Last night’s New Girl finished on a relatively somber note for the show, as Jess stood alone in the bathroom, having just learned that her roommate Nick — the obvious Sam to her Diane, or Chuck to her Blair — is moving in with his on-again girlfriend Caroline. Jess had just given Nick an impassioned, Tom Waits–inflected speech about not settling and deserving real love and never letting the other person be alone — the kind of speech one sitcom character gives another just before uttering the words “And … I love you.” On most television shows, this pep talk would be a lightbulb moment, when the characters finally wise up to the romantic tension that has been building for the better part of a season (or seven). And for a brief second last night, it looked like Jess might actually do the same. But then, right before the perfectly orchestrated reveal, New Girl did something it’s been doing a lot of the past few months: It backed away. No “there went my chance!” No “I should have said something!” Just back to roommate business for Nick and Jess.
Remember last week, when Jess dumped the dreamy grown-up Russell for lack of passion, only to wind up back home in a scream-off with Nick? Again, there was a perfect pause, when the sexually tense squabblers should have made the time-honored move from insults to make-outs. Instead, they just shook their asses at each other, which sure, is technically sexual, but hardly a mating call. Nick, for his part, had a ready-made Love A-ha! moment during that cancer episode, when he woke up on the beach with his arm around Zooey and the possibility of a terminal illness awaiting him. When on earth are television characters supposed to realize they’re in love, if not by the ocean during a cancer scare?
The answer to that question is probably “next week’s season finale,” if last night’s bathroom stares of longing are any indication. But New Girl’s teasing, deliberate avoidance of that Love Lightbulb scene suggests that the show is aware of the potential Nick-Jess relationship fallout, even if its characters are not. The will-they-or-won’t-they problem looms large, as always, though recent shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation have succeeded in pulling them off. (Sure, Jim and Pam have gotten a little dull in their happiness, but the same could be said for any long-term couple on TV, whether they started off as an unspoken flirtation or as an established couple, à la Mad About You.) Then there is the very obvious issue that roommates, hooking up in house, is almost never a good idea, something we learned from Grey’s Anatomy, and Jersey Shore, and life. Most important, if Jess and Nick do fall in love, or even fool around after a game of True American, New Girl would suddenly become a show about a relationship rather than a show about male-female friendships. We can’t imagine that the characters won’t actually end up together — in fact, we hope they do! We are humans with hearts, too — but an insta-hookup upsets the entire dynamic of the show. Which is why, we’d guess, that Nick and Jess keep tip-toeing to the edge of “I love you,” then running away noticeably unaware. To even acknowledge the tension would send New Girl irreversibly down the Relationship Path, and there are too many good Schmidt jokes to make before that happens.