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New Girl Recap: Seating Arrangements

NEW GIRL:  Schmidt (Max Greenfield, L) and Nick (Jake Johnson, R) play a game with an older Indian woman (guest star Swati Panat, C) when they attend a dating convention in the "Table 34" episode of NEW GIRL airing Tuesday, Feb. 5 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

Ever since Nick’s cancer scare in season one, New Girl has been keen to remind us that it's about more than just the comic high jinks of a bunch of good-looking loft-dwellers. It’s hardly the first sitcom to balance heart and comedy, but its innovation is to ratchet up the slapstick alongside the strong emotion. There’s so much about the characters’ feelings that they never seem like cartoons, yet the comedy — the fast talking, the pratfalls, Nick’s panic moonwalking — owes a debt to Bugs Bunny and friends. And the deeper the emotions get, the wackier the jokes become.

That’s why last night’s episode had to take place at such an unlikely location. The kiss between Jess and Nick last week set up so much emotional fallout that the show could only compensate by whisking every major character off to Southern California’s largest Indian matrimonial convention.

And I don’t think the writers chose a matchmaking event at random. There’s a parable here about love and structure, with Cece's carefully planned quest to find a husband contrasted against the repercussions of Nick and Jess’s highly spontaneous kiss.

Of course, both approaches to love have their drawbacks. If you kiss your roommate at the end of a stripping-and-politics-based drinking game, you might seriously screw up your living situation (and Lamorne Morris might punch you in the balls). But if you rely on a market-based approach to romance, you might come to doubt your worth as a marriageable commodity.

That’s another reason why the singles convention was a smart move, and not just an excuse to dress Schmidt in a kurta and let all the other characters make Love Guru jokes. In addition to providing a wacky background for the Nick-Jess drama, it gave all of the other characters something to react against.

Or, in the case of Winston, someone to run from. Mojo Man, as he would now like to be called, has emerged reborn after a night with sassy, confident Daisy. His mojo is so strong, in fact, that he's attracted the attentions of Anu, the no-nonsense woman in charge of the convention. When Anu doesn't assign him to a table, he thinks it's a racial thing, but no — she just wants him for herself. This is the most cartoonish element of the episode, and it feels a little recycled: Didn't Schmidt just go through this with his boss? Why is L.A. so full of power-ladies who can't resist our heroes? But at least Winston isn’t totally neglected as the other characters pair off.

It's sort of a shame, though, that Winston doesn't get a table, because the seating chart at the convention provides an interesting new perspective on everyone's status. Conventioneers are assigned tables according to their educational backgrounds and accomplishments, which means Dr. Sam is at table one while Cece gets relegated to Table 34. “I was in Lil Wayne’s last video!” she protests. “I was the girl he was throwing strawberries at in slow motion!” At a club, this might count for something; here, it’s worth exactly the same amount as an unfinished law degree and a zombie novel, so Cece’s stuck sharing a table with Nick.

She’ll always be at Table 1 in Schmidt’s heart, though. “I’m the squirrel,” he tells her. “You’re my nut. Winter is coming, and I’m gonna store you in my cheek, girl.” This is actually one of the less absurd lines to come out of Schmidt’s mouth over the course of the night, as the convention really brings out his penchant for awkward ethnic commentary.

There’s his attempt at conversational Hindi: “Hello. Hello. Samosa? Yes, please, samosa. More towels? Do you know where the white person’s toilet is?” There’s his threat when a potential suitor is monopolizing Cece: “I will Calcut a bitch.” And there’s his passionate speech about how the entire Southern Californian Indian community has failed to recognize the “brown angel” in its midst—a speech followed by an epically clunky mike drop. Some people might find this off-putting, but not Cece. By the end of the episode, she and Schmidt are back in bed together, and she’s asking him to leave his turban on.

For Nick and Jess, things don’t end on such a happy note. They spend most of the episode bickering about whether their kiss meant anything, switching sides when it suits them. (Nick, in anti-kiss mode: “It was like kissing a cousin. It was so nonsexual and nothing.” Jess, making roughly the same point ten minutes later: “You were like a dog, and my mouth was like a bowl full of … dog milk.”) What ultimately matters, though, is that the kiss meant something to Sam. When Jess confesses, he punches Nick in the solar plexus and says the relationship is over. Bye for real, Dr. Sam.

Ostensibly, Jess and Nick both went to the Indian marriage convention in an attempt to avoid the loft. But the trouble with kissing your roommate is that you can’t hide from home forever. The episode closes with the two of them back in their living room, Jess crying into her rosé, Nick trying and failing to cheer her up by dancing around to Taylor Swift. Jess seems genuinely devastated, but Nick is weirdly triumphant: “I’ve never been a homewrecker. And I liked it.” He’s just sensitive enough to know that won’t help the situation, but not sensitive enough to keep his mouth shut.

It’s pretty clear from the awkwardness here, and from the painful way the two hug each other good night, that the kiss isn’t about to repeat itself, even with Sam out of the picture. This is good for New Girl, even if it’s rough on our poor, fictional protagonists. The will-they-or-won’t-they tension has already returned, and now the writers can tease it out for another string of episodes.

Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX