‘New Girl’ Season 4 Episode 3 Recap: “Julie Beckman’s Older Sister”

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Last week, I mentioned how great it is that New Girl routinely switches up the pairings on the show, dividing up the characters in fresh ways instead of keeping the same people together week after week. “Julie Beckman’s Older Sister” is another example, though the pairing doesn’t work as well as last week. In the main, emotion-driven story is Jess and Cece are paired up as Jess comes to terms with her father’s new relationship while the sillier and funnier subplot has the guys in a more sitcom-y environment as they accidentally sabotage one of Schmidt’s job interviews. (It’s actually pretty similar to the group at Winston’s BBQ.) The storylines aren’t equal but they’re both lovely in their own way.

With Jess, she not only has to face that strange situation where her father is dating someone — and very open about it — but the show escalates it by having Bob’s special someone be a girl Jess went to school with. She’s not just any classmate but “Trashley” (Kaitlin Olson), Jess’ nemesis who once slept with Jess’ high school boyfriend (while Jess watched from the bleachers, noting how gross sex looks from above and concluding that must be why God considers it a sin). It’s natural for Jess to feel suspicious of her father’s girlfriend, not just because it’s Ashley, but because Jess still feels the need to look out for her father and to take care of him even though they’re both adults. Plus, there’s always that feeling that no one will ever be good enough to date him just as, to Bob, no one will ever be good enough for his daughter.

Jess and Cece’s disapproval leads to Jess desperate to do something to break them up, especially after she learns that Bob is already planning to propose to Ashley. The Jess/Cece friendship is one of the most overlooked bright spots of New Girl and something that I wish the show would touch upon more often (and more adorable flashbacks, please!) so their scenes together were, as always, a delight. Plus Hannah Simone gets a chance to show off her comedic timing (“Am I supposed to say client now?”). They have different approaches to the problem at hand: Jess wants to write a strong letter to her father whereas Cece wants to go the more direct route and snoop through Ashley’s phone for evidence that Ashley is an awful person.

The “evidence” they find (incriminating texts from another guy which involves a very funny and surprised-it-made-it-through-the-censors “cumin” joke) turns out to be false because Ashley is a recovering sex addict. What’s refreshing about “Julie Beckman’s Older Sister” is that New Girl actually isn’t committed to making Ashley a villain. That would be the easy route, to reveal that she’s been cheating on Bob, or that she’s only in this to screw with an old high school classmate, or even just having Bob uncomfortable with Ashley’s past. On the contrary, Bob gleefully talks about this past — “She’s had sex with hundreds of guys!” he says proudly, remarking on the entire Saturday they spent trying and failing to tally them all up — and in the bigger sense, it turns out Ashley is pretty OK. But it’s too late; Ashley has bailed because of Jess and Cece’s meddling.

New Girl is not a villainous show but one characterized by awkward sweetness. The characters often try to go good things — or what they believe is good — but just happen to go about it the wrong way. Jess is trying to help her father by “exposing” Ashley because she (understandably) believes Ashley isn’t good for him. When her mistake is revealed, Jess has a heart-to-heart with her father and ends up helping him propose. The emotional moment doesn’t hit as hard as it could because although Bob (played by Rob Reiner) is a great guy that pops in once in a while, he’s still not there long enough for that conversation, or his proposal, to feel earned. It’s a nice scene but that’s it: it’s only nice and I doubt I’ll remember it anytime soon. (Until we get the wedding episode featuring Jess’ father’s friends and her old high school classmates which please, please New Girl, make that happen.)

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, is a joyously funny storyline involving all the guys. Schmidt has to pitch a sponge (an item that, hilariously, no one seems to quite understand) and enlists his roommates to be part of the focus group to make him look good. It is, as I’ve mentioned, similar to last week’s storyline with Winston but I like that this season of New Girl is more focused on their careers than their love lives so far because both are equally important to this age group. It’s also nice that this friend group isn’t unnecessarily competitive and are willing to help each other out — sort of a “if you do better at work, we all feel better about ourselves” type mentality.

Of course, the guys aren’t that good at helping Schmidt out but they do have some laugh-out-loud lines and delivery such as “I like cleaning. It is the only thing I can control in a world full of chaos.” During the focus group, some get distracted by trying to ad-lib and screw up Schmidt’s carefully prepared comments while Nick is distracted by a pretty girl who doesn’t care about sponges meaning now he doesn’t care, either. Again, everything works out as Schmidt comes up with a new idea on the spot inspired by the image of Nick trying to hook up in their shared, messy room. It’s a solid episode of New Girl but I’d still love it even if it was just Nick staring confusedly at a sponge for a half-hour, uttering questions like “What side does the dirty stuff go on?”