New Girl is about people who have no idea what they’re doing in more ways than one: Growing up is hard! These kids are still so young! They have so much to learn from each other! These are all valid, accurate descriptions of the struggles depicted on this show, but Jess & Co. also continually prove that one reason they have such a hard time with life is that they’re TOTAL IDIOTS. Everyone seems to have a very hard time understanding some pretty normal things! This can make New Girl a little grating sometimes, but it’s also part of what makes it so comforting. A distraught thirtysomething might come home from a terrible day at work, watch New Girl, and think, “If this dummy can survive taking a bite out of a dead fish just to make her boyfriend happy, I am going to be just fine.”
As much as I love all of the characters on New Girl, they’re usually super dumb. It’s kind of their thing, and a well-written episode will put this haplessness in context with young people’s collective expectation that everything will make sense at a certain age. That’s a compelling point that the writers make frequently, and it’s worth repeating because of how mind-blowing it can feel to the large sums of us who were promised comfortable, sane adulthoods. “Wait, things really don’t just get easier once you turn 30? You mean I’m just going to keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over again until I die?” But “Thanksgiving III” is all of those stupid mistakes without many interesting lessons.
The plot of this episode revolves around a sitcom formula we’ve seen over and over again, that of an emasculated man trying to prove to everyone that he is, in fact, a man — and by “a man,” I of course mean “a man in the most masculine, heteronormative standards possible.” After Coach accuses Nick of letting the girly Jess steal his “manhood,” Nick is suddenly on a misguided mission to show Coach how wrong he is by taking the whole gang on a Thanksgiving camping trip. It, predictably, goes horribly wrong to the point where Jess is eating a dead fish Nick found in order to make him feel comfortable in his masculinity.
I don’t mean to be all Women’s Studies minor over here, but oooooooof. What an uncomfortable storyline! The entire Nick-Jess plot this week grossed me out from beginning to end, which is a shame, because the writers could’ve done something interesting with this. I really would’ve loved to see this addition to the trope of proving one’s masculinity if it had at all attempted to subvert or respond to that kind of tired, regressive story. Perhaps we could’ve talked about how much Nick has taken after previous girlfriends like Caroline, how that is an established part of his character, and how “embarrassingly” emotional Coach was after his own recent breakup. So many things would’ve been better than what we got, which was a diseased Jess on a hospital bed, telling Nick that he’s “the man that [she wants].” If you needed a sign that these two are terrible for each other, here is the biggest one yet.
I thought I’d be just as bothered by Schmidt and Coach’s pissing contest, but their feud over Cece is so interesting to me. Love triangles normally bore me to tears, but most of my favorite plot lines on New Girl remind me of things that have confused me in my own social life. How do you interact with a friend who’s dating your ex? And on the other hand, how do you hang out with your visibly lovelorn friend without feeling like an asshole for exacerbating his pain? These are questions without answers, because all friendships and romances are going to react differently. This sort of thing ended several of my closest friendships a few years back, so I can’t help but ache for Schmidt. It was also so genuinely, literally (yes), “Yahoo Doris”-level heartwarming to watch Schmidt give Coach advice on wooing Cece. It is extremely hard to get to the kind of place where you can give your friend insider tips on how to get the thing you very badly want and will not get. That is golden. That is a sitcom ending to aspire to in your everyday life.
Because of moments like these, it’s been surprisingly rewarding to watch Schmidt grow these past few weeks. He was easily the most immature character when this season started, but he’s quickly gone on to make more emotional progress than anyone else on the show. After so many weeks of rolling my eyes at Schmidt, his angst is finally compelling to me (and thank God, because Max Greenfield deserves well-written problems).
As much as I love where Schmidt is going, Winston continues to spend his time proving he’s better than everyone else. I’ve said it before, but it really bears repeating: This guy is so much more comfortable in who he is than anybody else on the show. Unlike Nick, Schmidt, and Coach, Winston could not possibly give less of a shit about proving his manhood. He’d rather stay home and drink beer in his sweet-ass kitten pajamas. He’d like it even more if his friends would take a break from hunting to do some of his favorite things, like pottery. “I never get a say!” Winston complains to Cece. “Whenever I wanna do something, they don’t give a hoot!” Winston doesn’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone, nor does he feel any pressure to change — he just wants his friends to respect him. I want the exact same damn thing, for Winston and myself. Wanting your friends to take you seriously, eccentricities and all, is an extremely valid concern, and I’d love to see New Girl give that some attention. It seems right in line with the whole “quirky girl” thing they built their reputation on, and Winston is, after all, the new Jess.
Regardless of whether or not Winston’s potential will ever be realized, here’s some great news for the future: Adam Brody just booked a guest-starring role as one of Jess’ old exes, a nice stay-at-home dad named Berkeley (which could only be a reference to the Cohens’ alma mater — God bless you, Liz Meriweather). I’m sure it’s going to be about why on earth Jess would make the mistake of ending a relationship with Seth Cohen, but we won’t find that out until next year when the episode airs. With that long distance and a weak episode aside, New Girl continues to be one of TV’s most rewarding sitcoms.