In the comments of last week’s recap, commenter Dirty Dancing fan “franceshouseman” pointed out that New Girl works best as a “diet It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia," where “the plot is just a loose form to allow each character in their own way.” As if to prove franceshouseman’s point, enter “Walk of Shame.” The real shame, though, is how bland an episode with so many excellent elements turns out to be.
Drybar is going to owe New Girl a lot of money after “Walk of Shame,” because it, somewhat accurately, depicts how getting a blowout can feel like drinking a magical confidence elixir. The self-esteem boost is enough to convince Jess and Cece to attend a party held by Bearclaw and his roommate, Generic Hot Guy (I assume that’s his name; he has no other distinguishing characteristics).
The last time we saw Josh Gad’s Bearclaw, he was inserting himself directly between Jess and the guy she actually had her eye on, Sam. Remember Dr. Sam, the hot pediatrician whom Jess broke up with for no reason? Not to be confused with Russell, the hot lawyer Jess broke up with for no reason; Ryan, the hot teacher Jess broke up with for no reason; or Nick, the … hot? ... soul mate Jess broke up with for no reason. Anyway, it’s been a minute since Bearclaw ruined Jess’s life in some way, but he harkens back to New Girl’s season two pax Romana. It’s nice to see him back, not only because of the untethered weirdness with which he infuses New Girl, but because I had no idea until “Walk of Shame” just how much I needed to hear Zooey Deschanel sing a duet about a gay wolf with Olaf the Snowman.
That’s right. Instead of sex, Jess found herself making aural love to Bearclaw, in the form of a musical about woodland critters. It’s the most Jess that Jess has ever Jess'd, no more or less humiliating than anything else she’s ever done, but for some reason this is what she spends the rest of the episode trying to run away from. Cece, meanwhile, almost sleeps with Generic Hot Guy, but she kept accidentally calling “Schmidt.” Jess and Cece sneak out of the house for a good old-fashioned walk of shame, in the previous night’s clothes (plus a “the man, the legend” T-shirt) and makeup.
Now, if this show were a bit better at handling structure, a few things might have been done differently. The first: As long as they were going to do an episode about the day-after drunken mistakes, they could have gone full Hangover. Why not start with Jess waking up in Bearclaw’s bed and work backwards from there? The reveal that she didn’t actually have sex with Bearclaw is anticlimactic, especially since the fact that she ended up writing a musical with him is all we know about their night — what else happened? Surely a show like New Girl, that thrives on specifics, could have come up with something a little more interesting than “they got really, really drunk.” It’s New Girl. They’re all always really, really drunk.
Jess and Cece’s walk is made all the worse when they run into Paul Genzlinger, another abruptly resurrected remnant of New Girl’s past played by Justin Long. For those of you who have forgotten (and it’s been, like, three years; I know I’d all but forgotten), Genzlinger was a music teacher at Jess’s school who somehow managed to out-sensitive Jess. When he reappears in “Walk of Shame,” it’s supposed to represent how much further behind Jess is when it comes to life milestones when compared to her peers. But because he was never a particularly aspirational character to begin with, it feels more like an arbitrary decision based on who out of Jess’s old flames was available for that week of shooting. Like all other reveals in this episode, the reveal that Genzlinger is a struggling birthday clown is funny, but it comes completely out of left field and does little to change the emotional stakes. Genzlinger was hardly a fan favorite — where Bearclaw hails from the era of New Girl at its prime, Genzlinger’s a relic of early in the first season, back when Jess was a recently single, Pinterest-addled, GIF-able, adorkable nightmare.
Now that both characters are back, it’s hard not to wonder which season we’re closer to.
While Jess and Cece amble steadily loft-ward, Coach enlists Schmidt’s help to appear cultured at May’s gallery show. Or at least, I think that’s what’s going on here — a lot of excellent threads, like the idea of Schmidt as Coach’s personal Henry Higgins, are picked up and abruptly dropped. For example, Nick and Winston sneak into the gallery where May is playing. Now, you might hope this would entail a sequence of Nick and Winston attempting to act sophisticated and failing spectacularly, but instead, it feels like a side note. It also seemed acutely aware of the fact that Coach will be leaving us shortly. May and Coach feel like a fait accompli at this point; their relationship is like a going-away present for the newest loft-mate. Consider how quickly they’ve gotten together, given the interminable pining between Cece and Schmidt.
Interminable is a strong word. I actually like how much time they’re taking for Schmidt and Cece’s reunion. Maybe I’m just bitter because Schmidt and Cece have taken the length of two of Jess’s relationships to even begin making strides toward getting back together. Or maybe I’m just cranky because this episode got so, so close to being really fun and yet felt so, so far away from how excellent it could have been. Either way, “Walk of Shame” treaded more old territory than just reviving Genzlinger and Bearclaw. The idea that Jess performing an original musical in the living room is something to be ashamed of feels sort of anachronistic.
I’m not trying to look a gift gay wolf in the mouth here — that musical number was brilliant — but aren’t we many seasons past wondering if Jess just might be a little weird?
It’s strange that a show four seasons in still feels so much like it’s trying to find its footing episode to episode. New Girl can, at times, feel very new. It keeps taking running starts toward finding its stride, but, like Jess, it’s always a few steps behind where you’d think it would be.