police academy who is coming to do a background check on Winston. What makes this episode so great is mostly how utterly hilarious it is to watch everyone try and keep a secret from Winston. From the moment Jess reveals the "meth" she has to the boys until the very final moments, "Background Check" is written so tightly with jokes, both physical comedy (Jess and Cece trying to flush the "meth" down the toilet; Nick panic-moonwalking and profuse sweating, etc.) and written comedy (Nick's rapid-fire confession of his secrets; everyone yelling at one another; Coach realizing what it looks like with him approaching little boys in a car, etc.). But it's also an episode that points out the root of the problem — Jess and the rest of the group don't think Winston has what it takes to become an officer. It's that kernel of truth that stings us just like it does Winston toward the episode's end. "Background Check" is one of the episodes of this show that I will always put on to make me feel better. Between Jake Johnson wearing a kimono to Jess trying to stuff her bra full of aquarium rocks, I fall a little more in love with this episode every time I watch it.



2. "Parking Spot"

I think that "Parking Spot" is the one episode of New Girl (besides my #1 pick) that I have watched and re-watched the most — so much, in fact, that I've practically memorized all of the dialogue and quote it as I watch. This episode takes place in the aftermath of the Nick/Jess kiss, and only Winston knows at this point what happened between the two. "Parking Spot" is an episode all about the gang fighting over a recently-discovered space in the parking garage for apartment 4D. It's also an episode that features Schmidt discovering what happened between Nick and Jess. ("It smells like freakin' Tijuana!") The dialogue in this episode is so witty, so hilarious, and so quick that it deserves all the acclaim I can possibly give it. (Thank you, Rebecca Addelman, who also wrote "Cooler"!)

One of the reasons that I love "Parking Spot" so much is because it is extremely joke- and shenanigan-heavy and it gives the chance for Max Greenfield to really shine. Though this episode is about the trio of Jake Johnson, Zooey Deschanel, and Greenfield together, he really is the one who excels at the comedy in this (from Schmidt hitting Nick with the car — which will STILL make me laugh, to his "dumbest boy in school" line, to the final moments where he pees himself and kisses Jess) episode. And what's so great, too, is that this really is an episode that focuses on Nick. Jess, and Schmidt. There aren't many episodes (apart from season three's "The Captain") that center around these three solely, but this is one such episode. I absolutely love everything about "Parking Spot." Its hilarity and heart (the moment Nick says "it was me, Jess. I couldn't help it" is the moment we all melted, right?) continue to make it one of my all-time favorite episodes. And that brings us to...

1. "Injured"

Nothing will ever top "Injured" as my favorite episode of New Girl. Ironically enough, this episode aired four years ago exactly today (thank you, Timehop!) and remains the episode that I will always point people toward and say: "This. This is what the show is all about." (My tweets back then were also super prophetic, as I said: "Okay, honestly... I'm not exaggerating but that is the best episode of TV I have watched in a LONG time.")

Because for all of its humor and its hilarious, memorable scenes and moments (the Nick Miller sad song is one of the greatest things ever written on this series), the most important thing to me about "Injured" is the fact that it addressed an issue like Nick possibly having cancer with tact and humor and sensitivity. The thing about New Girl is that it is a show that can be completely and totally silly, but recognizes when it needs to be serious and doesn't try to undercut those emotions or scenes with jokes. So yes, while a lot of this episode is fixated on funny things like how completely and utterly terrible Winston's "van" really is, it is also an episode that allows space for Nick to sit on the beach and reflect about what he could possibly be facing. The episode — written by the impeccable J.J. Philbin — doesn't gloss over the hard stuff in favor of the one-liners and jokes. "Injured" ties together both the serious and the silly and does so in a way that is completely and totally beautiful. Everything from start to finish in this episode is so great and also proves why this show works so well. New Girl is, at its core, a show about people facing stuff in life together and being there for one another. "Injured" is the best example of this in the entire series, in my opinion. It's funny and progresses both plot and characterization. And it will likely always remain my favorite.

So what do you all think? As we celebrate 100 episodes of New Girl, which have been your favorites and why? Hit up the comments and let me know!


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