Photo: Jennifer Clasen/FOX
“Just be yourself” is a classic sitcom lesson, but it’s one that doesn’t come up often on New Girl, a show featuring four lead characters who rarely have trouble embracing their own quirks. Look at Nick in his orange tracksuit, invoking his Dead Dad Pass to get away with everything from lousy tap dancing to mispronouncing Shivrang’s name. Nobody needs to help Nick get in touch with his authentic self.
But last night’s episode was all about the struggle to be real — not just in the case of Cece, who’s trying to please her conservative Indian future in-laws, but also, more surprising, in the case of Schmidt.
Clearly, Schmidt works hard to maintain his identity as a sharp-dressed man about town, the kind of guy who goes to Booty Burn Boot Camp class not because he needs it, but “to inspire the others.” But up until now, it’s never seemed like he resented that work, or missed his old persona as a happy-dancing Big Guy. It’s taken Cece’s wedding and a blast from the past in the form of his old girlfriend Elizabeth to make him realize that the Big Guy is still in there somewhere. You know Bender’s speech in The Breakfast Club about fat people who still have a thin person looking out through them? Schmidt, it turns out, is the opposite.
We’ll get to Cece’s bachelorette party in a minute, but first, can we talk about Elizabeth? As guest stars go, Merritt Wever might be even more girl-crushable than Lizzy Caplan. Best known for Nurse Jackie, she has a tendency to play characters who start off seeming vulnerable — a little flighty, a little naive — but turn out to have a core of steel underneath their teenage mannerisms.
Elizabeth might never be an inspiration to the student body of Booty Burn Boot Camp, but she knows what she wants, and she’s not afraid to tell Schmidt that losing weight made him mean. Her honesty prompts him to apologize to Cece for being selfish during their relationship, and to admit to Elizabeth that, “the Big Guy, well, he’s still somewhere inside of this perfect body.” The episode ends with him rediscovering pizza — carbs, grease, and all. You can tell by the light in his eyes, and the goofy expression on his face, that in some ways being the Big Guy was a lot more fun than being Schmidt.
So here’s the question: If Schmidt can reconcile those two selves, will Cece want him back? Shrivang seems like a great guy, but I’m guessing New Girl season three isn’t going to be about his and Cece’s domestic foibles.
That’s getting ahead of ourselves, though. First, there’s the wedding to contend with. It’s happening really fast — so fast, in fact, that Cece and Shrivang have never had sex. Instead, she’s getting to know him the old-fashioned way: by withstanding the disapproving stares of his female relatives.
As sometimes happens in old friendships, Jess has no idea what sort of wedding-planning angst Cece is facing. Still, she wants to show that she cares, so she tries to surprise Cece with the filthy bachelorette party she dreamed of as a child. The guest list includes many models, an incredibly pregnant Sadie, and, accidentally, Shrivang’s conservative Indian aunt, whose presence puts a certain damper on the festivities. (Poor Alfredo the male stripper — he never does get to strut his stuff.)
Winston and Nick, meanwhile, have been assigned to kidnap Shrivang and keep him occupied during the party. But the assignment changes once Cece admits that she’s never seen Shrivang’s penis. (Horrified model: “It’s that small?”) Jess wants a photo, and she wants Nick to make it to scale: “Please put like a nickel, or a big toe, or a golf pencil in there for reference.”
This, to me, felt like a return to the Nick-and-Jess dynamic we all know and love. They’re teaming up on something totally ridiculous, and because they’re trying to help a third party, all of that “What does our relationship really MEAN?” stuff falls by the wayside, letting us see how casual and happy they seem together.
Less casual and happy: Winston and Nick’s attempts on Shrivang’s junk. He seems excited to go out with them for a surprise bachelor party, even if Winston’s kidnapper act is a little intense. But he refuses to play along when they ask him to stick a phone down his pants and take a picture. He won’t even do it when Winston, in a scene-stealing flourish, sets the bathroom trash can on fire, or when Nick plays the dead dad card. When he learns why they’re trying so hard to photograph his genitals, he does the mature and boring thing and dashes out to talk to Cece. Luckily, Winston’s around to preempt him by sending a Nick dick pic before he can get there.
The photo causes several different reactions back at the loft. Most of the ladies giggle, while Nadia (bless her) says “Three more weeks of winter.” As for Aunt Ankita, it seems like she’s going to be horrified, but instead, she reveals that she fully understands Cece’s anxiety about marriage.“You are scared because you haven’t seen your future husband’s manhood? Where I come from, women cry about this for days,” she says. Then she tells everyone a story that ends, “And then I realized, that was not his leg.”
The best part of this story line, though, might have been Jess’s reaction when she learned the picture was actually of Nick. Her double-take, her disbelief, the way she lunged at him — that’s exactly how you react when you realize you showed an NSFW picture of your friend-with-benefits-plus to your BFF’s conservative future in-laws.
Plenty more happened last night. Jess and Cece had it out, then reconciled, as they tend to do. Cece learned she was pronouncing Shrivang’s name wrong, and in response he made a sweet speech about how he’s going to try to make her the happiest woman on earth. The central conflict in their relationship — their lack of history together — was explained away, at least for the time being, as a romantic element, a condition that lets them define their future marriage as a leap of faith.
All of this worked pretty well, rounding out the episode and making it feel full and lively. But none of it was quite as touching, or surprising, as Schmidt on his ex-girlfriend’s porch having a tender reunion with pepperoni pizza. It’ll be really interesting to see where he goes from here.