Well, whaddaya know? New Girl screws around with the standard formula, and suddenly comes away with a stronger episode!
Jess has sadly been called away for jury duty — a.k.a. Zooey Deschanel's maternity leave — which we learn more about thanks to a news clip on the "Celebrity Chef trial" and a great courtroom sketch of the "annoyingly inquisitive" jury. Her absence opens up space for the other characters, introducing a new dynamic between them, and the results are encouraging. All that, plus a very creepy Fred Armisen, makes for a satisfying New Girl experience.
The main story of "No Girl" is about Schmidt's bachelor party. Nick knows that Schmidt longs to go somewhere, and, determined to do it up right, he suggests Tokyo as their bachelor destination. Winston, an unusual voice of reason in the background, keeps saying, "Ha, how are we going to pay for this?!" to which Nick responds, "How does anybody pay for anything!" You let me know when you figure that out, Nick.
There are two options: Either Nick and Schmidt invite Todd, their truly abhorrent rich college friend whose grandfather invented "the springs that go inside pens," or Nick comes up with an elaborate, illegal scheme to turn the loft into a "boutique hotel" while they're away. So obviously, they go with option number two, and that's why Schmidt soon finds himself peeing next to Fred Armisen. Also, it's a good thing Nick actually finds renters — he already bought nonrefundable $9,000 tickets to Tokyo.
While Nick and Schmidt dedicate themselves to creating a "premiere experience in a competitive marketplace" (and, as Nick well knows, "the reviews are everything!"), Winston has a breakdown. You read that right. Winston gets a whole plot this week. All to himself. With Jess gone, Winston has no one to turn to for "lady advice," so he panics after KC posts a picture of herself with another guy. He nearly turns to Jess's advice bowl, but Cece swears that she can help him handle it.
However, Cece's advice is not immediately effective. Her first impulse is to tell Winston to post his own picture with an attractive woman — of course, she happily steps into this role — and KC promptly calls Winston to break up with him. Winston's a mess, and Cece flounders trying to help him, finally offering to make him some tea … before admitting she's not quite sure how. Water and leaves, Cece! Water and leaves!
Winston's disintegration happens amidst a loft packed with "boutique hotel" guests. There's a couple with a young girl, who are clearly trying to push her into show business. The kid gives Schmidt a deeply odd (and surprisingly funny) monologue featuring bits from Pacino in Scent of a Woman, Pacino in The Godfather Part II, and Rocky V. Schmidt is dismayed and confused — "Of all the Rockys!?"
Then, we get to the weakest and most disappointing part of "No Girl." One of the guests is an Asian woman named Kumiko, who doesn't understand much English. I get that New Girl is making fun of AirBnB stereotypes. I get that Nick is pretty skeezy. But there's absolutely no need to pull from the Beautiful Asian Woman Who Speaks Very Little English well. Ditto for the dumb innuendos, like how she says the floor is wet by saying, "Wet down there!" Just … no. New Girl does try to pull a little reversal by revealing that Kumiko thinks Nick is a prostitute, which is funny-ish, I suppose. But it's meant to be funny because it would be so much more familiar and expected if we thought she was the prostitute. Again, no. Not cool.
The nadir of Kumiko is offset, thankfully, by the lofty heights of Fred Armisen, who is glorious in this episode. Armisen plays a character named Brandon, who stays in the loft hotel to "finish his novel." He begins the episode innocently enough, commenting on how bathrooms have nice echoes and accidentally spilling his drink. Brandon then reads aloud from the novel he's working on, and this scene has echoes of Taran Killam's excellent bit as the train-obsessed Fred.
The love scene Brandon reads takes on a life of its own: "As his electric car powered down, the first thing he saw was her virgin breasts glowing in the Alabama moonlight. She said, 'Which one do you want to see? The left or the right?' And I said 'Both!' And she said, 'No! Pick one!'" It is so weird, and Armisen delivers it so well. And there's a bit about a parakeet? The whole thing is great and bizarre. Also, not the first joke about seeing one breast rather than two in this episode, as Winston comments in the opening scene that he's seen only one of KC's breasts — weird choice of leitmotif, but okay, New Girl.
Eventually, Nick and Schmidt are forced to accept that LoftBnB won't be a good way to pay for Tokyo — Nick can hardly ask Kumiko to pay for her time, after their sexual encounter — and the two go groveling to Todd in the hopes that he'll pay for the trip. Todd proves to be as awful as foretold, though. For some reason I honestly couldn't quite grasp, Todd feels that Nick deserves a "one-nut slap." Nick is prepared for the punishment in the name of Schmidt's dream bachelor trip, but Schmidt declares that enough is enough. Witnessing this heartfelt display, Todd gets weepy about his complete lack of friends, but even this pitiful show of emotion (and the choking incident that follows) is a complete sham. Great job living up to your promise as a terrible human being, Todd.
While Nick and Schmidt have the nice realization that it doesn't matter if they can't pay for Tokyo, Cece guides Winston into the discovery that what he really wants is a woman to cry over him. In spite of her better judgment, and because she promised Jess to watch out for the loft boys, Cece ends up driving to KC's house to execute Winston's plan — telling KC that Winston died, watching KC cry, and then waiting while Winston leaps out to laugh in her face. Against all odds, this is what actually happens! And the plot actually works! As it turns out, Cece realizes that KC was cheating on Winston, which makes her much less sympathetic and the prank far more enjoyable. Winston! You finally pranked someone and it worked out okay! I can't believe the writers didn't make this into a "Winston finally gets a prank right!" bit.
If this is what a Jess-less New Girl feels like, I am Onboard. Everyone gets more breathing space, relationships that didn't really exist are fleshed out — like Cece and Winston — and despite the Kumiko-shaped missteps, "No Girl" felt peppier than what we've seen so far this season. And thanks to Brandon, it's not as though Jess was completely absent: In the episode's far-and-away best scene, Brandon lovingly fills Jess's shoes, very literally. Wear the stripes, Brandon. They look nice with your face and everything.