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New Girl Recap: Never Cross the Bar

NEW GIRL:  Nick (Jake Johnson, L) meets a tough and beautiful customer (guest star Olivia Munn, R) at the bar with boyfriend troubles in the "Bathtub" episode of NEW GIRL airing Tuesday, Dec. 4 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX.  Also pictured: guest star Craig Gellis, C. ©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co.  Cr:  Jennifer Clasen/FOX

Tonally, last night’s New Girl went in three different directions. Winston and Jess seemed to be starring in an old-fashioned sitcom, complete with a fake robbery and people getting locked in closets. Schmidt and Cece’s plot felt like a drama-heavy romantic comedy — the kind that’s supposed to elicit an emotional reaction, not just make a bunch of jokes. And Nick’s adventures with Angie the stripper, played by Olivia Munn, felt like an atmospheric Boy Meets Bad Girl story, although in this case the atmosphere was provided largely by Angie’s boyfriend’s tattoos.

Winston and Jess
In dividing up the three male leads, New Girl tapped into a new, mostly unexplored resource: the friend-chemistry between Winston and Jess. They’re like Lucy and Ethel, getting into domestic scrapes and then dreaming up hare-brained schemes to get themselves out again.

The magic of this pairing comes from the fact that Jess is more practical than she lets on, while Winston is significantly less so. Jess might be the one who pitches her roommates on a bathtub by making a collage, but Winston’s the one who decides they should hide the tub on the roof and secretly install it in the middle of the night. When the tub spills, destroying Schmidt’s ceiling and soaking his suits, Winston’s the one who decides to fake a robbery. Remember that Winston also thinks hitting someone with a ski is a good prank; for a guy who’s supposed to be the straight man, he has terrible judgment. When he succumbs to a panic attack, it’s Jess who sensibly talks him down — though she locks herself in a closet in the process.

This plot twist might be a hundred years old, but two things kept it from feeling hoary: Jess’s speech on claustrophobia (“It’s going to feel like I’m dying. Only more so. It’s like death plus more death”) and the reappearance of Remy, the landlord who just wants to have a threesome. I love how earnest he is, like he truly believes that one day, if he keeps plugging away, somebody’s finally going to offer him group sex in exchange for basic apartment repairs.

Schmidt and Cece
Oof, right? This happened very fast, and fizzled just as fast, and yet somehow it was still kind of heart-crushing. Cece had to break up with Robbie because he’s not ready for fatherhood: “I told him I had to start getting serious about having kids, and he said ‘Okay, that’s cool,’ but then that’s all he said for the next eight hours, and he hasn’t said anything to me since.” Schmidt wants to help her start the baby-making process immediately, but Cece is wary, so he does what any sane, reasonable person would do: He dons a lightning-bolt suit, puts a pigeon in a box, and shows up at her apartment to declare his love.

Cece wants him to calm down, and frankly, it’s hard to blame her. Where’s the slow burn? It’s easy for us in the audience to root for her and Schmidt, but it would be even easier if the show drew out their reunion over a couple of episodes. Since Schmidt rushed in, though, Cece explains her hesitation. Her mother wants her to be with an Indian guy. Also, she hates Jews. Schmidt is unfazed: “Everyone hates the Jews. She’s in the majority.” And: “I’ll convert to Indianism!”

Cultural differences aren’t enough of an obstacle, though, so then New Girl throws another roadblock at the couple. Schmidt’s boss Emma, the one he just barely stopped sleeping with, wants him to pitch her on the big Double V vitamin vodka account. That means Schmidt needs to do a shot of every vodka in the alphabet, which means he shows up to dinner with Cece very late and very drunk. I’m pretty sure the same thing happened to Ryan Reynolds in a movie I saw on an airplane once, except minus the whole kinky sex-contract backstory. Also minus this line, from a wasted but triumphant Schmidt: “I can pay for our baby’s college now. UCLA. UMass. Literally anywhere they want to go. Any of the U schools.”

In disgust, Cece tells her mother to go ahead and play matchmaker. Schmidt is crushed — and scene. It’s like we’re two thirds of the way through a romantic comedy, which is the traditional point at which sitcom love stories leave off. After all, once the romantic comedy is over, what happens then?

Nick and Angie, a.k.a. Thirsty Mendelson
If Zooey Deschanel and Lamorne Morris have great friend chemistry, Olivia Munn and Jake Johnson have great chemistry, period. That moment when she climbed on the bar and kissed him? Chills. As it happens, we’re about halfway through the season, and so far, although Nick has been consistently hilarious, he hasn’t found much of an overarching story line. Now that he’s put his zombie novel behind him, it’s probably time for him to him to lock into a bigger plot, and a badass stripper girlfriend might be just the thing he needs.

That said, the meeting of Nick and Angie didn’t leave room for a ton of jokes. Nick was almost funnier before he actually started talking to her, when he was just pining: “She’s surly like I’m surly. She rolls her eyes at everybody like I roll my eyes at everybody. She likes to drink in the afternoon. I like to drink in the afternoon.” Jake Johnson is charming, especially when he’s being awkward — “You’re a whiskey girl like me!” — but lately most of Nick’s humor has derived from being single and crotchety. It’s going to take a little while to get used to him bantering with Olivia Munn instead of Rob Reiner.

Photo: Jennifer Clasen/FOX