‘New Girl’ Season 3, Episode 5 Recap: “The Box”


There’s a prerequisite lightness to the way New Girl handles its comedic adult struggles. We’re supposed to take heart in just how hard it is for these characters to grow up, but wow, everyone on this show is dramatically, shockingly bad at being an adult! Their life choices are becoming so poor as to not be all that laughable anymore, and I spent most of last night shaking my head. The results of this episode were almost exclusively damning, and even the characters that didn’t go through any real change seem to be in a worse place than last week.

Last night mostly revolved around Nick’s discovery of an inheritance from his late father, albeit in the sketchy form of a paper bag filled with an indeterminate amount of cash. Nick, being a reckless idiot, immediately heads to the mall and spends it on the dumbest, most unnecessary things he can find, while Jess discovers a box full of scarily overdue bills in Nick’s room. In a slightly frightening, but understandably meddlesome way, Jess spends his money behind his back in order to help him pay off debt. Nick is furious when he finds out, and his reaction is kind of unsettling: he defends his decision to hide his bills away, saying that if he can’t see the problem, it doesn’t exist.

There are clearly so many things wrong with that idea, and it actually makes his entire lifestyle a bit harder to believe. If that box is so unbelievably full, why are debt collectors not pounding at their door day after day? How can any of these people afford to live in such a beautiful, spacious Los Angeles loft if they’re not making any efforts to save money? Jess and Schmidt appear to be the only sensible spenders in their household, but they can’t both be holding down the fort, and Jess is just a teacher. It’s a problem so unfortunate and true to life, I was too distracted by its utter improbability to relate to it.

Jess and Nick’s financial head-butting also confirms some of my previous suspicions that Nick is holding her back. Jess can be kind of a dunce, but so can all of us, and she appears to have her head on straight most of the time. Despite the fact that she somewhat uncomfortably spends Nick’s money behind his back, she does it out of concern and the knowledge that he absolutely will not do it himself, even if she talks to him about the very real consequences. His response to a confrontation from Jess didn’t help — he lamented Jess’ attempts to help him grow up and told her he wouldn’t change for anyone, as if his current trajectory were worth defending. Nick does end up opening a bank account by the end of the episode, but even his responses to progress are unsettling. Instead of agreeing to pay an eight-dollar processing fee, Nick and Jess pull a dramatic, zany stunt in front of their bank teller in order to have it waived.

All I could think for most of this episode was: What the hell is wrong with everyone? Why can’t anyone just face their problems head on? What is with the constant need to dance around and meddle and avoid reality? No one seems to be able to boldly confront even the smallest problems. Winston, for example, sees Nick’s sudden inheritance as a chance to trick Nick into giving him money he’s owed Winston for years. After he tells Jess, she asks him why he can’t just ask Nick for the money, and Winston laughs in her face. That reaction more or less summed up “The Box,” except there was no laughter coming from the other side of the screen. If you are that dramatically hapless and afraid, if you really have to enact shenanigans in order to avoid paying eight goddamn dollars, life is going to be a deeply uncomfortable struggle for you. And while Winston eventually gets several hundred dollars back, what does he do with it? He spends it on a candelabra. For Schmidt.

Schmidt’s trajectory is disquieting in a different way. Finally overwhelmed with guilt after breaking the hearts of two women he loves, Schmidt convinces himself he’s a bad person. He’s pretty much right, and his actions confirm it: he goes all over town looking for someone, anyone, to tell him he’s a good person, without necessarily doing anything to earn it. After performing the Heimlich maneuver on a choking biker, Schmidt congratulates himself and sees it as immediate, god-given proof that he’s a hero. However, no one really praises him, and rightfully so. Schmidt has to lie in the bed he’s made for himself, but he doesn’t seem to understand that by the end of the episode. I often like when there isn’t a clean resolution in sitcom plots, but this week’s story didn’t seem to move him anywhere. It was actually kind of just an example of how Schmidt is not, in fact, a very good person. Because of this strangely static writing, Schmidt’s plot was probably the most uncomfortable in an episode filled with disconcerting plots. When it comes to the kinds of problems that plague Nick and Winston, Schmidt is going to be just fine. In terms of actually sustaining positive relationships with any number of human beings, Schmidt’s arc is more troubling than anyone else’s.

This season is going to some weird places, and that’s absolutely what I wanted, but last night got a bit too weird. Even after tiny victories like Nick’s bank account, these characters seem totally doomed, mostly for their inability to learn from their own mistakes. I could appreciate the reality of that, but I find myself not wanting to see a reflection of my own fear in these characters — at least not in the way they were handled last night. I’d like to see something resembling hope, despite my repeated insistence that I want to see these characters fail, because it’s been fun to watch in the past. But after seeing just how much common sense everyone lacks and how dramatically they can screw up their lives, I think I take that back.