New Girl Season Finale Recap: A True American Wedding

New Girl

Wedding Eve; Landing Gear
Season 5 Episodes 21 and 22
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
NEW GIRL: L-R: Hannah Simone and Max Greenfield in the season finale

New Girl

Wedding Eve; Landing Gear
Season 5 Episodes 21 and 22
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Hannah Simone as Cece, Max Greenfield as Schmidt. Photo: Adam Taylor/FOX

At last, New Girl returns to the storytelling it does best: Big set pieces, big emotional moments, wall-to-wall jokes, and smart twists on old sitcom tropes. And yes, True American.

Let’s just get the bad part out of the way. I am not thrilled that next season seems like it’ll be an express train to Nick-and-Jess-ville. It’s not auspicious that, once again, the most dramatic move this show can play is shuffling Jess back into an old, played-out relationship. But there will be plenty of time for us to watch that train wreck when/if it actually happens. In these two episodes, we get the good part — we know it’s coming, but it hasn’t happened yet, so you can almost forget why it’s such a bad idea.

The rest of this supersized finale is pure, unadulterated New Girl fun. It’s as though the writers were hoarding jokes all season (or rather, skimming from the mid-season episodes) and crammed them all into this two-episode blaze of glory.

We begin with several low-stakes crises. It’s the night before Schmidt and Cece’s wedding, and Schmidt realizes that he no longer has the flash drive where he’d saved his wedding vows. (Winston stepped on it while they practiced the horah at the rehearsal dinner.) Schmidt, buddy: You gotta save this stuff to the cloud.

So Schmidt, Nick, and Winston scramble overnight to craft perfect wedding vows for Cece. This may be the least problematic problem in the history of sitcoms. It’s a tiny speech! Schmidt has hours and hours to write it! Plus, Nick helpfully offers up advice like “have a big idea” and “here are the seven kinds of stories,” which apparently include “dog versus zombie” and “car commercial.”

While Nick does that, Winston’s mild disaster is that he off-handedly told Aly that she’d be a beautiful bride, and she immediately clammed up and ran home. After a few encouraging words from Coach — oh yeah, Coach comes back! — Winston goes to her apartment, where he quickly learns that she left because she has food poisoning, and she does love him. Also she’s not going to make it to the wedding, because of food poisoning … and because the show had to cut down on that guest-star budget.

Jess makes the best bid for actual dilemma in “Wedding Eve.” She and Cece stumble over what is clearly an engagement ring in Sam’s jacket pocket, sparking two vitally important questions: Is he about to propose to her? Should she say yes? Given that the best things she can say about him are that he’s “objectively marry-able” and that he’s also “so tall,” the answer is a firm “no.” Happily, Jess realizes this. Unhappily, she blurts it out at that exact moment, and Sam tells her that he’s breaking up with her. In news that every devoted sitcom viewer could see coming a mile away, Sam belongs with Diane. He apologizes to Jess, and humanely tells her that he wanted to end things before the wedding so his presence in photos wouldn’t spark future regret.

Here’s my follow-up question: If Sam knew he was going to the rehearsal dinner to break up with Jess, why on Earth would he bring an engagement ring for another woman?!

Look, none of this matters. I’m happy that the show dispatched with Sam. I’m delighted for Winston and Aly. Schmidt’s vows thing was a molehill of a problem, at best. It’s all beside the point, though, because the entire purpose of this episode is the glorious return of True American. When reviving a beloved sitcom, there’s always a risk that it’s grown stale. Its flaws aside, New Girl has done a great job of saving True American for special occasions — and this absolutely qualifies.

Even better, this round of True American is aimed directly at my silliness pleasure centers: It’s a First Ladies-themed free-for-all that labels places in the loft as “Michelle’s garden,” and “Mary Todd Lincoln’s sanitarium,” features a mini-game of Hillary Headband Hot Potato, includes quite a bit of White House redecorating, and throws in a lesbian Eleanor Roosevelt joke. (That’s two of those in the last few weeks. One more and I’m declaring a trend.) Part of what makes this iteration of the game so fun is the intrusion of outsiders. Sam’s hilariously incapable of grasping the rules, and Schmidt’s mom and her “friend Susan” barge in to complain about the noise. Schmidt’s dead-on teenage complainer voice is always terrific, and its pinnacle is the True American moment. “MOM. We’re TRYING to play a GAME. GOD.”

