With Nick and Jess’ breakup casting a dark shadow over the end of Season 3 — at least for those who, unlike me, would ever actually wish a boyfriend as hopeless and deluded as Nick on Jess — it was perhaps inevitable that we’d get a Very Special Episode of New Girl. But the one we got, in last night’s “Dance,” felt a bit weak. Maybe I just have a heart of ice (I already admitted to not being a Nick-and-Jess shipper; now it’s time to reassure you that your regular recapper will be back next week for the finale), but the penultimate episode of the season wasn’t as funny as it could have been, and it wasn’t really poignant enough to make up for it, either.
We open on Jess making decorations for a school dance she’s organizing. The theme, “Love Is Forever,” is enough to make her roommates line up to offer her hugs — and Schmidt’s awkward version is an early highlight of the episode. (As someone who’s spent the last few weeks binge-watching New Girl after very unfairly ignoring it for the first two seasons, allow me to restate the obvious: Max Greenfield, you guys! He never misses an opportunity to make a scene funnier.) Later, in the sauna with the guys, we learn that Nick is trying to slim down post-breakup… by eating salads… made mostly of ham. So, great.
The episode takes a turn as it becomes clear that Jess’ broken heart is going to be the least of her problems when it comes to throwing an awesome school dance. She’s got a gaggle of unenthusiastic colleagues to corral (Jess-at-school storylines never did much for me until they started to involve Angela Kinsey and Brian Posehn; now they’re a welcome break from all the Nick stuff), and they all abandon her after everyone shows up to find the gym locked — with a bike lock. Well, all of them except hyper-committed Coach, who offers such reassurances as, “If they wanna bang, they’re gonna have to bang through me.”
Of course, it’s the roommates and Cece to the rescue. Coach attempts to whip the boys into shape with a speech about what terrible chaperones they’ll make. Then he sends Winston to patrol the dance floor, Schmidt to keep an eye on Diabetic Amy (who must eat no more than for cookies but no fewer than two), and Nick… well, Coach confesses he doesn’t think his friend is “chaperone material” before sending him to sweep the parking lot for stragglers.
Coach is, obviously, correct: as soon as Nick gets outside the school, he falls in which a pair of burnouts drinking hard liquor out of Big Gulp cups (“Any billywiz, any juice, and sweet Mary Jane?” he asks them) and soon proves he’s too dumb to be a “‘rone.” Then he starts setting off fireworks… Meanwhile, Winston tries to get the dance party going by busting a few moves to “Call Me Maybe” and ends up bringing “too much heat” — resulting in an entourage of tween girls following him around. And then there’s Schmidt, who’s getting into it with a pint-sized bully who calls him a “flamer” when he defends a chubby kid with whom he clearly identifies.
While the guys are living out their respective preteen fates, the power goes out, leaving Jess and Cece to find glue on the school’s breaker box and realize that someone really is sabotaging the dance. In another of the best moments from “Dance,” they spot Posehn’s character eating a banana in the dark (and singing to himself about eating a banana in the dark) and assume he’s the culprit. An entertainingly poorly executed game of good cop/bad cop ensues.
But the biology teacher turns out to be innocent. The real perpetrator? Wendy, the little outcast who told Jess earlier in the day that she didn’t want to go to the dance but her mom was making her. And here’s where the Very Special Episode stuff kicks in: Jess — herself a recovering school-dance outcast — and Cece offer Wendy, who wrecked the party because she knew no boys would ask her to dance, some #realtalk. Boys are really dumb, says Jess. Cece apparently knows this more than anyone because she’s met a lot of boys. Because she’s traveled a lot! Not because she’s promiscuous or anything! But here’s the thing (about dances, not about sex, Wendy!): “In the end, it’s all worth it. That’s why you have to try.” I know there’s supposed to be some meaning in all this, for Jess’ relationship with Nick, but I expect a little more from New Girl than “Guys are stupid, but don’t give up on love.” This show is best when it’s more specific about the relationships between characters and the particular problems inherent in them, so this moment of vagueness didn’t really resonate with me.
Thankfully, the Full House stuff ends there, making room for some genuine laughs in the episode’s final moments. First, the guys converge in the parking lot for Schmidt’s race against the bully, with Winston now being full-on chased by the pack of girls and Nick riding around in a shopping cart. (Personally, I think Nick’s behavior is beyond the pale even for Nick, and that the writers could have done a much better job writing some of his post-breakup anxieties into these scenes where he basically regresses to the kid he was 20 years ago.) “What kind of men are you?” Coach demands when he stumbles upon the chaotic scene. They are, of course, just as dumb as Jess and Cece have explained to Wendy that boys can be, and there’s nothing to be done but celebrate it.
“Dance” ends with everyone back in darkened gym, holding up cellphones for light as Nick, Winston, and Schmidt perform some hilarously ghastly a cappella rap as — what else? — the Dumbest Boys in School, with everyone from Wendy to the burnouts dancing along. It’s a genuinely warmhearted final scene, one that makes me judge the somewhat emotionally tone-deaf episode a bit less harshly in retrospect. Still, I expect a lot from New Girl and hope we’ll get a finale that pushes the characters, who have really been through a lot lately, a bit further than “Dance” did.