Like many third seasons of sitcoms, this season of New Girl has had its ups and downs. It was particularly rough in the beginning and though no episode was straight-up unwatchable, there were a few that were disappointing. Off the top of my head? “The Box,” “Thanksgiving III,” and “Prince” (sorry, Prince fans!) are episodes that I don’t ever need to watch again. Around “Birthday,” a classically funny episode that became an instant favorite for me, New Girl began to reassure me that it hadn’t gone downhill just yet; it was just having some adjustment issues.
In the show’s defense, it had a lot to adjust to. It played around with the group’s established dynamic: Nick and Jess finally went “all in” with their relationship (only to break up a few weeks ago), Coach returned and the show tried to find a place for him (they did, eventually, and he’s been upped to a regular for season 4), and Schmidt hit rock bottom and became my least favorite character (before redeeming himself as the season went on). New Girl didn’t handle all of these changes as gracefully as it could have — though surprisingly, Nick/Jess wasn’t really a problem in terms of humor and storytelling — but the show did its best and I commend the writers for their ambition.
Plus, without all of these slight lows, the show wouldn’t have been able to craft an episode as great as “Cruise,” one that ties together everything from the whole season yet doesn’t necessarily provide permanent solutions. The main plot in “Cruise” is that Nick and Jess find themselves stuck with a nonrefundable cruise that they drunkenly booked when they were still together (“We’re never going to die!”) and now have roped in the other four members of their gang to go with them in hopes that it will make things less awkward. Everyone has concerns about being cooped up in a ship with a couple that just broke up (though most of them have been cooped up in an apartment with a couple that just broke up? I guess at least that has an escape route that doesn’t involve diving overboard). Coach doesn’t want to go for other reasons — he is scared of boats and/or water (I feel you, Coach, water is terrifying).
The weirdness starts early when Jess thinks Captain Jan Nortis (Reno 911‘s Kerri Kenney-Silver) is hitting on Nick and later continues when the ex-couple learn that they can’t refund the $600 romance package; cue a quick montage of the exes in couples yoga, taking unromantic romantic photos, having a couples massage, and sensually folding towels (I don’t know what that one was about). It’s all too much tension, too much familiarity and closeness for a couple that hasn’t yet moved on, so after a nice moment Nick can’t help but try to kiss Jess.
They make the decision to split up for the rest of the vacation and divide the ship in half. It’s a childish (and futile) decision, so childish that I half-expected one of them to trot out a roll of masking tape to mark a dividing line in the middle of the ship. The real concern comes when Nick tells Winston that the ex-couple is going to take a break from being friends in general. This is the norm for couples like this; if you want to remain friends in the long run, you should definitely take a break while you each work on getting over each other and dealing with any lingering feelings toward a person without that person being next to you (literally and figuratively). But it can’t be the norm for New Girl — I mean, aside from the fact that they are the centerpieces of the show, the narrative also still has them living together and interacting with the same very tight-knit group of friends. Winston isn’t OK with Nick and Jess not being friends — it’s like the President and the Vice President not being friends, he protests — so he devises a plan to get Nick and Jess in the same room because Winston is the best and Winston is a secret power on this show; here’s hoping he gets to show it off more in the future.
What follows is a funny and cathartic intervention for everyone: Nick and Jess, their group of friends, and the audience watching. I may go back and forth on the Nick/Jess pairing — it is possible that I just know too many Nicks in real life and can never be sure if love, hate, or envy their qualities — but everything after “Mars Landing” has been so tense. Even last week’s lackluster “Dance,” which was basically trying to be a break in tension felt tightly wound at times, because they still don’t know how to act around each other. This tension isn’t a bad thing and it’s been mostly funny to watch — “Big News” was about as good as the show gets — but oh, I just worry too much about make believe characters. So this intervention of sorts where Nick and Jess air out their concerns (mostly about living together as exes and the fear that they’ll encounter each others future hunks and hobags) felt like letting out a breath that you didn’t know you were holding.
Also, we learned that Coach is upset that he will never know the infinite joy of what it’s like to carry a child inside of him. So, that was perfect.
I haven’t forgotten about Schmidt and Cece. As I’ve mentioned, Schmidt became a bit deplorable to me during the Love Triangle We Do Not Speak Of early in this season but has slowly been climbing back up to the top (kudos to Max Greenfield for knowing how to play Schmidt with equal parts slime and charm). The little side plot about Schmidt buying Cece a class ring to celebrate her getting her GED was adorable (and I will put aside the idea that the only reason the show pulled the Cece-graduates-high-school thing out of nowhere was so Schmidt can do something cute, not so Cece can have a better storyline — there is always next season for Cece! Please?). But what works best about this was that New Girl didn’t shove them together at the end of “Cruise.” Instead, Schmidt accidentally drops the ring overboard and doesn’t profess his love. I’m sure this will all happen next season but I’m much more into the two never getting back together. Cece needs a storyline that has nothing to do with a guy.
All of the final minutes — the six friends realizing they are locked in the room and remaining there for three days until they’re crazed and filthy — were wonderful. Finally, back home, they all remark on the news photo of themselves before trickling away until it’s just Schmidt, Nick, and Jess looking ahead to the future, a future that’s sure to include a fantastic fourth season (and hopefully a future that will put these two on the back-burner and bring forward the rest of the underdeveloped characters). Oh, and bunk beds! Nick and Schmidt in bunk beds! I’m sold.