Thanksgiving is far and away the least sexy holiday. Unless you have a fetish for being surrounded by extended family and gorging yourself on tryptophan-rich turkey until you can neither keep your eyes open nor button your pants (and yes, I’m sure someone out there does), you probably don’t rise from the dinner table just absolutely raring to go. Even Christmas has “Santa Baby”; the absolute sexiest thing about Thanksgiving is the seductive curve of the gravy boat.
“Bangsgiving” is the actually pretty brilliant holiday tradition invented by Schmidt, in which a group of single friends host a Thanksgiving dinner, to which they each have to bring a date for each other. Single Thanksgiving, after all, isn’t so bad — see: eating too much surrounded by relatives — but it’s quickly followed by Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Valentine’s Day, the unholy trinity of couples’ holidays. To paraphrase Schmidt: “I’ve stressed our need to take lovers, and take them quickly.” Indeed, Schmidt has stressed this before. Finding a cuddle partner before winter was the premise of “The Last Wedding,” too.
Bangsgiving is also a brilliant conceit on levels without practical, real-world applications. For one, it negated the need to bring the Day (or Miller, or Schmidt, or Bishop, or Parekh, or … Coach?) family into the mix for a “very special holiday episode.” Nothing will put me off a New Girl episode like the presence of Jess’s parents or sister, and given how much I like each of the actors who play them, that says a lot. For another, it is a perfect, simple, and dumb sitcom plot. I know what each character wants and what the measurable result of success in their quest for what they want will look like. It’s what “Background Check” did so well. Oh, and it brought back Tran, so it did pretty much everything a good New Girl episode needs to do.
As you’ve already surmised, Schmidt declares it Bangsgiving, and each of the roommates is tasked with bringing a date for each other. For Winston, Jess brings Pearl the lunch lady; for Schmidt, Winston brings Lucy, who happens to be an ex-flame of Nick’s; Nick draws himself and brings Tran as his own date; for Cece, Schmidt supposedly brings an unseen hunk named Jeff who is mysteriously “stuck in traffic”; for Coach, Cece brings an ultrastrong arm-wrestler; and for Jess, Coach very pointedly brings Ryan, who I am pretty sure gets swoon-worthier by the frame.
Let’s talk about Ryan for a second. Guys, I love Ryan. Ryan might be my favorite thing to happen to New Girl in quite some time. Yes, this is partially because he is just devastatingly cute and rocks an unfair English accent, but it’s also because I think he will bring out the very best in Jess. Look, I love Nick Miller, but Ryan is bringing to light everything I didn’t love about the Nick and Jess pairing. Nick and Jess were cute as a couple because they are opposite-gendered best friends on a sitcom. Ryan and Jess are great as a couple because they are each everything you just know those characters are looking for in a significant other. But Jess is still grappling with the fact that, as a school administrator, she can’t date a teacher … or so she says. It seems that she is less afraid of the repercussions it might have for her career and more afraid of what it would mean to open herself back up to someone just as she’s healing from her breakup with Nick.
Similarly, Nick brought Tran not just because he’s got a face so pleasant I just Googled “New Girl Tran T-shirt”, but because in the wake of the breakup, his fear of intimacy has warped its way into an all-out panic.
It’s very cool that Nick and Jess are able to recognize the shared fears they helped instill in each other, and cooler still that they are able to talk each other through these fears. Is it possible for exes to be friends after a bad breakup? It is once they are able to be genuinely happy at the prospect of the other finding love. Nick and Jess are finally, truly friends again, and Nick encourages Jess to go after the man she has feelings for. In doing so, Nick has a breakthrough of his own — excellent timing, too, because he learns that Tran has a cute granddaughter, played by Greta Lee, a.k.a. Soojin from Girls. Better still, the conversation brings to light the excellent character detail that Jess is on the vice-principal’s side in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Come to think of it, though, Ferris DID skip school and drive his best friend to a nervous breakdown, so maybe Jess has a point.
In other New Girl couple-reunion news, Cece and Schmidt continue to creep towards reconciliation. In some ways, it’s torture to sit through all the back and forth when we all know the inevitable outcome, but I’m also glad Schmidt is paying the penance for his behavior over the course of the past two seasons. Cece doesn’t need him, but we all know she wants him anyway. Their Thanksgiving didn’t end in a bang, but I’m sure they’ll more than make up for it soon.
While the two major couples work their way through unresolved issues, Coach finds his insecurities challenged when his date proves to be stronger than him, and Winston has to cope with a childhood fear of lunch ladies in order to get to know Pearl, played by Shauna Malwae-Tweep from Parks and Recreation.
In each of these pairings, the roommates act as their own roadblocks to happiness. New Girl is a show about people who are self-destructive by nature, people trying to save each other from themselves, and it’s a dynamic that is juggled deftly in “Thanksgiving IV.” To do a holiday episode (always a tricky balancing act for a sitcom) and to bring in six guest-stars without losing sight of who or what the show is a feat that’s much more impressive than it looks. It’s not particularly surprising, but the outcome is rare and pleasant: It’s the television equivalent of a well-cooked turkey.