Okay, I finally understand where New Girl is headed this season. There will be a confrontation between Nick and Reagan, and/or Nick and Jess. Jess and Nick will have to deal with the fact that Jess likes Nick, or Reagan will dump Nick, or Nick will get jealous of Jess and a new boyfriend, and we'll end up back in Jess-and-Nicksville.
But first, we'll spend a few weeks watching each character slide into the right place. Jess will have to date other people, and Nick will have to find something else to do with his time. Cece and Schmidt will head toward some big point of relationship stress, which will be resolved without much of a headache. Maybe Winston and Aly will get married, which would be nice. I can see all of that coming, and I get it. We've got to push a lot of blocks into place before we can get there.
But Robby? Really? Robby is the person we're going to resurrect as Jess's stand-in love interest? Used to be obsessed with Cece, that Robby? Always-the-runner-up Robby? Was in a bar fight set to Katy Perry's "Roar" in season five, but I don't remember anything else about his role in that episode?
Okay, I guess. Sure.
Cece, Schmidt, Aly, and Winston are going on a very romantic couples trip, glamping in yurts somewhere. For reasons that seem thin at best, they decide they should invite someone else, so they ask Jess if she'd like to come along. Of course she would! But she's going to invite every member of her new singles group, a small band of people designed to support each other in their singlehood and prevent any of them from ever being in a romantic relationship. Their motto is "I'm Single, I'm Sufficient," which Schmidt and Cece immediately realize abbreviates to ISIS. This is my favorite joke of the episode.
The glamping setting is nice — those yurts look very comfortable, the lake-bonfire-wooded scenery offer good options for premises and gags, and I always like a good "everybody wears flannel" episode. But the larger premise here, with Schmidt and Cece trying to puncture the underlying idea of the singles group, and the singles group not putting up a particularly strong fight for themselves, feels underbaked and oddly ungenerous to everyone involved.
Schmidt and Cece's stance (let's be honest, it's mostly Schmidt's), is that the singles group is ridiculous, and that Jess, Robby, Brenda the Circuit Court Judge, Hugh Who Grows His Own Onions, and Principal Foster are all just deluding themselves. "We all know you would rather be in a couple," Schmidt yells at them. This is pretty awful, and not especially open-minded about any person who actually prefers to live without being in a romantic relationship. (I know, perish the thought! It's like if a dog walked its master on a leash, or a woman were president or something.) The singles group reacts to Schmidt's weird anti-single prejudice with understandable animosity, accusing him of "couple-splaining," but they also come off as completely ridiculous.
It's clear there's no impetus to represent the singles group as an actually reasonable point of view. The second they get into the lake, Hugh and Brenda make moves toward hooking up, which is depicted as both ridiculous and requiring an intervention. "It's tough" Hugh says. "I'm very horny!" Robby wades into the lake to lead them in a chant of "I'm single, and I'm sufficient!" and Jess admiringly congratulates him on his ability to dampen sexual energy. And then later, in what is admittedly a stirring bonfire rendition of Toto's "Africa," Jess and Robby obviously look like they're on the way to a romantic connection. "This is electric" Cece whispers, before Jess cuts things off and Robby is accused of being a hypocrite. Later, Jess acknowledges to Cece and Schmidt that she doesn't want to be with Robby right now because she still has feelings for Nick, and also because she really is happy being single. But then the end of the episode signals strongly that she and Robby will get together.
Let me summarize: A group of people who are devoted to avoiding romantic relationships trip into romance at every possible juncture, are depicted as delusional and ridiculous, and ultimately disband because the entire thing is just too absurd. Meanwhile, the couples face brief mockery for their self-centeredness, but they are proven right again and again.
Please do not misunderstand this criticism. I love TV couples, I love judging TV couples, I like when good TV couples get together, and I love interesting, generous, surprising depictions of people in love. But when a show relies almost solely on romantic pairings to create long-term stories, and then mocks the idea that any person might just not want to be in a relationship, you come away with a weirdly couples-centric view of the world. "I'm single, and I'm sufficient" should be an obvious, unnecessary statement about the human condition, but this episode makes me feel like this group maybe needs to exist for real. And maybe Cece and Schmidt need to sit down, watch a few Single and Sufficient PSAs, and learn that not every person is waiting for their OTP.
While all of this singleness goes down, Winston and Aly attempt to make up for lost time by having sex every one of the 52 times they would've had sex in Aly's absence, and by doing it all in three days. They tap out at 13, which, as they point out to each other, is still quite a bit of sex.
And while the rest of the gang is off glamping, Nick is at home working on his book, The Pepperwood Chronicles. I'm looking forward to the moment when Nick-as-writer moves out of the "silly gag" stage and into something more meaningful, but I have to say, I do enjoy these silly book gags. My favorite may be the increasingly absurd formats Nick uses to send people his book. Last week, it was a document entirely printed out at a car-rental place; this week, it's either a huge stack of paper in a freezer bag, or 100 individual JPG images. The content of the book makes for some pretty strong bits, too, as the people who read it shout out increasingly odd snippets of plot. Julius Pepperwood finds JFK, who is somehow still alive? There's a newsboy character? At one point, Nick just transcribed an actual local news station? And of course, Nick writes Schmidt into the book as Schmith, a wise, denim-clad Jewish man who's also grotesquely unlikeable.
Look, I'll be honest: This was not a great episode of New Girl, and I was planning to give it two stars. The whole singles-group thing, plus the reintroduction of Robby, really deserve it …
… but I cannot tell a lie. I liked the "Africa" sing-a-long. That song is teetering on the brink of overuse, and the fact that Jess the Character can sing like Zooey Deschanel the Person has never really fit into the series. But they are electric, and it's such a silly song, and Principal Foster keeps interrupting about how no one ever uses the rest of Toto's back catalogue. And that alone was enough for me to bump it up a little. Heads up, though, New Girl. Like a second strike in the singles group, you're not out yet, but you are on thin ice.