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New Girl Recap: Jess Likes Sam

Like so many of us, the New Girl writers love bad old pop music and college flashbacks. So of course when Nick and his freshman crush Amelia finally wound up in bed last night, the song playing softly in the background was Sheryl Crow’s 1995 hit “Strong Enough.” You know: “Lie to me, I promise I’ll believe.” Sure, it could have been a throwaway period detail, a bit of scene-setting not unlike Nick’s ratty Baja hoodie. But hear me out, folks: I think it was something more. I think that song contains the key to last night’s episode.

Because here’s the thing: Last night, all of our principle characters were lying—not to other people, but to themselves. Nick, Jess, Winston, Schmidt, and Cece are each as knowingly self-deluded as Sheryl in that song. Listen, I know it sounds dubious, but the lady dated Lance Armstrong for years, so obviously she knows a thing or two about not being honest.

Jess
Things are finally looking up for Jess. She’s got a job playing a zombie in a haunted house, and she’s still hanging out with handsome Sam in a non-romantic friends-with-benefits kind of way. As Jess puts it, she’s going to kick him to the curb once she uses his body like a moisturizer sample. Except then it turns out that Sam has a terrible secret. He’s a doctor. For children. Who call him “Dr. Sam.” Once Jess sees that, she’s a goner.

Jess also works with kids, so you’d think this revelation would bring her and Sam together. But instead, it just complicates things. Jess knew when she met Sam that she wasn’t good at hooking up without getting emotionally attached. Still, she managed to convince him—and herself—that she wasn’t looking for a relationship.

Sam might be the world’s most philandering pediatrician, but at least he’s truthful about what he wants. Jess, on the other hand, has been lying to herself this entire time. Now that her real feelings are coming out, she’s trying to change the rules of the game after they’ve already been established. That puts Sam in a position of authority, which might explain why, as soon as Jess realizes she likes him, they both start acting like he’s the doctor and she’s the patient. People complain about New Girl treating Jess like a child, but I’ve never seen anything on the show quite as infantilizing as Sam reaching into his pocket and offering Jess a lollipop right before they break up.

Nick
All through college, Nick thought he was in love with Amelia (Maria Thayer, who you might know as Kenneth’s blind love interest on 30 Rock or Tammi Littlenut on Strangers with Candy.) But now she’s in town, and they’ve finally gotten together, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Nick’s in denial about who she really is.

Nick is also lying to himself about how absolutely terrified he is of haunted houses. Jess’s workplace is really just a bunch of semi-employed mummies and Frankenstein’s monsters discussing their boy problems, but it’s still his nightmare. So it’s very brave of him to plunge in there to warn Jess once he realizes Sam is never going to settle down with her. I’m even willing to give him some extra credit for punching the zombie that attacks him under the cover of darkness, even though that zombie turns out to be Jess herself. Do you know how many guts it takes to punch a zombie? I don’t, but based on what everyone is always Tweeting about The Walking Dead, I’m willing to believe the answer is “a lot.”

Winston
Why is Winston stuck in a sexless relationship with Shelby? Because they went out back when he was a basketball star, and he needed to get back together with her to feel like he was still cool. That is a seriously deluded reason to be in a relationship, and deep down, Winston knows it. Maybe their plan to wear matching sexy Halloween costumes is a test, in the same way that Jess tested Sam by asking him to dress up when he came to her haunted house.

If so, Shelby thoroughly fails with her “reigning cats and dogs” costume. Winston goes to the trouble of gluing a mustache on top of his mustache—a sacrifice for love if I’ve ever heard of one—and she shows up wearing a robe covered in plush kittens and puppies? Winston tries to be nice, even manages to force an awkward “Those stuffed animals are going to look good on the floor of my bedroom,” but it’s obvious the relationship is doomed.

For the record, I think Shelby, like Sam, is being 100% true to herself. She’s just a girl who likes bad puns more than she likes having an active sex life.

Schmidt and Cece 
Here’s where things get really tragic, because these two star-crossed lovers have managed to rope Robbie, a genuinely nice and innocent guy who always has gum, into their triangle of delusion. Schmidt is busy lying to himself about Robbie, who he thinks is unworthy of Cece. He’s also in total denial about his head-butting skills. And he’s suffering from the belief that dressing up like Abraham Lincoln will get Cece’s attention. The crazy thing is, it almost does—but only because, since she’s dressed all in white as an angel, they look kind of like a bride and groom when they stand next to each other.  

(Schmidt is not, however, lying to himself about the awesomeness of his Plan B costume, Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, and by “it” I mean cranberry man-briefs.)

As for Cece, she’s in denial, at least a bit, about her feelings for Schmidt. Right? She told Robbie she missed hanging out with him, and that look she gives him as he’s walking away in his McConaughey costume—clearly, there’s still a little something there.

Now that we’ve diagnosed everyone using the rubric of a mid-90s country-rock love song, let’s talk about the episode as a whole. It’s tough for a 23-minute sitcom to balance four separate storylines, but last night gave everyone equal airtime (including Winston.) And as flawed as all four roommates might be, as deluded as they are about love, they all manage to remain incredibly likeable. It’s true that Schmidt has attracted a bit of a backlash this season as the novelty of his character wears off, but he’s still the only character on TV who can bring that level of wounded intensity to a Halloween-versus-Purim joke.

If there’s one moment that showcased New Girl’s balancing act, it’s the Zombie Woody Allen bit at the beginning. (“These brains are terrible! And such small portions.”) There was so much to appreciate about that scene—not just the lines themselves, but the chemistry evident among the cast members as they’re riffing, and the way everyone encourages Winston when he has trouble thinking of a joke, and the obvious joy that the characters take in cracking each other up. There’s a warmth there that goes beyond the patter. I don’t know Sheryl Crow personally, but I can only assume she would agree.

Photo: FOX