After an overly ambitious and mostly unfunny third season, “New Girl” has a lot to prove in its fourth year. While the first two seasons were the perfect blend of rom-com sweetness and snappy dialogue, more recent episodes have lost touch with what made the series so refreshing in its earlier years. But “New Girl” is basically a new show at this point. Nick and Jess are no longer a couple, Schmidt isn’t pining after Cece anymore, Coach is back to liven up the stale group dynamic. All these changes could either point toward a re-invigorated new era for the show, or season three could go down in history as the year “New Girl” dropped off in quality and predicted its own demise.
Season Four Premiere
Tuesdays at 9 p.m.
“Last Wedding” simultaneously represents classic “New Girl” and a version of the show viewers have never seen before. Jess (Zooey Deschanel, “(500) Days of Summer”) and the gang are frustrated at having to attend 11 weddings in one summer, especially since none of them is in a serious relationship, and they’ve even managed to miss out on the wonderful array of hookups that weddings could present. But the 12th wedding has to be a special one — as Schmidt (Max Greenfield, “About Alex”) points out, it’s the last chance to meet people before sweaters and fall clothing make discerning a potential date’s figure nearly impossible (obviously, this is what Ned Stark really meant when he said “winter is coming”).
“New Girl” is at its best when it throws all its characters into one silly situation and doesn’t try for too elaborate or dramatic a plot. A wedding hookup challenge, or “sex fist” as Jess calls it (five friends joining together to tear through the competition) presents the perfect opportunity to spotlight the tenuous relationships between the friends after the fallout of the third season.
Jess has her eye on handsome groomsman Ted (Reid Scott, “Veep”), but must vie for his affections alongside a hyper-competitive wedding attendee (Jessica Biel, “Total Recall”). Usually, an excess of guest stars means that a show isn’t confident enough in its supporting characters to keep viewers tuning in, but Scott and Biel’s comedic chops put them a step above simple stunt casting. Biel’s character brings a self-conscious and pathetic angle from Jess. She’s apparently the only one of her roommates with a real shot at bringing someone home, but she’s the second-best choice of the two ladies pursuing Ted. Winston (Lamorne Morris, “Dear Secret Santa”) gives her the advice of “Biden-ing” Ted (that is, just following him around until he basically just has to pick her), but Jess is the kind of girl who’s used to being picked first and having guys fall in love with her at first sight. After she’s locked in the bathroom, she muses to Nick (Jake Johnson, “Drinking Buddies”) that maybe she’s just meant to be a “toilet person,” and will never have her own wedding invitation decorating anybody’s fridge. It’s a powerful moment, or as powerful as a sitcom can be — Nick and Jess wondering how they ended up sitting on a toilet together and why this isn’t their wedding.
Even Schmidt, who was so sour and mean-spirited last season as to make him completely unrelatable, was back to his pleasantly preening and shallow self. He and Nick have crushes on two bridesmaids, but the ladies only agree to spend the night if they can all participate in a foursome. It’s impossible to decide which is funnier: the fact that Schmidt is so enthusiastic to participate in group sex with his roommate or that Nick is so grumpy and hesitant. Thankfully, Schmidt decides that Nick’s hoof-like hands are too unappealing for romance, but the buildup to that final confrontation is easily the best part of the episode. “New Girl” has built an elaborate backstory between Nick and Schmidt, but generally doesn’t explore their friendship as much as some of the other roommates. It’s refreshing to see that even in its fourth season, “New Girl” is finding new relationships to mine for laughs, and hopefully this episode is indicative that Nick and Schmidt will be sharing even more scenes together.
“New Girl” still has its fair share of problems — mainly, finding a place for Coach (Damon Wayans Jr., “Happy Endings”) in the tangle of friendships, and keeping Winston relevant. Sadly, it’s pretty rare to see two Black characters of the same gender in supporting roles on the same TV show, and if only “New Girl” could find a way to incorporate both of them more seamlessly into the narrative, it’d be a stronger show. As it stands, Winston sat in his chair all night, offering the occasional advice or one-liner, but he barely had a place in anyone’s subplot. Coach tried to play stud at the wedding, but after word had gotten around to all the ladies in attendance that he wasn’t even in “The Best Man Holiday,” it really hurt his game. Nick and Schmidt’s friendship is so great, and it’s baffling that “New Girl” hasn’t even occurred to afford Winston and Coach a bromance on the level of their costars.
The season premiere of “New Girl” was a strong comeback and showed the post-breakup relationships between all the characters in a sophisticated way. The series still has a long way to go to re-establish its place as one of the best sitcoms on TV, but it’s making good progress by taking things slow and explore the possibilities of relationships between its characters. Who knows — the sex fist may be victorious yet.