Despite its insistent punchiness, despite those twee-as-all-hell opening titles, New Girl is at its best when it’s dark. In a Best of 2012 write-up, The A.V. Club praised showrunner Liz Meriwether’s slightly sadistic plotting: “That she and her writing staff somehow made this great comedy, instead of mournful drama, was the show’s best trick, a laughfest perched on the edge of despair.” Since this season started two weeks ago, I’ve been waiting for the central cast’s overwhelming stupidity to catch up with them, and last night, it did. After a week of nothing really happening, the characters of New Girl are clearly on their way to trouble, and god help me for loving to watch them slip.
New Girl has always been about how dramatically one person can shift people’s lives, and that catalyst for change — as the title infers — is usually Jess. Nevertheless, Schmidt appears to be the one wreaking the most havoc this season. Practically everyone is in a different place by the end of “Double Date,” and all of it is his fault. Schmidt can’t keep his mouth shut about his two-timing escapades with Cece and Elizabeth, and Nick can’t hide Schmidt’s infidelity from Jess. The shit, of course, hits the fan, and this is where the purpose of Schmidt’s otherwise tired, disposable love triangle reveals itself: it’s this season’s first clear example of why Jess and Nick’s relationship is such a bad idea.
This development isn’t important because Jess and Nick’s relationship is so interesting (it isn’t) — it’s because the friendships at the center of New Girl are its end-all-be-all, and the whole show has been leading up to their possible dissolution. Several alliances were torn last night: Cece and Elizabeth found out about Schmidt almost too easily (though it did take the whole episode), and this could be the last straw for Cece (and only Cece because face it, we’ll never see Elizabeth again). Schmidt projected his feelings of anger and regret onto his distrust of Nick and Jess’ relationship, which he threatens to sabotage as punishment for his own sins. The apartment has never felt quite so tense.
Meanwhile, Winston is still stuck with bum plots. Allow me to recap his weekly story lines thus far. Week one: solving a puzzle. Week two: contemplating the murder of a cat. Week three: getting reservations at a popular restaurant. Altogether, these plot points combine to look like the idle moments in an excerpt of American Psycho, but Winston is clearly more than the sum of his parts. This thought could just be due to Lamorne Morris’ consistently incredible performances, but Winston is honestly becoming the most interesting character on this show. Think about it: Nick and Jess are getting boring, and Schmidt’s romantic troubles have had way too much screen time at this point. Winston is a wild card, and the writers could do anything with him if they decided to give him the time of day.
He’s mostly interesting because of his place in the show’s power rankings: Jess, Nick, and Schmidt fluctuate wildly, while the only seemingly unstable Winston stays in the same place. This episode’s biggest surprise could be a subtle reveal that Schmidt, the most buttoned-up person in his household, is the real crazy one. Winston, despite eating glass in an attempt to get a table at a restaurant, seems to be doing just fine. He even alludes to this in the beginning of the episode after watching his roommates make plans for a double date: “I know I’m single. I’m OK with it. It was a choice that I made. As a man.”
While Winston might’ve been using this statement to invite himself along with his friends, the meaning behind his words seemed serious. If you watch Winston closely, you can tell he’s a sensible guy. Last week, when Daisy came to the apartment with an apology for cheating, Winston didn’t desperately try to find out more about the other guy, like Schmidt would’ve. He didn’t ignore his gut just to dive into a murky relationship, like Nick and Jess did. Instead, he calmly told Daisy he deserved better, casually took her cat into his room, and probably slept really well. It was the most lucid decision anyone has made on this show in a long time.
It would be nice to see the writers call attention to this sort of imbalance. I’d love to see an episode where Schmidt freaks out because Winston, of all people, is more put-together than he is. Hell, even Nick, the sad, reckless bartender, is shaming Schmidt for his terrible decisions. Schmidt and Cece actually getting together seems less and less likely, and like Jess and Nick’s relationship, the romance itself isn’t as important as what it’s going to mean for the people involved. Characters like Schmidt have the same goals as ever, but history is making it increasingly hard for anyone to get what they want. This season has just begun, but a lot of obstacles already loom in the distance, and I honestly hope Jess & co. hit as many as possible.