Season two of New Girl begins with multiple endings, as Jess loses her teaching job and Schmidt says good-bye to his penis cast. Both of these changes require some major identity shifts: Jess will no longer be able to do what she loves for a living, and Schmidt will no longer be That Guy Who Showers in a Trash-Bag Diaper.
So this episode’s big theme is negotiating new personas, or “rebranding,” as human high-end denim line Schmidt puts it. But while it’s all about renewal, it’s also a return to all the things that make New Girl so likable.
Just like last season, there’s Schmidt trying desperately to prove to the world that he’s a baller, even if the zoo won’t lend him a white tiger. There’s a bitchy-funny brunette guest star with gallons of indie cred. There’s not one, but two inspired performances of an early nineties dance hit. And there’s an undercurrent of sweetness, as Jess tries to recover from an emotional upset with the help of her roommates, just as she did last year after breaking up with Spencer.
All of these elements come to a head via Schmidt’s rebranding party. The roommates seem just as happy to celebrate as he is, if only because this means the end to his rampant TMI. (In case you were wondering, he’s still able to “reach completion” thanks to “some very precise and vigorous nipple play.”) Even when his cast comes off, he’s compelled to bring it home and slam it on the kitchen table. Kudos to the New Girl props department — I could practically smell that thing at home.
For eight weeks, Schmidt’s brand has been “broken penis guy” the way that Nick’s brand is “gypsy alcoholic handyman” and Winston’s brand is “Winston.” (Was that a meta-joke about how New Girl never gives Winston enough to do?) But now he’s a new man, and he’s going to tell the world with a party at Nick’s bar. The guest list includes the ladies from Lululemon, Schmidt’s urologist, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, “and a guy who once wrote for a little show called Crank Yankers.” Oh, and of course Cece, whom he hasn’t seen since their breakup last season.
Nick pitches in by tentatively agreeing to make his famously dangerous fruity drinks, although he warns the group that he’s kind of over that phase of his life. “Sure, I could get a girl topless, no bra, with one hollowed-out papaya, some crushed ice, and two fingers of rum. But then I grew up, and now I only want to make a drink that a coal miner would like. Straightforward. Honest. Something that says, ‘I work in a hole.’” And Jess says she’ll make balloon animals, a suggestion so dire that Schmidt offers her a gig as shot girl instead. This is a controversial decision, since Nick thinks her looks are all wrong: “You’re the nurse I want to wake up to after having my stomach pumped. It’s a different kind of hot.”
The right kind of hot turns out to be brain-damaged Parker Posey in a sexy-referee uniform, rambling about her Ph.D. and giving Schmidt a death glare when he asks how old she is. As recent Parker Posey sitcom appearances go, this was neither as wacky nor as satisfying as her role in Louie (although that set a high bar). But she still made the most out of a character who eventually summed up her entire life like so: “I graduated from MIT and then I got into a horrible accident where I lost half my brain.”
Mostly, Parker Posey is there to highlight Jess’s ongoing failure to be sexy. Poor Jess. She’s so dedicated to teaching that she made it through two months of summer school with a student named Vaj Rejuv and didn’t laugh once. But after all that, she’s fired, and left with nothing in compensation but a tiny silver hat and a pair of sunglasses from the lost and found box.
At first, being laid off doesn’t seem so bad. “My boobs are loving this unemployed thing,” Jess tells Nick. “They don’t have to go to boob jail any day.” Plus the hospital says she can earn up to $700 a day, and all she has to do is get infected with dengue fever! But her new job as shot girl really highlights how unsuited she is to anything but teaching.
Even her outfit is all wrong. OK, so she’s Zooey Deschanel, she’s ridiculously gorgeous, and she’s wearing tiny little tap shorts — but as Nick explains: “What if I wanted to take a body shot off you? I can’t! Because you’re wearing a turn-of-the-century bathing costume!” Eventually, he goads her into getting up on the bar and performing a dance that’s every bit as sexy as the one in the biker bar from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Once again, Deschanel works hard to overcome her natural charisma with a thick layer of awkwardness. At this point, she’s got it down to a science.
Speaking of awkward, Cece shows up at the party with her new boyfriend, Robbie, turning Schmidt into a jealous mess. After interrogating Robbie, Schmidt determines that he’s basically a nice guy who does not vacation in Europe, play in a band, or work in finance. (Robbie even gives Schmidt an unsarcastic “Congratulations on your penis, man,” which is a sign of good manners if there ever was one.)
Since Schmidt broke up with Cece because he thought she’d be happier dating muscle-bound male-model types, the arrival of nerdy Robbie drives him crazy. He resorts to one of the tricks up his sleeve — never a good idea in Schmidt-world — and starts twirling flaming torches in an attempt to impress Cece with his … fire prowess, I guess? It’s not a good look, and once a fireball goes shooting into the crowd, the party is basically over. But at least Schmidt’s performance gives him and Cece the chance for a much-needed closure conversation. Cece explains that they never would have worked because they were too alike. Schmidt agrees: They were just too beautiful to make it.
Meanwhile, Nick and Jess are having an equally tender — but platonic! — moment of their own, sitting on the hood of Jess’s car in front of her old school. They’re still probably going to hook up at some point, but for now, it’s kind of cool that their relationship has developed to the point where they can be alone together without any “Will they or won’t they?” tension.
In the end, the episode wraps up with one loose end cauterized and one left dangling. Schmidt is reborn, but Jess is still trying to figure out her next step. That’s okay — her search for a job could easily be a theme for the rest of the season. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch Winston perform “Groove Is in the Heart” another seventeen times.