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New Girl Recap: Fun and Games

NEW GIRL:  The gang plays drinking games when Jess (Zooey Deschanel, L) invites Russell (guest star Dermot Mulroney, C) to spend the weekend at the loft in the "Normal" episode of NEW GIRL airing Tuesday, April 10 (9:00-9:31 PM ET/PT) on FOX.  Also pictured:  Max Greenfield (R).  ©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co.  Cr:  Greg Gayne/FOX

Hey, who wants to play a round of True American? All that beer-pounding, chair-standing, and presidential-name-shouting looked like a delightful way to spend an evening, even if the rules were incomprehensible from the outside. Like Calvinball and It’s Always Sunny’s Chardee MacDennis, True American is a game that only makes sense if you’re one of the inventors. It’s the kind of activity built for roommate-hood, a celebration of the in-jokes people create when they spend a lot of time packed into close quarters, or at least sharing a bathroom.

Last night’s episode was an ode to the joys and irritations of living in the same space as all of your friends. Even Cece has essentially moved into the apartment now that her relationship with Schmidt is out in the open. When Cece calls Jess to ask about her week with Russell, she’s barely twenty feet away. A few moments later, we see the two of them chatting in Schmidt’s room. It’s a subtle testament to the way everyone’s boundaries have changed since the season began: New Girl Jess is now so fully integrated into the household that she can hang out on Schmidt’s bed with her shoes on. (Presumably Schmidt didn’t know, or else he’d have spent the rest of the episode out getting his comforter dry-cleaned.)

Russell’s visit underscores the way the dynamic has shifted, since now he’s the odd one out. In a classic sitcom boss-is-coming-to-dinner trope, Jess warns the guys to act normal. We get a vision of how she fears they might act: Schmidt tricks Russell into bending down so that he can check the label on his suit. Nick flushes the urinal for him. And Winston sneaks up, startles him, and asks, “You scared of black people?”

The real deal doesn’t start out that much prettier. First Nick greets Russell by reciting the lyrics to Aladdin songs, then Schmidt harasses him about his taste in sushi, then Nick grabs some “ethnic noodles” out of his bowl and solemnly announces, “We’re bowl brothers now.” When Russell approaches the sink, it starts malfunctioning, leading into a very Three Stooges moment where Nick’s bashing a piece of wood down the garbage disposal while the other guys hold onto his shoulders (“Anchor me!”) and Jess wields a frying pan.

Luckily, a round of True American smooths out the evening’s rough edges. The game is 90 percent drinking, with “a loose Candyland-like structure to it.” The Clash’s “Death or Glory” on the soundtrack here is a funny touch. Russell turns out to be a pro, and soon everyone’s drunk and happy. Nick’s warmed up enough to begin pitching Russell on his idea for RealApps, a product that’s essentially a Swiss Army smartphone (“You ever want to take a ride on a magic idea? Well, strap on”). And Winston’s comfortable enough to ask for job advice.

See, Winston just got hired as a research assistant for sports-radio host Joe Napoli. But Napoli turns out to be a terrible, abusive boss, something Winston should have realized when Kareem Abdul Jabbar himself snuck him a note warning him away from the position. One of Winston’s duties is to provide Napoli with six Beyoncé-colored shakes every day, so Russell drunkenly suggests Winston “power-play” him by dipping his balls in the drinks. Jess thinks this is a terrible idea, but Russell and the roommates all tell her it’s a guy thing. Feeling left out, she sulks off to bed.

The problem is that Jess can’t confront Russell about how awkward she feels. He used to fight all the time with his ex-wife, so she feels like she has to make their relationship different by keeping it fight-free. She unloads all of this on Cece and Schmidt in their shared bedroom, causing Schmidt to sputter, “This room is not a place of comforting. This is Darwin’s jungle. Where open-minded people do weird things to each other.” Clearly, this whole lack of boundaries thing is going to take some getting used to.

In the morning, Russell’s hung-over and in no mood to go apple-picking with Jess, when Schmidt and Nick attempt to pitch him on RealApps. They’re all dressed up in suits, and they’ve attached a bunch of utensils to a smartphone. Of course, it’s a prototype of a prototype at best, since it doesn’t include any of the baller metals. Still, they hope to impress him, and they’re shocked when he points out that the product’s name sounds like “relapse.” When they try to show him how it works, he accidentally gets stabbed. The house is out of Band-Aids, so Jess tapes a napkin to his hand.

Suddenly, it’s very apparent why Russell might prefer to hang out at his own place. He storms out, but Jess chases him down at home — not to apologize, exactly, but to stand up for her lifestyle. “If you wanna get with me, you’re going to have to get with my friends, and that is a Spice Girls song,” she tells him. It works.

Winston, meanwhile, has taken Russell’s advice and dipped his beans (that’s his choice of words) in Joe Napoli’s shakes. But when he tries to go back to tutoring his little student Alvin, Alvin tells his mom that Winston smokes pot. Like many sitcom children, Alvin is preternaturally wise, and he knows that it’s time for Winston to move past nannying. Inspired, Winston dashes back to the studio and solemnly warns his boss about the shakes: “They’ve been compromised.” When he explains what he did, Napoli is unexpectedly thrilled. “You know what we’re gonna do? We’re gonna do that to Kareem!”

So much of New Girl is about adapting (or not adapting) to the rules of adulthood. Schmidt has embraced adult responsibility wholeheartedly, since it allows him to buy expensive clothing. Nick plans to avoid it as long as possible. Jess has a sort of stealth maturity — she might wear polka dots and quote the Spice Girls, but she has a strong, levelheaded sense of who she is and what she wants out of the world. Winston’s the one roommate who really doesn’t know how much of a grown-up he wants to be. This radio job seems like a step away from his basketball-playing youth and toward a more stable adult career, but ultimately, and ironically, it’s an adolescent prank that endears him to his boss.

Photo: Greg Gayne/FOX