Season 4 of New Girl has been weird in regards to both the quality and the content of the episodes. For what it’s worth, it’s been a good season thus far — none of the episodes have been bad — but it’s been an interesting mix of episodes that have the unfortunate duty of trying to repair the ups and downs of Season 3 and trying to repair the weakened friendship between Nick and Jess. It’s also been weird just in terms of plots: Jess’ father dates her high school nemesis, Jess dates a guy with a micro penis, and, last night, Jess has a bag of meth in her closet. What?
“Background Check” immediately does two things right. It puts all of the roommates (and Cece!) into an enclosed place (the loft) for just about the entire episode. (Save for a quick scene of Coach trolling for a kid at a playground, “Background Check” is essentially a bottle episode.) It also places the emphasis on Winston, finally, and gives him a little added depth rather than just the “I don’t know, he’s kind of weird?” personality that ran through much of last season. And also there is a madcap, frenetic energy running throughout the episode that, at the highest moments, is reminiscent of the manic highs of a Broad City offering.
Winston is the one having the titular background check, with a tough and perfectly deadpan Sgt. Dorado checking out his apartment and references to see if he’s a good fit for police work. Dorado’s calm, gruff delivery is a wonderful contrast to the roommates’ frantic insanity even though she’s just as weird. In fact, my favorite exchange of the night is between her and Winston:
“My bird died.” “My mother would say that when a bird died, he gets another set of wings in heaven.” “Well this bird was going straight to hell.”
“Background Check” definitely zigs when you think it’s going to zag. It’s not the expected roommates (Nick, Schmidt) who have sketchy stuff hidden in their rooms but it’s uber-innocent Jess. And it’s not just a dimebag of weed or, as Coach suggests, “”Did you steal some kisses and hide them in an envelope?” but instead, a giant bag of meth. No, she’s not actually a meth user (though that may explain some of her erratic behavior) but instead acquired the drugs in the most Jess-like way possible: She bought a footstool at a garage sale and it just happened to have meth in it. Of course!
From there, the episode is a ridiculous and hilarious mess of events involving Jess trying to hide/get rid of the meth (she stuffs her bra, she attempts to flush it down the toilet) while the Sergeant is in the loft. Add Winston’s ongoing confusion, Schmidt and Cece faking being together to help Jess (and to get their “will-they (again)/won’t-they (again)” storyline back on track), Nick’s inability to lie without sweating profusely (it’s why he doesn’t play poker or talk to pregnant women), and Coach getting stuck in his own crazy lie and the episode is a recipe for wonderful disaster. It never slows down.
“Background Check” is easily the funniest episode of Season 4 so far and even has more laughs-per-minute than many episodes from previous seasons. The funny lines were flying fast — Jess claiming it’s medical meth for her cramps, Nick admitting to the Sergeant that he once put a lemon in his mother’s mouth (maybe one of the best deliveries in the world), the reveal that Winston says a prayer whenever he gets on an escalator — with a rapid-fire delivery that was 30 Rock-like at times.
But New Girl doesn’t go fully off the rails; it turns out that it wasn’t real meth, of course, but just a bag of aquarium rocks. Everything basically returns to status quo at the end of the episode and Winston’s job isn’t in jeopardy. What New Girl often does best is inject some real feelings into its silly humor and “Background Check” is no exception.
The point of the episode isn’t Jess’ meth (or “meth”) but the friendship between Jess and Winston. She tends to look at the rest of her roommates like they’re massive screw-ups (with good reason) and so she’s been overly concerned that Winston’s failing out of the academy because she doesn’t think he’s cut out for police work. They have a nice heart-to-heart in the middle of the craziness in which he calls her out for not believing in him and she’s honest about everything. It manages to be a nice and sweet moment that doesn’t distract too much from everything else but adds a nice bit of pathos. It was a nearly perfect episode of New Girl, especially because of the balance given to the characters, and was at a level that I hope to see continue during this season.