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New Girl Recap: Origin Stories

NEW GIRL Zooey Deschanel and Brian Posehn in New Girl

The beginning of a new year is a time to refocus and reprioritize. For some, it means a fresh commitment to self-improvement. For others, January 1 symbolizes letting go of stresses from the previous year. But most important, the end of the holiday season rouses our favorite television shows out of hibernation. And after a monthlong hiatus, New Girl came back into our lives full of energy and purpose, like a teacher returning from winter vacation.

Much like “Repilot,” last week’s Community season premiere, “Clavado En Un Bar” reorients New Girl in an exciting, necessary way. Namely, it allows the show’s main characters to rediscover their passions, passions that aren’t just arguing or having sex with each other. This new direction came not a moment too soon, as the show was running out of novel intercourse and/or disagreement combinations involving the six main characters. It felt like they were always getting together, or stopping each other from getting together, or breaking up, or breaking each other up. On a weekly basis, it has been fun to watch, but what adults behave like that? It’s how you act in college before you realize you can kiss someone outside the group of ten people you eat every meal with.

The New Year brought a change in perspective for almost every New Girl character. Cece starts learning a new skill in an effort to ease into the post-modeling phase of her life. Winston quits his job (had he even been gong to work?) and embarks on a quest to discover whom he really is, which is relatable to the viewers who both love Winston and have no idea what he’s all about. Cats? Puzzles? Schmidt gets an inkling that there’s more to life than making money in marketing; there’s also making money by selling things. Coach, apparently, is fine the way he is. He’s got a stopwatch and some personal training clients. He’ll be okay.

Besides Coach, Nick and Jess ostensibly change the least, but we learn the most about them. Jess, despite her horrifying work situation, rededicates herself to teaching. As we come to learn, she was born to be a teacher: That’s how she met Cece. What a cute scene that was, her helping a despondent, glasses-less young Cece study. So cute. The only way it could have been more precious is if both characters had been played by baby goats. The more we find out about Cece and Jess’s deep-rooted friendship, the more I like them both, and the more of their squabbling I can take before I start yelling, “Why are you even friends???” at my TV.

That memory scene, like most of the episode’s cutaways, proved effective at deepening our understanding of the characters instead of simply delivering jokes the way a flashback might in an episode of Family Guy or a short-form improv show at a liberal-arts college. And they were also some of the funniest scenes. I laughed out loud at Winston’s Sisqo-style hair, Kid Jess’s admission that reading the weepy Sophie’s Choice improved her night vision, and Schmidt standing over an old man’s body while “Gangsta’s Paradise” played. (“Gangsta’s Paradise,” by the way, is now retro. It is a period reference. There are college freshmen who are younger than “Gangsta’s Paradise.” Coolio himself is almost 50 years old, which means he lied when he said he was 23 and didn’t know whether he’d live to see 24. Well, maybe he didn’t lie. Maybe he was rapping in character. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.) Sometimes when New Girl makes quick cuts to the past I find them disruptive even when they’re funny, and I'll wish the writers had crammed a joke into the present-day scene rather than breaking up its flow. But this episode balanced the gags with significant character development and more sustained flashbacks.

No single character was more illuminated by these scenes than Nick Miller. We saw him at his dreadlocked worst and learned precisely when he cleaned up his image. We also discovered how he came to work at the bar. During the episode’s tender conclusion, Jess apologizes for cutting off Nick’s origin story, and he presents her with it, written down: Apparently he passed the California bar exam to prove he could do it, then chose to be a bartender instead of a lawyer because that suited him better. He didn’t give up, he opted out. Also, did I mention he wrote Jess the end of his story? Maybe he’s going to make a run at really being a writer in addition to nurturing Cece’s practical side. But hopefully he still stays kind of a disaster. He’s really fun as a disaster.

“Clavado” was full of quirky twists and surprises. Brian Posehn was great as a slouchy, bearded pothead teacher, but that should go without saying. When you need a slouchy, bearded pothead anything, Brian Posehn should be your first phone call. He’s the kush of zhlubs. (Full disclosure: I just Googled “kush” to make sure it meant high-quality weed. I almost used “chronic” instead. How embarrassing would that have been? Who am I, someone’s cool uncle?) I hope his character sticks around.

One of my favorite oddball moments in the episode was the opening to Schmidt’s flashback, which was identical to Winston’s story, in that it involved a basketball being handed to an African-American infant. It was a fun way to introduce Schmidt’s days volunteering as a candy striper, and snuck an extra joke in where they could have played it straight and boring. Plus, it tweaked the rotating-perspective flashback format. (I also loved the goofy mashup assignment that Jess gives her students when she returns to the classroom. It was a great use of Zooey Deschanel’s determined earnestness in the face of adversity.)

I did have two minor complaints with the episode.

  1. The jokes made at the expense of Fat Schmidt seemed to lack the empathy and perspective that the show usually shows for Schmidt in his pudgier days.
  2. The name of the episode, “Clavado En Un Bar,” translates to “stuck in a bar” (didn’t even have to look it up; I did a minor in Spanish, which is basically paying for itself right now). It’s also the name of the song that plays at the end of the episode. It’s a story about a man alone in a bar, pining for a lost love, unable to leave. That is the opposite of what this episode is about. It’s about making proactive choices and living on your own terms. Maybe I am missing something.

Ironically, though “Clavado” revolves around Jess’s eventual decision to recognize and stick with her true passion, it moves the series forward in a way that some of the season’s earlier, more manic episodes did not. It was an enjoyable way to get to know the characters better and to set them on a course for the second half of the season. New Girl didn’t need a wholesale fresh start, but I’m glad the writers had the same New Year’s resolutions for the show that I did.

Photo: Adam Taylor/FOX