My feelings toward “Panty Gate” shouldn’t honestly be expressed through a thousand-word recap, but rather, through a series of Tina Belcher–esque noises. If, for a thousand words, I could just write “eghhhhhhhhhhhh,” trust me, I would. The English language isn’t fully equipped to express my profound disinterest in all of the events of this episode.
It’s like the New Girl writers conspired to make an episode that featured all of my least-favorite things about the show. Convenient and sudden breakups? Check. Obvious misunderstandings? Check. Too-cutesy Jess? Hoo boy, check check check.
But that’s not all, folks! As if having to watch an episode about two couples I don’t really care about breaking up isn’t bad enough, “Panty Gate” seals its fate as my least-favorite episode of the season by reintroducing the possibility of a Jess and Nick relationship.
Liz Lemon herself couldn’t supply me with an adequate eye roll.
I could be wrong, but as an audience I don’t think we are half as invested in Nick's and Jess’s love lives as the showrunners clearly think we are. The show was at its absolute worst when Nick and Jess were together. Their will-they, won’t-they back and forth was fun but that’s a foregone conclusion by now. It’s not just Nick and Jess who should be released from the relationship mishap merry-go-round, though — New Girl both doesn’t know how to keep its characters in motion and how to keep them standing still.
The show would do well to decide if its characters are in happy relationships or if they’re perpetually single. Get Cece and Schmidt together, get Coach and May together. Leave Nick, Jess, and Winston single. Find stories that have nothing to do with their love lives or lack thereof. Watching them all break up and get back together over and over and over again isn’t just frustrating. It’s boring. I wish it felt like a train wreck; instead, it feels like bumper cars.
All right. “Panty Gate.”
May breaks up with Coach because she’s moving to New York, and on TV characters have no idea that long-distance relationships are a thing. Jess predicted this (as did the viewers at home — it’s not like Coach is going to just mysteriously vanish for a second time) and therefore dubs herself a “love doctor.” She insists on using this exact phrase no less than a dozen times throughout the episode, and every time she does so it seems like a halfhearted laugh track is somewhere just waiting to chime in.
Coach is so torn up over the breakup that he ends up crying it out to his health class. It’s a funny bit, but it was much funnier when Molly Shannon did it in Wet Hot American Summer. Jess relays this to May, but when she runs out to make things right with Coach, she finds him grinding up on some girls at the bar. Instead of assuming that, you know, he was just drunk and on the rebound, she freaks out. Jess starts to wonder if maybe she isn’t a love doctor after all! Spoiler alert: She’s not.
Nick and Coach’s conversation about what Coach’s future will look like is a great moment, but “Panty Gate” is truly saved from being a mythical one-star-er by Coach’s really fantastic final speech to May, which, perfectly and concisely, summed up everything I love about Coach. It was crass and sincere, and if there is one re-watchable moment from “Panty Gate,” surely that was it. Coach and May decide to move to New York together, and as they reconcile, Nick and Jess wonder whom they will find themselves next to when they get old.
Meanwhile, Fawn Moscato is still recovering from the time she bent over and showed the press her … Fawn Moscato. She pins the entire incident on Schmidt, whom she paints as a sex-crazed maniac who likes women who aren’t wearing panties (the scandal!) and a devout Christian (a much funnier specific). The problem here isn’t that the scandal and the ensuing breakup are poorly done, it’s that there was nothing riding on Schmidt and Fawn’s relationship in the first place.
Fawn should have been a one-off weirdo character. Schmidt should have spent a single episode under her thumb, and they should have broken up without incident. She’s not a real enough character to feel like any sort of a threat to Cece, whose Schmidt-induced life crisis feels equally contrived. Their breakup isn’t a twist and has negligible emotional stakes.
Eeghhhhhhhhhhhh, I say. Eeghhhhhhhhhhhh.
Look, in part, I am being unfair to New Girl. These are, in part, the growing pains of a show moving into its fifth season. There isn’t much that it can do at this point that will be entirely new territory. Hopefully, the configurations that the characters find themselves in by the middle of next season are the ones that they will be in by the show’s finale since, realistically, at six seasons, a frothy show like New Girl will be feeling severely long in the tooth. In a lot of ways the show is just shaking itself out, sifting through what it has to find the perfect places for everyone to settle at last.
But, on the other hand, these are problems that the show has had for years. It’s what I reflected on when writing about “Walk of Shame” — we should be long past the growing pains by now. New Girl should have figured out how to deal with its characters when they aren’t in constant motion. Every step of the way, New Girl fights what it wants to be to try and turn itself into something it just isn’t, and has never been.
I don’t like speaking poorly of New Girl, since it’s not a show that’s meant for such thorough evaluation. No one will write their thesis on the Loft Gang’s place in American TV history. This isn’t Breaking Bad or Mad Men or even a comedy with bite like Kimmy Schmidt or Broad City.
Maybe that’s why, when you spend as much time as I do thinking about New Girl, the thoughts that start to form begin to feel less like constructive criticism and more like a long stream of noncommittal noises.