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New Girl Recap: Romancing Yolanda Winston

NEW GIRL

You guys, I’m worried about Outside Dave. What's his deal? How come he’s so down on his luck? When he started shaving Schmidt’s leg, was that a sign of how unhinged he is, or just evidence that he’s better at pranks than Winston?

Obviously, Outside Dave was not the main point of last night’s episode. But he was one distracting element among many in a half-hour that just didn’t gel. Jess and Nick have enough sexual chemistry to power a fleet of Ford Escapés (nice product placement there, by the way), but at this point, they’ve been "are they or aren’t they"-ing for six episodes now, and it’s starting to feel like it’s not quite enough. Bringing the group to Chicago for Nick’s dad’s funeral was a smart move, but now that they’re back in L.A., it might be time for things to move forward.

In an ideal world, there could have been a fun, screwball momentum to the stop-start rhythms of Nick and Jess’s date night. So much about the run-up seemed promising: the upper-boob groping, Nick’s heart-to-heart with Tran, the makeover scene. Each of these moments came with a little bit of added value, whether it was Cece’s take on the boob maneuver (“I would describe that as the pledge of allegiance, which can be sexual”) or Schmidt’s response when Nick asked for help with his clothes (“Burn them. Burn them all.”). Nick even hinted at some new emotional development when he told Tran that, since his father died, he feels like he has to start doing grown-up things, things like mowing the lawn in dark socks.

But once Nick and Jess were inside the restaurant — basically, once Jess figured out they were on a date — the episode started feeling a little disjointed. It was nice to see Jess’s ex Russell again (although, what is going on with his hair?), but the show could have gotten a bit more comedy out of his appearance. As one of New Girl's rare fully adult characters, Russell’s job is always to remind our heroes of just how dysfunctional they are. He does that here, but he’s surprisingly unfriendly about it, telling Nick and Jess that he doesn’t really care what’s going on with either of them. Harsh words from the only man the two of them have both loved!

Russell asks Nick and Jess to write down definitions of their relationship but bolts once he looks at their answers. So here’s the question: Is it possible that they wrote totally contradictory things? The last five episodes have suggested that they’re both equally invested in each other; they’re just too nervous or too protective of the status quo to admit their feelings. If we’d ever gotten a hint that one of them wasn’t actually into the idea of a romance, the moment where Russell looks at their cards would have been nerve-racking. But as things stand, the mystery doesn’t hold a ton of tension.

And in any case, who made Russell the expert? In a way, Nick already defined the relationship perfectly at the beginning of the episode, when he said, “We are roommates. We have made out a couple times. We’re attracted to each other, we’re really good friends, and sometimes we genuinely kind of hate each other. We sometimes touch each other’s boobs.” That sounds more interesting than anything Russell has going on with Brandi.

Back at the loft, meanwhile, Schmidt and Winston have figured out that Nick lied to them about going on a date with someone named Yolanda Winston. Clearly Nick is a male escort! Or he’s sneaking out with Jess. Since Nick is ostensibly the glue that holds Schmidt and Winston together, their friendship will be doomed if he disappears into boyfriendland, so they need to disrupt the date. Too bad Winston’s idea of a reasonable form of sabotage involves acquiring a bear and pumping him full of hepatitis C.

Eventually, Schmidt and Winston start brainstorming about the worst thing they’ve ever experienced on a date, and that’s when it becomes clear that they’re not going to make it anywhere near the restaurant. Winston and a girl were once serenaded by a shirtless, overweight homeless guy singing George Michael’s “Father Figure.” Re-creating this scene sounds only slightly more feasible than the bear idea, but then local street person Outside Dave offers to do it for twenty minutes of TV time plus two — make that one! — homemade sandwiches.

Steve Agee, who plays Dave, is a funny actor (you might know him as one half of the “giant, orange, and gay” couple from The Sarah Silverman Program.) And there’s some real potential in the idea of fastidious Schmidt being terrorized by this slovenly guy, especially once he locks himself in the bathroom and starts experimenting with Schmidt’s products. I liked the bit about the four-in-one groomer: “That is not the fourth use!” But homelessness humor is really hard to pull off, especially when there’s almost no backstory. Is Dave, like, mentally ill, or just kind of ... zany?

More important, though, is Nick really the glue holding Schmidt and Winston together? This is the third episode in a row that the two of them have gone off on an adventure while Jess and Nick were otherwise occupied. At this point, their friendship seems pretty established.

I could nitpick some more (is the jaywalking joke funnier if you live in L.A.?), but everyone’s allowed to have an off night, and New Girl’s been on such a roll lately that it feels a little bratty to complain. The Nick and Jess romance, after all, has arrived fairly early in the show’s lifespan, and the writers are going to have to figure out how to keep from wringing it dry too soon. Focusing on some of the other characters might be the ticket here, and since next week’s plot apparently revolves around Cece’s wedding, it sounds like that’s exactly what we’ll get.

Photo: Adam Taylor/FOX