So far, New Girl has had an uneven third season. There weren’t any bad episodes, but there were a few that felt slightly off and lacking in the consistent laughs and electricity that ran throughout the stellar second season. New Girl threw itself a few curveballs only to get mixed results. First, there was the awful love triangle storyline with Schmidt, a plot that only made him incredibly unlikable. Then there was the return of Coach (and who doesn’t love Damon Wayans, Jr.?), although New Girl didn’t exactly know what to do with him — after all, the show hadn’t quite figured out what to do with Winston, either. In recent episodes, though, New Girl has been building itself back up slowly but surely, and “Sister” proves that the show still hasn’t run out of steam.
While I love all of the roommates on New Girl, the show often benefits from throwing a guest star into the mix. Lizzy Caplan’s early arc in the first season marked the first time the show proved it was smarter than the “adorkable” marketing campaign. Other episodes shined by casting great stars as the roommates’ relatives (Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner as Jess’ parents; Margo Martindale, Nick Kroll, and Bill Burr as Nick’s strange family). “Sister” keeps up that streak as Linda Cardellini makes an appearance as Jess’ wild older sister, a woman who we first meet in a jail cell.
Jess is embarrassed by her sister — though she shouldn’t be; Nick later points out that most of his family members have either been or currently are in jail — and lies to Nick about Abby’s flight so they can’t meet. Naturally, Nick assumes that Jess is instead embarrassed by him. What’s a sitcom without lies and misunderstandings? “Sister” isn’t really about Nick and Jess’ miscommunications, but rather about the sibling relationship between Jess and Abby.
“Sister” has fun pointing out the differences between the two Day sisters (Jess likes to sing! Abby likes to threaten to shove a dress down Jess’ throat if she doesn’t stop singing!), but the highlight of the episode is when the two actually get along. There is a spectacular scene buried in the middle the episode when the Day sisters fall back into step with each other while harmlessly making fun of their mother. It’s a very familiar scene if you have a sibling, especially a sibling that you rarely see after moving out of your parents’ house. Fighting is inevitable with siblings — and can even be healthy — and often these smaller, sillier fights don’t have any set result or winner but just slowly dissolve for unrelated reasons. My older brother and I would sometimes argue to the point of exhaustion and only stopped when one of us would break and accidentally crack a joke or when our parents would walk in and do something horribly embarrassing, making us realize that the time we spent fighting could be spent more constructively: teasing our parents for being so uncool. That is basically what happens with Jess and Abby.
Abby makes a subconscious gesture that reminds Jess of their mother, and the two immediately forget anything they were originally annoyed about, choosing instead to focus on the horror of their mother’s tiny denim backpack. It’s nice to see them getting along, especially because of the fun chemistry between Zooey Deschanel and Linda Cardellini. The peace is only temporary, however, because just as a fight can quickly end, one can quickly begin again. The catalyst this time is a text on Jess’ phone (if there is one thing I’ve learned from television, it’s to always bring my phone with me everywhere because the second I leave it unattended is the second I’ll get an incriminating text that is definitely about the person sitting closest to it), prompting Abby to bail and head to a hotel bar.
Meanwhile, “Sisters” also gives us a nice Schmidt storyline. I had been sour on Schmidt early in the season (how dare he hurt Merritt Wever!), but as he redeems himself to his friends (namely Cece), he is also redeeming himself to me. Getting him out of the loft was a good idea, not only because it put distance between him and the rest of the roommates (even if the distance is only about two feet), but because it also gave him a new challenge to deal with: being alone. Schmidt isn’t good at being alone. He needs a date and he needs an audience. Being alone means he starts talking in speeches, monologuing an imagined future instead of having a conversation in the present.
Schmidt recruits Nick to be his wingman at a Bar Mitzvah (“I am not watching a kid get circumcised,” Nick exclaims), a story that touches on both Schmidt’s newfound loneliness and the cracks that can appear in friendships when one enters a new relationship, leaving the other alone, left behind, and bored as hell. Nick doesn’t have the time — or motivation — to be Schmidt’s wingman anymore (which is sad because I’d love more scenes of their shenanigans together, like Nick loudly asking, “Are you the author of So You Mastered The Female Orgasm, Now What?“). Nick gets distracted with his Jess dilemma (even though it isn’t a dilemma at all) and originally fails to help Schmidt out, but they eventually get it together. Nick’s master wingman plan — creepily hitting on an elderly woman and making out with her so Schmidt can save the day — is weird and gross and ultimately fails, but at least the two have started to mend the small rift between them. I hope this season continues to push Schmidt in the right direction, away from childish asshole and toward some sort of adult, perhaps one in a healthy relationship. (Speaking of, Cece has a brief subplot with Coach that thankfully ends their flirting game and has them agreeing to be friends. Winston once again fades into the background and spends the episode eating soup with Bertie.)
Jess and Abby reconcile, too, as Jess makes a last minute decision to let Abby live with her at the loft. It’s a sort of “pay it forward” moment: the roommates let Jess move in when she needed the change, and now Jess invites in Abby. The brief moment when Nick and Abby finally interact is amazing. The fact that the more dramatic scenes from Freaks and Geeks have been seared into my brain combined with Cardellini’s recent appearances in Mad Men have made me forget that she’s such a great comedic actress, and I can’t wait to see more of her.