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New Girl Recap: Hot to Trot

NEW GIRL:  L-R:  Nick (Jake Johnson), Jess (Zooey Deschanel), Holly (guest star Brooklyn Decker), Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Daisy (guest star Brenda Song) play a heated game of "True American" in the "Cooler" episode of NEW GIRL airing Tuesday, Jan. 29 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

Last night was the first time I’ve ever wished New Girl were filmed in front of a live studio audience, because when That Thing happened — you know, the big spoiler-y thing, the thing that is going to be much discussed in this recap, and so if you don’t want it to be spoiled, you should duck out now —when That Thing happened, it really should have been accompanied by a chorus of people going “Woooo!” An audience response would have undercut some of the sexiness of that scene, sure, but it would also have drowned out the embarrassing fact that I was also going “Woooo!” all by myself in my apartment.

But how could you not “Wooo”? There’s been a year and a half of tension leading up to that kiss, not to mention a decades-long history of ensemble sitcoms that have trained us to expect opposite-sex friendships to smolder into romance. Even if Nick and Jess would be terrible together — and I think there’s a lot of evidence that suggests they would be — it’s still satisfying to see them acknowledge, even briefly, that there’s something between them. (Or is it? Vulture's Josh Wolk and Margaret Lyons debate whether or not this is a good development over here.)

The kiss was only one of the elements that made last night’s episode such a crowd-pleaser, though. There was also the return of True American, now in an updated format with stripping. And last night was the first time in a while that the plot didn’t send the housemates running in two different directions. With everyone in one place for the majority of the half-hour, the show seemed tighter. It’s not that recent episodes have run long, but last night felt especially short as it hurtled toward its firecracker of an ending.   

Right now, Jess is the only housemate with a significant other, which also makes her the only housemate who’s not in the middle of a dry spell. The others are in a pretty rough place. Winston hasn’t dated since he broke up with Shelby, who wasn’t really sleeping with him anyway. He’s so hard up that he’s lost the ability to speak to girls without stammering. Nick, back to bachelorhood after his fling with Angie, has found solace in a woman’s trench coat that was delivered to the apartment by accident. And Schmidt, who’s still trying to get over Cece, can’t even get things going with himself: “It’s like a taffy pull on a hot summer’s day.”

So the three go off in search of ladies, leaving Jess home because she has a tendency to ruin the mood (or, as Nick puts it, because she’s “a cooler”). Despite getting kicked out of a nightclub, their quest sort of works when they wind up at Nick’s bar trying to impress Holly, played by the professionally gorgeous Brooklyn Decker. She’s not interested in Winston’s stammering schtick, but she’s attracted to sad dudes, and Nick is a champion of sadness. Then again, Schmidt is a champion of random competition, and he’s not going to let Nick out-sad him.

The hot girl who’s turned on by loserdom is a construct that seems more and more popular lately: A recent How I Met Your Mother involved a younger woman who likes Ted because she thinks he’s elderly and decrepit, and the first season of Louie featured a similar scenario. There’s a real undercurrent of darkness here, because each scenario requires the guy to surrender his own pride in order to get laid. (Obviously being older isn’t the same thing as being depressed — we all get older, but not all of us get depressed — but both the HIMYM and Louie characters are specifically into the downside of aging.)

New Girl adds a twist to the formula by making it into a contest between Nick, who is legitimately a mess, and Schmidt, who’s just pretending. The more Schmidt says things like, “Holly, these are my abs. Hard to believe I used to be a big fat guy,” the more Nick’s own sadness gets thrown into relief. After all, what does he have going for him, other than a couple of good friends, a zombie novel manuscript, and a way with physical comedy?

Well, there’s his relationship with Jess. The two are now so close that Nick runs back to the apartment when Jess panics after hearing scratching on the front door. “Seriously. I think it might be gang related,” she tells Nick over the phone. “I’ve always been worried about my blue curtains.” When Jess sees that Nick has brought Holly, she returns the favor by suggesting a game of Strip True American. She and Nick really have each other’s backs— until they wind up on the wrong end of a dare and have to kiss.

There’s a lot of almost-kissing happening in the latter half of this episode, because while Nick and Jess are working out the true meaning of their relationship behind the Iron Curtain, Winston is busy getting hammered under a table with Daisy, a girl he met at the bar. She’s able to coax him into using complete sentences by pretending to be engaged, but of course this is just a ploy, and by the end of the show the ring has come off. We don’t know much about Daisy, but so far, she seems like the anti-Shelby: assertive, sassy, and maybe a little devious. This could be really good for Winston.

As for Schmidt, he’s finally won the sadness contest by telling Holly all about his last relationship when Cece herself bursts in the door, having also answered Jess’s calls for help dealing with the mystery scratcher. When Schmidt puts her on the spot, she agrees to pretend she’s still in love with him to help his chances with Holly. Did she mean it on some level? It’s ambiguous. The best part of this scene, anyway, was her jilted date’s growing exasperation at this incredibly complicated form of rejection.

All of this pales, though, in comparison to the Kiss. The little details in the lead-up to the big moment were great: I loved Sam’s good-natured willingness to cheer them on (do we think he still believes Winston is his greatest threat?) and the fact that Schmidt passed out when he saw Nick climbing around outside the window in his lady-trench. Winston and Schmidt were also cute playing angry parents, even as their concern underscored what a crazy move that was on Nick’s part.

Kissing Jess, though, might ultimately be even riskier than bolting out the window. Unlike, say, Pam and Jim on The Office, she and Nick don’t seem like characters whose problems will be solved if they get together. It’s hard to tell exactly how damaged Nick might be, but his issues definitely go way beyond being single. Dating Jess won’t fix him, and it might not be great for her, either.

Put another way: It’s sweet that Jess likes Nick enough to draw his face on a melon, but that last shot, of Melon Nick busted open on the loft floor, was pretty ominous. Still, those two kids have undeniable chemistry. It’s going to be really interesting to see where things go from here.

Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FOX