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New Girl Season 3 Finale Recap: Singles Bingo

NEW GIRL: The gang (L-R: Lamorne Morris, Hannah Simone, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Zooey Deschanel and guest star Damon Wayans, Jr.) recovers after a rough night in the "Cruise" Season Finale episode of NEW GIRL airing Tuesday, May 6 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

And so another season of New Girl draws to a close. This time last year, Jess and Nick were driving away together just moments after Cece called off her wedding to Chavrang (I miss you, Chavrang), forcing Schmidt to make a choice between two women he loves. Last night, the gang went on a cruise, and things got a little awkward. The stakes aren’t as high and the cliff-hanger isn’t as much a cliff as it is a stepladder, but, frankly, the season it ended just wasn’t as good.

Even so, there’s a lot to like in “Cruise.” From a welcome Oscar Nuñez cameo to Schmidt’s aversion to nautical puns (a good thing, too, since that was about the only thing that kept me from titling this recap “A Boat Schmidt”), I was pleasantly surprised at the frequency and success of the episode’s jokes. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it altogether, a phenomenon I would largely chalk up to the fact that “Cruise” had an ease that had been missing from New Girl since early this season. 

Coming off last week’s disappointing “Dance,” I was ready for “Cruise” to really sink (for Schmidt’s sake, and for yours, that’ll be the last one, promise), especially since the premise feels like it was Frankensteined together out of scraps from How I Met Your Mother’s cutting room floor. Basically, back when they were together, a very drunk Jess and Nick booked a non-refundable romantic cruise getaway for two. Obviously they can no longer take this trip, so they enlist their friends to come along and act as buffers, since the cruise line apparently offers a deal where any one honeymoon suite can be exchanged for six garden-variety tickets at no extra charge? This seems like a poorly thought-out business model.  

The gang is welcomed aboard the cruise by Captain Jan Nortis, New Girl’s funniest and weirdest minor character since Nadia. Her speech to the ship’s passengers provided some of the biggest laughs of the episode, both for me and for Nick, Jess, et al., whose boisterousness amid their fellow seafarers brought into sharp focus just what a motley crew these characters really are. Come to think of it, we haven’t seen what they’re like in public as a unit a lot. I hope we get more of that next season; it’s perversely comforting to know that they’re weird even within the confines of the world they inhabit.

A few subplots are then introduced and almost immediately abandoned. Captain Norris hits on Nick, and then is never heard from again. Coach is desperately afraid of boats, but not much comes of this revelation. Winston might be trying to get laid at Bingo? It’s unclear what his goal in this episode is, exactly. The couples — or rather, non-couples — are the focus here. Nick and Jess try to pretend that their friendship has emerged from their relationship unscathed, even as they find navigating the choppy waters (okay, THAT was the last one) of their recent breakup to be fairly messy. Meanwhile, Schmidt tries to find the right moment to proclaim his love for Cece. Neither story line is strong enough to warrant drawing that much attention away from Coach’s helpless singing in the group’s claustrophobic shared quarters.

It’s telling that the moments in which the episode faltered the most were Nick-and-Jess-centric, although that was certainly the unfortunate trend throughout season three. Had this been the episode that immediately followed “Mars Landing,” the Nick and Jess story in “Cruise” might have resonated a bit more, but this uneasy back-and-forth about whether or not exes can be friends feels like well-worn territory at this point. They’ve literally been living in the same room for — how long, now? The passage of time on New Girl is often unclear, but you’d think they would have dealt with this sort of basic emotional groundwork by now.

Truthfully, there are no new criticisms I can level against Nick, Jess, and the way their breakup has unfolded, so I’ll leave it at this: The characters can insist that they were unfit for each other all they want, but the audience will always be stuck with the truth — the characters were perfect for each other; their relationship was inconvenient for the show. It’s unfortunate that adherence to sitcom convention was the only thing that stood in their way, but since I’d rather not watch another minute of them playing will-they-won’t-they in season four, I sincerely hope that they — Nick, Jess, and the writers — find a way to make it work as capital-F Friends.

Cece and Schmidt, on the other hand, seemed to be desperately due for a reunion, and I applaud the writers for illustrating Schmidt’s character growth not by “rewarding” him with getting the girl, but by having him let her go. I don’t for a second think this sort of emotional maturity will last past season four, episode one, but by then Cece will have had time to fully forgive Schmidt and finish working out whatever it is she’s working out by dating a 20-year-old, and then the reunion will feel earned and be glorious. Early prediction: Season four ends at Cece and Schmidt’s wedding. A girl can dream.

The episode culminates in a hilarious intervention turned Lord of the Flies–style marooning that reminded me just how beautifully weird New Girl can be. The gang stages an intervention for Nick and Jess’s friendship (because, again, this is a veritable Human Centipede of sitcom tropes), and insufferable as that sounds, it leads to some of the nicest moments in the episode. If New Girl at its best is “friendship porn,” then this was friendship erotica, a sorely needed reminder of why these lovable losers banded together in the first place. It also contains the revelation of Coach’s secret desire to be a mother and Winston’s make-out fantasies, so it’s hard to complain amid the belly laughs.

I’m not going to miss the confusing, misshapen mess that was season three, but “Cruise” left me hopeful for season four. It wasn’t perfect by any means — in seasons one or two it would have been a middle-to-bottom-of-the-pack episode — and it didn’t leave me with any burning, unanswered questions, but it was pretty good.  

It wasn’t the finale we deserved, but it was the finale we needed right now.

Photo: Adam Taylor/FOX