New Girl Recap: Spider Junk

New Girl
New Girl
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We, the fans of New Girl, who hath watched from the beginning, and we who did stick it out through the trainwreck known as season three, do hereby request, upon this day, as follows:

  1. That no episode shall feature any location outside the Loft, and that any plot necessitating movement shall heretofore be restricted only to Nick and Cece’s bar. 
  2. That no episode shall feature characters outside the Six (Jess, Nick, Schmidt, Cece, Winston, Coach), and sometimes Tran.
  3. That New Girl shall be hereby unburdened by the constraints of its medium; that it shall be granted free reign to contain as little plot as its writers deem fit; that it shall be, from this day until the end of its days, as it was always wont to be: a show about some friends just straight-up hanging out.

Forever and ever, amen.

“Spiderhunt” finally helped me put into words the hypothesis that’s long been circling the center of these recaps: New Girl is a good show that could be great if it weren’t a network sitcom.

This is probably the case for most network sitcoms, actually. The strict S&P regulations, the absurd overemphasis on focus group research, and the deep pockets of the advertisers all make for an environment so tightly controlled that the 30 Rocks and Arrested Developments of this world are nothing short of miracles. Once a pilot has been ripped apart and jigsawed back together over and over by the network notes process, it’s amazing anything decent makes it on the air at all. But New Girl's weaknesses don’t scream “network interference” to me.  Its problems don’t lie in tokenism or product placement or cheap topical references, but rather in its insistence on behaving like what it seems to perceive a typical network sitcom to be. 

New Girl excels as a show about a loft full of weirdos hanging out and getting up to pointless mischief. New Girl flounders as a show about a group of single thirtysomethings trying to find love in this crazy mixed-up world of ours. Maybe if it weren’t competing with the likes of the now-dearly-departed Parks and Recreation, it wouldn’t feel so much pressure to be the latter. 

I’m using “Spiderhunt” to talk about this not because it was a weak episode, but rather because it was a notably strong one. No one left the loft. Except for a scant few Fawn Moscato lines at the end, we were solely focused on the core six characters. The fulcrum of the episode was a debate about a popcorn machine. It was wonderful and silly. It did everything right … except when it tried to move the show’s plot forward.

“Spiderhunt” opens on Nick making a traditional Miller family recipe for Schmidt’s dinner date with Fawn Moscato (it’s impossible to say her first name without her last, just try).  Known only as “The Sauce,” Nick’s recipe includes everything from bologna and mayonnaise to “a murder of peppercorn” and what Nick calls “flat Jew bread.”

Besides Cece’s “uncharacteristic” avoidance of Jess (haven’t most of Cece’s plots this season been about her not wanting Jess to know something?), things are going pretty smoothly in the loft — and then along came a spider.

Let’s take a moment here to appreciate the all-time greatest comedic justification I’ve ever heard: Schmidt is petrified of spiders because, after the release of American Pie, he got down and dirty with a pie, fell asleep without showering, and woke up with a horde of spiders all up on his junk.

A. Freaking. Plus. It’s hilarious, not to mention the perfect setup for a Spider-Man porn parody.

Anyway, after seeing the offending arachnid, Schmidt rallies the troops, including a reluctant Cece, for the titular spider hunt. Jess organizes everyone into groups of two (one smusher, one jar man), and pairs herself with Cece as a way of figuring out why she’s been so distant.

When Cece confesses that she has a crush on someone in the loft, that Jess doesn’t immediately assume it’s Schmidt, whatever Cece’s protestations, is insane. Lifelong best friends know that Big Exes are off limits, and their “I don’t love my ex” bullshit detectors are off the charts. Modern Family is really good at this kind of farce; New Girl is not. It’s not a show that likes plot (she said for the umpteenth time), and the whole thing feels a little under-baked as an idea. That said, the popcorn machine conversation was laugh-out-loud funny, despite being far too long, and the fact that Jess was theoretically, selflessly willing to let Cece and Nick be happy together made my sappy-ass heart smile.

Meanwhile, Coach is trying to compose the perfect email to May, all from his web-1.0-tastic email address, the handle of which is “OwwMeSoErnie.” One of Coach’s attempts at romance that sticks out is the line “a dream house is a house, but a dreamboat is a person”; “Spiderhunt” is full of this kind of stoner poetry, mostly in the form of Schmidt’s mini-soliloquies about “butt rope” (spiderwebs), but also in throwaway comments like, “I’m lower down on the food chain than Officer Cat Fancy?” and Winston’s repeated insistence that “I’m not a smooth man.” 

Winston, by the way, talks increasingly like a character who got lost trying to find his way to the world of Rick and Morty, and that is a very, very good thing.

The eventual appearance of Fawn Moscato is unnecessary, except as a slap in the face to the lovesick Cece. As hard as it was to watch Schmidt cheat on two girls at once, it almost makes me miss Elizabeth — at least she was some actual competition for Cece. That’s how bad New Girl is with conflict: They must think that there is something even marginally threatening about Fawn Moscato, or they wouldn’t have introduced her in the first place. It’s telling that Schmidt doesn’t even count her when he says, “In the spider hunt of life, I sure am glad that we’re a team of six.”

Maybe in a few seasons, after Cece and Schmidt reconcile, after Jess and Nick find love, after Coach has left to follow May, New Girl can stop trying to push its characters forward. Maybe then it can relax enough to enjoy the spider hunt, knowing that the point has never been whether or not the spider actually gets found.