Like most other single-camera, niche-audience TV comedies in this age of the serialized drama, New Girl‘s challenge is to make every episode laugh-out-loud funny while also advancing the multiple season-long storylines that ensure the growth of its characters and the progression of their relationships. Whereas Seinfeld and Friends could thread two dozen self-contained 22-minute stories together with little more than a few in-jokes or one on-again-off-again romance (you know which one I mean), now we expect every major player to have his or her own compelling trajectory. (Imagine if we’d demanded that of Kramer!) And while New Girl often does a great job seamlessly integrating character development and big laughs, last night’s episode was almost entirely devoted to the former — and forgot to give us almost any of the latter.
“Coming Out” begins with a moment that has been inevitable since Jess and Ryan got together: their decision to come clean to their coworkers about their relationship. What’s unexpected, and kind of brilliant, is the way it comes about — through Coach, who wants Ryan off the market so he can be the “hot teacher” again and sets about digging up court cases supporting colleagues’ right to date each other. (Since I’m filling in for your regular Flavorwire New Girl recapper, Pilot Viruet, and may not get another chance to express this unsolicited opinion, this seems like the right moment to tell you that I hope Jess stays with Ryan forever, because I still don’t think Nick deserves her.)
As it turns out, Jess’ boss isn’t fazed by the revelation, but he does warn her that the teachers will revolt the moment they get the sense that she’s favoring Ryan. Of course, that happens almost immediately: just after she announces at a faculty meeting that they’re dating, it’s time for Jess to hear teachers’ ideas for a field trip. The proposals are awful (a wastewater treatment plant is mentioned)… except for Ryan’s, of course, a space-themed outing that he’s created a lovely visual aid to illustrate. Jess naively believes that the other teachers will understand that she’s chosen his trip because it’s by far the best idea; instead, they swarm her office and line up to complain about favoritism.
It doesn’t take long for her to cave to her underlings’ pressure and switch to Brian Posehn the biology teacher’s “foliage” field trip — which turns out to be his master plan to put middle schoolers to work landscaping his house. The chain-gang reveal is one of the few truly funny moments in “Coming Out.”
The thing is, we’re not here to laugh. We’re here to see Jess learn a (tentative, conditional) lesson in sticking up for herself, despite the fact that she wants to be liked. We even get the requisite moment of feminism, when Cece points out that a man in Jess’ position would flaunt and take advantage of having a girlfriend at school. In a later faculty meeting, she takes a stronger position on her relationship with Ryan — and lets slip that she loves him. He says “I love you” back, so we’ve got that moment checked off the TV-couple checklist.
Elsewhere this week in New Girl character development, Schmidt and Nick are both in a rut. Well, OK, Nick — who Schmidt insists was “a Da Vinci in tie dye” when they were in college together — is in the same rut he’s been occupying for three and a half seasons: no ambition, no fire, no motivation at all, really. Schmidt, who Nick says used to live by his own rules, has practically become a slave to his boss, Gina. (This bit is illustrated with a sight gag involving a horse costume that perhaps could have been funny, but I found the execution pretty groan-worthy.) By the end of “Coming Out,” they’ve decided to collaborate again — just like they did to make and sell Nick’s genuinely dumb-ingenious “beer teat” back in college. Obviously, their initial ideas (most of which involve the words “robot,” “black,” and “turkey”) are beyond terrible, so at least we’ve got a setup that should pay off in plenty of comedy in the episodes to come.
Finally — because Winston’s big, pink crystal “storyline” doesn’t merit more than a mention and the general trajectory of that character just depresses me — there’s Coach’s quest to sleep with teachers now that Ryan is out of the dating pool. This was the only part of “Coming Out” that actually got me laughing, from Coach’s attempt to dress like Ryan to his apparently irresistible post-wasp attack persona as “street lunatic with a face made of fire.” And as much as I hate to buy into “slutty” archetypes, the teacher who can’t stop saying “frickin'” — as in, “He just made me realize, I want a guy that has frickin’ feelings!” — cracks me up and needs to become a regular character.
It’s never a good sign when the tag is the funniest part of an episode, but Coach and his wasp-stung face line-dancing to Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine” at the bar was by far the highlight of “Coming Out” for me. This week, New Girl sacrificed comedy for character development; hopefully that will pay off in some very funny episodes to come.