New Girl is extraordinarily deft at mirroring its plot points and emotional beats in its structure, and “San Diego” is a great example. The inevitable is finally happening. Nick is breaking up with Reagan. At least, Nick is distracting Reagan from his desire to break up with her, hoping the problem will just disappear. In the meantime, “San Diego” is distracting the audience with shiny novelties (settings like Jess’ dad’s house, the Portland ice cream shop, and the trip to San Diego) and with the shiniest something-old-something-new of all: Schmidt’s first name, revealed at last.
If you haven’t seen the episode, now would be a good time to stop scrolling.
It all sounds a little cheap, doesn’t it? A little cowardly, a little convenient? Reagan was never going to replace Jess (except in the literal sense that she, uh, replaced Jess), but she deserves more than the half-assed, half-hearted brush-off Nick’s engineering. She deserves more than her boyfriend frustrating her into breaking up with him, and she deserves a goodbye that isn’t overshadowed by the unveiling of a series-long mystery. We, the audience, deserve a chance to see Nick reckon with her feelings, and with his own. And “San Diego” delivers it all, in classic New Girl style.
I mean it. Stop scrolling.
And then there’s the name gimmick. Schmidt’s first name has been a mystery for six full seasons. Did it really need to be revealed? Just last week, I asked my husband, “Do you think we’ll ever learn Schmidt’s name?” (He’s also a TV critic, so this is what passes for shop talk at home.) After the requisite Cosmo jokes, I decided I’d prefer never knowing. Schmidt is Schmidt, and introducing another name for him would be nothing but a distraction.
I was wrong.
“Ooh, you had that timed right!” Winston coos as Schmidt—Winston Schmidt!—announces his plan, and New Girl has its plan perfectly aligned, too. Revealing any old name for Schmidt adds nothing; divulging a shared name for Schmidt adds so much. It explains why he’s always been known as Schmidt, it plays on the friendly but still deadly serious rivalries that thrive in the loft, and it feels real. More than that, it feels honest, like the long-unmentioned fact it turns out to be rather than a secret exposed.
Everything about “San Diego” is as ably constructed. Just as the friction over having two Winstons perfectly explains Schmidt’s single-name status, his desire to start a foundation, and his thwarting by Cranston Schmidt, that advocate for nudity in restaurants, sets up the reason for using it again. Cece, who never witnessed that friction, is the perfect person to suggest it. And Cece and Schmidt recoiling from using the name Winston in bed (“I DON’T LIKE IT, I DON’T LIKE IT, I DON’T LIKE IT!”) nimbly returns them all to the status quo, as sitcoms typically demand. Aly’s bemusement at the name conflict (“Somehow, all the Michaels in the world manage to deal with this every day”) and at Nick drawing her into his relationship woes keeps her active in the story, but also illustrates her gradual integration into her fiancé’s life.
Only the somewhat fragmented narrative, necessarily jumping from place to place and (arguably unnecessarily) shoehorning in a romantic subplot for Jess’ father, Bob (Rob Reiner) and Priscilla (Donna Pescow of Angie and Saturday Night Fever), keeps it from being one of the best episodes of the season. Even the episode’s overstuffed nature is handled gracefully, integrating every character into the multiple stories without shortchanging anyone (except poor Ashley).
Realistically, how else would two avoidant people like Nick and Reagan end a relationship, especially without Jess around to prompt them into opening up? There’s a certain sense, as well as hilarity, in presenting their break-up as a comedy of errors, with Nick jumping off the train in Anaheim, crawling under his bed, then saying a somber goodbye from the closet. But Nick is better than that, Reagan deserves better than that, and New Girl both is and deserves better than that. So experienced New Girl writers David Feeney and Rob Rosell give Reagan a proper send-off, one that acknowledges her importance to Nick, and Megan Fox’s to the show. Only after she’s gone do they send in Outside Dave (the returning Steve Agee, whom you may have caught on this week’s Crashing) with the treacle-cutter.
With so little time left in the season, and possibly in the series, it would have been easy for this transition to feel rushed or forced or phony, pushing one girlfriend out of the way to make room for another. Instead, it feels equal parts organic and inevitable: organic as we watch Nick and Reagan realize, with a reluctance that drags over several episodes, that they want different things; inevitable as Nick keeps reaching out to Jess in good times and bad. He asks her for advice, but he also shares his triumphs with her. Finally, Nick’s unwitting devotion to Jess convinces even her doting father that he deserves her.
Everyone here is getting what they deserve, whether it’s a chance to try out a long-discarded name, an opportunity to be generous to a friend, a bonding experience with a new roommate, an honest goodbye, or a chance to rekindle love. And as this season, and maybe this series, approaches its end, that’s a fine thing to be able to say.
- When Nick recounts their first meeting, Schmidt introduces himself as Schmidt. Maybe young Schmidt—Schmidty!—was already a habitual last-namer, maybe Nick’s performing a HIMYM-style unconscious retcon. Either way, it works for me, and I hope it works for you, too.
- “We have tried every single variation: fat Winston, thin Winston, too derogatory. Black Winston, Jew Winston, obviously problematic. Hot Winston, Ugly Winston, that nearly tore us apart. That’s why we came up with the one-Winston rule.”
- Nick’s about the author page, with glue-induced typos and other errors intact: “Nick Miller is a law school graduate, a professional bartender, and a small business owner. Originally from Chicago, Mr. Miller currently lives in Los Angeles California. He has also lived in New Orleans, althougth that was mostly a frenzied barely remembered fever-dream, during which he wrote the majority of his magnus opus the Pepperwood Chronicles. He thinks it’s fun and cathartic to write about himself in the third person. Nick Miller wants the world to know that Nick Miller is a wonderful and handsome man and that his father would be proud of him if he had lived to have the opportunity to steal his son’s first novel.”
- Aly: “I’m exhausted. I feel like a single mom in a mop commercial.” Nick: “Welcome to the loft.”