New Girl Season 3, Episode 2 Recap: “Nerd”


New Girl is at its best when it’s weird. Despite its fluffy exterior, this show’s explorations of adult relationships often go to some pretty uncomfortable places, and it’s riveting to watch how deep everyone can go into their own dramas.

That being said, last night was too weird. Last week, I proposed that this could become New Girl‘s most interesting season, which is a presumptuous statement this early in the game, but I stand by it. I saw the potential in the season because I anticipated this weirdness. But the kind of New Girl weirdness I love is all over the place in a way that makes sense. When the central cast is stumbling into incredibly strange situations week after week, good, clean writing is their saving grace. The characters screw up and we develop a better understanding of who they are because of their struggles. Because of this, New Girl frequently benefits from chaos, and that chaos was there last night, but the human element that makes it work was just barely latent.

First off, so we can get this out of the way, there is something real about the Schmidt/Cece/Elizabeth love triangle. Love triangles are just a recurring, unfortunate byproduct of basic human emotion, and they’ll probably exist for as long as we do. But on television, the way Schmidt handles these two women he clearly loves is the very definition of tired. We’ve seen so many episodes of men comedically juggling women and moving them from room to room so that they won’t see each other until the inevitable fallout. But because this fallout has been inevitable for several episodes, it seems so pointless.

It’s a shame, because this love triangle honestly could be interesting. These are women who reflect equally important parts of Schmidt’s life: Cece fits the glamorous lifestyle he wants for himself, while Elizabeth has made him more comfortable with his awkward, inescapable past. It’s an interesting dichotomy that’s worth going into, and in order to do so, the writers need to focus on Schmidt’s feelings and not how he’s going to prevent himself from hurting anyone else’s. Heartbreak has been in the works since before Cece cancelled her own wedding, and Schmidt almost cuts to the chase and confesses his unfaithfulness to Cece. His frustrated coworker Eva Amurri stands in for all of us when she tries to speed up the process. This is going somewhere, and New Girl writers would do themselves a solid if they just got to the point. Schmidt’s plot isn’t just a disservice to the characters involved — it’s a waste of these fine actors.

Nick and Jess’ story goes to interesting places when Jess expresses a desire to impress cool co-workers. A wild bunch of teachers (that includes the delightful Dreama Walker of Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23) presents Jess with the typical “wrong crowd” trope, and it’s a lot of fun to watch her get unruly. It’s obvious that her coworkers are trouble, but Jess is a pretty tame character — couldn’t she use a drunken toilet dance every now and then? Though it is wise for Nick to intervene before she screws up, I found myself wanting him to stay out of her business. This is not going to be a thing either of them can do, because Nick and Jess absolutely love to meddle in people’s personal lives. This invites another question I hope the writers will address: Isn’t this incessant desire to meddle going to blow up in someone’s face? Nick and Jess are all smiles by the episode’s end, so the show isn’t exactly hinting at any trouble just yet, but it’s almost certainly coming.

But most importantly, we really, really have a Winston problem. “Yup, Winston’s default characterization is definitely now ‘an insane person,'” critic Alan Sepinwall tweeted near the end of last night’s episode. And how the hell did we get here? How did we get to Winston holding a shovel over a cat’s head? Sure, we know that he’s a very strange man with some disturbingly violent approaches to pranks, but this does not look like a guy who would try to kill a girl’s cat as revenge for cheating. Winston is not a sociopath, though it seems that New Girl would like us to think so.

It’s all the more aggravating because Winston has these really strong moments of clarity. When his girlfriend Daisy comes to his door looking for forgiveness, he turns her away very calmly and surely. There’s occasionally an Abed-on-Community feel to Winston’s plotting, as if this eccentric underdog is secretly more levelheaded than everyone else. I wish the writers would give us a bit more insight on what’s going on in Winston’s head. His occasional psychosis gives us the impression that something is happening, but then this clear emotional trauma doesn’t head anywhere worthwhile.

And really, we all knew Brenda Song wasn’t going to stick around. She never got much screen time in the first place, so the Winston/Daisy romance didn’t get a chance to even come close to being an A-story (plus, she’s on that terrible show Dads now). Do we ever get to go there? Will writers ever give Winston the kind of attention they give Jess, Nick, or Schmidt? Hopefully, his breakup to a relationship we all forgot about anyway will open the door to something interesting for Winston. I said that last week about his weird non-plot of obsession with puzzles, and within a week, he was trying to kill a cat, so you never know.

The principal problem with last night’s episode is that it didn’t take the show anywhere. That’s probably a strange complaint about a sitcom, but what makes some of today’s comedies so great is that they don’t always leave everything tidy by the episode’s end. Last season, the show was at its best when they left a bigger and bigger mess for the characters to pick up every week. And the potential for that is there, because there were nice bits of development last night that deserve to be expanded upon: Nick is probably holding Jess back a little, and a romantic excuse for Winston’s weirdness could finally move him forward. (I leave Schmidt’s plot out on purpose. Absolutely nothing happened there.) In this case, maybe this kind of chaos is just an essential hurdle for the writers to overcome before they give us something good to work with.