I'm sure this is my East Coast myopia talking, but there is something distinctly strange about watching this episode on the first day of March. It's a bit hard to feel the sweaty, oppressive claustrophobia of an L.A. heat wave while I'm wrapped in a wool Olivia Pope–style wine sweater.
And because of that, or maybe because every crisis on New Girl has relatively low stakes, the "riots/weather/power outage" pressure that forces our Loft Gang into a little bottle episode doesn't feel all that weighty. Based on the offhanded jokes everyone makes, it seems like L.A. is about two degrees away from a full-blown apocalypse, and Nick's just focused on how many fans he can get up and running.
But regardless of whatever strangely intense circumstances push our intrepid, aimless New Girl–kateers into the bottle episode, I'm happy it happened. If you're trying to create depth in relationships, or move characters forward, or give audiences a shade of someone they haven't seen before, bottle episodes are the televisual nuclear option. And in the case of New Girl, which has been trying (quite successfully!) to integrate a new character into the fold, pulling the trigger on a bottle episode is a solid choice.
As I was saying, it is apparently the End Times in Los Angeles. The one-two punch of a killer heat wave and public rioting have forced the lofties to hang out in the apartment together, and because there's no air conditioning, things are getting pretty unpleasant. Nick — oh, sweet Nick — has developed a strategy he's calling the "ranch" system, which involves about a dozen rotating fans, a beach chair, some ice packs, and a kiddie pool.
Too bad Reagan's not buying it. Unimpressed by the ranch system ("It feels like someone is learning to whistle very close to my face"), Reagan braves the proto-apocalypse and comes home with an air conditioner. She then sets it up in her room and magnanimously invites everyone to join her in there. Schmidt insists that Cece take Reagan up on the offer because she has an audition for gas-station TV later that day, and needs to stay fresh. And obviously Schmidt also heads in, totally relieved that he can now stop living like the people in a beer commercial before the beer shows up.
While Nick's out in the main room sweating his butt off in a boilin-hot kiddie pool, Schmidt and Winston are dealing with the fact that Cece has been taking broadcasting classes and finally has an audition for a gig, but now plans to blow it off. Her insecurity and fear of failure is an element of Cece's character that seems super plausible, and retroactively explains a lot of things about her recent behavior — most notably, why she's been a bartender for the last season.
Winston quickly determines that Schmidt's coddling is no way to get Cece off her butt and into the audition, and pulls out his awesome new Cop Voice to intimidate her into action. "MA'AM!" he shouts. "WHY ARE YOU AVOIDING YOUR AUDITION THAT YOU KNOW IS IMPORTANT TO YOU!" It doesn't take much before Cece caves and admits that she's afraid she's not good enough to land a gig. Schmidt is astonished, Winston is quite impressed with the efficacy of his Cop Voice, and somewhere outside, a pile of collapsing, heat-stricken pedestrians slowly accumulates on the pavement.
As impressive as it is, Winston's Cop Voice is not enough to do more than freak Cece out. (No surprise there, since his Peekaboo Street après-ski jacket does not help establish his newfound authority.) Finally, Schmidt steps up and gives Cece a piece of his Mariska Hargitay–inflected mind, and Cece runs out of the Loft Hot Box in tears. Great job, team!
However, this is all a sidebar to the main events — namely, Nick's "ranch" system, Reagan's increasingly transparent desire to humor Nick, and an unusually rat-infested romantic union. The setup here is that Nick refuses to enjoy the cool delights of Reagan's A/C unit because, as Reagan thankfully says aloud quite early in the episode, Nick has a crush on her and wanted to impress Reagan. Why he thinks the best way to do this is with a cooling system that looks like something a child would map out using crayons and a glue stick, no one will ever be able to explain. But Reagan seems to find it appealing, so what do I know?
Reagan tries to bully Nick into joining them by turning on all of the stove burners and boiling water and watching as Nick slowly succumbs to hallucinations (which Nick insists are ha-truth-inations). This fails miserably, and the end result is Nick and Reagan getting in a slap fight over the loft's breaker box and inevitably blowing power to the loft — and therefore, killing the now-vital air conditioner.
So Nick and Reagan troop down to the basement to confront the horrors of the building's electrical system and Jeremiah the Rat. Reagan holds up the two most cartoonishly fraying wires imaginable, swearing up and down that — I don't know, tying them together with a string or something? — will turn the power back on, and Nick decides to take on the more-than-likely risk of electrocution as a stunning gesture of chivalry. This … works?! And then Nick and Reagan almost kiss, as we knew they were going to from the moment this episode began. And then Nick gets freaked out by a rat, goes stumbling back into an electrical board that looks like a booby trap from Home Alone, and takes down the power for the entire neighborhood.
The exposition for this little bottle episode is not particularly impressive, but I have got to say that the final scenes deliver. Nick and Reagan's kiss is more moving than I expected it to be, Outside Dave shows up, and the shots with everyone out in the streets sell the heat-wave/riot concept in a way that nothing else really had up until that point.
Cece comes back and tells everyone that she did go to the audition, and totally blew it because she was drunk and wearing shorts. But the gang is proud of her anyhow, and we get a fun little teaser with her drunkenly trying to read gas-station-broadcast copy. Plus, Winston actually gets to be a cop and use his Cop Voice to do good things — like directing traffic when the lights are out — as well as super Winston-y things — like pulling over an ice-cream truck and demanding they hand over the goods.
There are some elements, however, that do not work. The oddly lengthy exchange that rested solely on the pronunciation of Gstaad, for instance, was sadly lacking in anything remotely funny. And while I'm happy with any plot that involves depth for Cece's character, "Men Yell at Her Until She Does What They Say" is not the stuff of inspirational, revolutionary television.
But the main engine of "Heat Wave" was clearly the union of Nick and Reagan, and in this respect, this bottle episode does its job. The unspoken and somewhat shaky underlying premise is that Nick is a child, and that Reagan is an otherwise competent human being who nevertheless finds that kind of thing attractive. What plays out is actually quite sweet, and is exactly the sort of thing a bottle episode can do best. Everyone gets stuck together, demonstrates elements of their deeper selves, and comes out the other side with ice cream.