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New Girl Recap: A Day at the Races

NEW GIRL:  L-R:  Jess (Zooey Deschanel), Winston (Lamorne Morris) and Schmidt (Max Greenfield) watch as Nick plays Feely-Cup in the "A Father's Love" episode of NEW GIRL airing Tuesday, Jan. 15 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT)

After several episodes focusing on romance, last night’s New Girl centered on a bromance. Onetime enemies Schmidt and Robbie have teamed up in the face of a new foe: the world’s entire population of Indian men. Meanwhile, Nick’s dad is in town, and he’s exactly the mustachioed con man you’d expect Nick to have as a father.

First, let’s talk about Schmidt and Robbie. It’s an uneasy alliance, as Robbie is still a doofus and Schmidt keeps undermining their fragile connection by threatening to smite him. But neither wants to see Cece wind up in an arranged marriage, so they have a shared interest in working together. They even have a rallying cry: “Cool Guy Power!” (It started out as “White Guy Power!” but Schmidt wisely amended it.)

New Girl’s writers have always worked well with lists, but this partnership causes an embarrassment of riches. Here are Schmidt and Robbie brainstorming ways of winning Cece’s love: forming a barbershop quartet, reenacting Ocean's 12, buying her a star, self-immolating. And here, in the very next scene, is a rundown of Schmidt’s erotic sari-related fantasies: Monsoon Bedding, the Best Erotic Maribone Hotel, Slumdoggy-style Millionaire. It’s almost too much.

Cece’s wearing a sari because she and her family are meeting with the family of Pavun Shetty, handsome superstar businessman and eligible Indian bachelor. Seeing him takes some of the wind out of our dynamic duo’s sails, but hey, they still have each other, right? Or at least they will, until Schmidt convinces Cece to reject Pavun for Robbie, and then smites Robbie in a duel.

Nelson Franklin, who plays Robbie, must be thrilled with this story line, and not just because his character gets to stick around. Around Schmidt, Robbie is starting to feel like a three-dimensional character. He’s so nice and so gentle that he seems slightly detached from reality, and his mild absurdism contrasts nicely with Schmidt’s targeted scheming. Witness this exchange, starting with Schmidt:

“One billion Indian men is a daunting foe. I suddenly feel empathy for Pakistan. It’s like they say: How do you eat an elephant, Robbie?”

“With chopsticks. Slowly. With chopsticks.”

“That’s — no. Chopsticks?”

“In a taco.”

“What?”

“Elephant tacos.”

“Who eats elephant tacos? That’s not even a saying. One bite at a time, Robbie.”

It’s like The Art of War meets Le Petit Prince, and it’s delightful. It’s also somewhere the show hasn’t gone before, which can’t quite be said for the Nick-and-his-dad story line. For weeks now, Nick has been desperately seeking out father figures. When nobody’s around to fill in that role, he does it himself, playing crotchety dad for the other housemates. So of course Nick’s own father, when he finally appears, would be played by perfect-haired, shifty-eyed Dennis Farina, and of course he’d be lacking in parenting skills.

If the Nick-and-his-dad plot wasn’t especially surprising, though, it was still satisfying. It turns out that Walt Miller is a charmer, unlike his son. (I mean, Jake Johnson is totally charming, but it’s safe to say that Nick as a character is not usually being adorable on purpose.) Winston likes him so much he calls him “Poppop” and proudly wears a counterfeit  “Chica Go Bills” hat left over from one of his old schemes. And Jess seems fully won over when Walt nicknames her “Blue Eyes” — or at least won over enough to overlook the fact that Walt has already nicknamed his own son “Little Penis.”

You can see how watching Walt sail through life, winning at Feely Cup and ripping people off, would make Nick into the cynical codger he is today. At first, he wants to sublimate his issues into angry-fixing the sink, but once Walt ropes Jess into his plan to buy a horse, Nick has to get involved.

For all her talk of old-fashioned grifting, Jess makes a pretty terrible fake horse doctor. “I’m seeing a lot of split ends,” she says. “The mane is totally the wrong cut for the shape of his face.” But she’s convincing enough, and generous enough with her “investment” money, to help secure the racehorse Walt renames A Father’s Love.

Nick, of course, does not want a horse, but it doesn’t matter, because Walt wants to resell the nag for his semen, which is apparently huge in Dubai. Once again, Nick feels betrayed. Poor Little Penis! To keep this all from feeling too sentimental, the writers let Jess summarize the theme of the episode in the most ridiculous way possible: “There’s more to A Father’s Love than just semen. Ew! Poetic, but ew.”

Naturally, everything comes to a head in a parking lot in the middle of the night, when Nick and Walt go to sell the horse to some underworld contacts with Russian accents. The gangsters don’t trust Nick, so they make him strip. (They also make him dance while they accompany him a cappella, because this show has a weird fixation on Russian people singing.)

When it looks like the deal might go bad, Nick busts out the Sugar Ray, a vintage con in which he pretends to be going into insulin shock as a distraction. It’s so bizarre that the Russians run off, followed shortly by Jess in the horse trailer. Left alone in the lot, Nick and his dad have no choice but to talk about their problems. Walt takes off his pants as a gesture of apology, and it seems like a lifetime of trust issues is on its way to getting resolved.

Until the next morning, when Jess catches Walt sneaking out for a bagel in Chicago. I like that the show didn’t try to fix Nick and his dad — their relationship is far too damaged for one parking-lot heart-to-heart to do much good. Instead, the writers found their redemptive takeaway in the friendship between Nick and Jess. Nick might not be ready to forgive his dad, start eating vegetables, and become a productive member of society, but at least the next time he takes his anger out on the sink, Jess will understand why.

Photo: Greg Gayne/FOX