And so, Coach is crowned the winner of True American, all of the non-problems of the first episode are resolved, and New Girl moves along to the main event, the long-awaited Schmidt/Cece wedding festivities.

As “Landing Gear” cued up the oh-so-familiar Late For My Own Wedding shtick, and Jess and Nick struggled to hide it from Cece, I admit I felt some trepidation. Schmidt gets stuck on an airplane in an attempt to fly to Portland and convince Cece’s mom to come to the wedding, and I was steeling myself for a sequence where everything goes wrong until the last possible moment. It looks even likelier when we learn that Big Mama P has shown up in L.A., already persuaded of Schmidt’s excellence.

I need not have worried. In lieu of a typical last-minute save, New Girl leans into the madness for Schmidt and Cece’s big party. After all of his hard work, Schmidt tells Cece to go ahead and “have the party without me.” So they do. Cece carries Schmidt’s face around on a tablet all day while Schmidt watches and comments from his purgatory on the tarmac. She walks him down the aisle, he coaches Nick through his truly terrible toast (“everyone you know will be dead”), and honestly, the episode does an impressive job of making this silly situation look like fun.

Aside from the groom’s absence, the biggest news is Reagan’s return, which underscores Sam’s final words to Jess — they didn’t have a future because he loves Diane, he tells her, but also, “Nick.” Jess spends most of the episode trying to pretend that Sam’s point is ridiculous, and when Reagan considers starting a relationship with Nick, she rehashes the reasons why their relationship didn’t work out. As she watches Nick and Reagan dance at the un-wedding, Jess clearly has regrets.

The vineyard celebration is a big, fun, busy sequence. In the run-up, we get Jess and Nick trying to delay the ceremony by getting the guests hammered, and we also get Winston’s failed prank (which results in him being either naked or dressed in a photo-booth curtain for most of the night). As for the event itself, we cut back and forth between Schmidt on the plane, Cece carrying Schmidt around on a screen, and the more emotional beats between Reagan and Jess. It all gives the episode a pleasantly unexpected shape — rather than saving the biggest, silliest piece for the end, New Girl front-loads the obvious stuff.

Squishing that big, silly, monarch-butterfly-and-photo-booth-laden wedding into the middle of “Landing Gear” is smart for two reasons. First, like True American in the previous half-hour, the wedding gets space to be its own preposterous thing, taking plenty of time with Coach’s attempt to coax Winston out of the photo booth and Nick’s 17-minute toast about sex and death. The second reason it’s smart, of course, is that it makes the hastily arranged real wedding feel remarkably moving.

After being stuck on the tarmac for an entire prehistoric era, Schmidt finally makes it back to the loft. When the elevator doors open, the guys greet him with a yarmulke and a spritz of something Winston says they use to “revive passed-out derelicts,” and Schmidt walks into a gorgeous, tiny, slapdash wedding ceremony. There are rose petals. There is a plucky guitar. There’s a cellist, and there is Peter Gallagher. In the end, instead of a glass, Schmidt stomps on the Douchebag Jar. It was so sweet and sincere and cliché, and I just loved it.

In the closing moments, we also get a peek at what’ll come next season. The show is turning back toward Jess and Nick, which “Landing Gear” emphasizes by illustrating how much it hurts Jess to watch Nick undervalue himself. “I’m tired of you being the only person who doesn’t see how incredible you are,” she tells him, before inadvertently sending him on his way to live in New Orleans for three months with Reagan. Yes, we all know where this is headed. For now, though, just think about how nice it is that Nick gets to be human in these closing moments.

So much of New Girl is implausible fluff and ridiculous absurdity. This season has featured more than its fair share of both, and it’s frustrating when those bonkers plots have no bearing at all on the lofties, on past or future events, or on the way any actual human would ever behave. In this closing wedding sequence, with the gang and their close family gathered in the loft, New Girl really sticks the landing.

New Girl Finale Recap: A True American Wedding