(Nelson Franklin, Zooey Deschanel, Hannah Simone, Max Greenfield, Rob Yang, Curtis Armstrong, Becky Thyre) (Photo: Jennifer Clasen/FOX)

Like camping, taking an ensemble out of its structured environment can be refreshing or it can be exhausting. Adding a handful of gimmicks—a singles group tagging along on a romantic weekend, a hot and heavy long-distance couple reunited, a once-lovelorn ex with a new flame—and a slew of guest appearances only heightens the uncertainty. But I have no notes for Kim Rosenstock and Joe Wengert, the longtime New Girl contributors credited with the script for “Single And Sufficient.” This episode doesn’t achieve the effortless magic of the very best of New Girl, but like Nick’s novel in progress, it hits all its notes with confidence, keeps up a smart pace, and stays true to major and minor characters. And it just plain made me laugh.

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New Girl has gone into the wilderness before with varying levels of success, but with Schmidt’s careful planning, “Single And Sufficient” adds an element of indulgence to the outdoorsiness of “Thanksgiving III” and “Cabin.” Because “sleeping bags are for hobos and children,” instead it’s luxury glamping in “world-class yurts” for everyone. At first, “everyone” is Cece, Schmidt, Winston, and Aly, just returned from Quantico. At the last minute, Cece invites Jess as a buffer for Winston and Aly, who plan to cram in all the sex (I know what I said) that they missed over their three-month separation during the three-day trip.

“Everyone” turns into, well, everyone when Jess invites her stringently regulated singles-only group to come along, and they all say yes immediately. “Emotionally, they may be unavailable, but socially they are available as hell.” The singles group, lead by Cece’s ex, Robby (Nelson Franklin) reeks of denial, and Schmidt calls them on it with characteristic bluntness. “Isn’t this group just a painfully transparent stall until you meet someone?” he asks, setting up all the action of the episode: Nick, Jess, and Winston and Aly are all stalling.

Jess is game for glamping—the girl has her own retractable s’mores pole, folks—partly to avoid being alone with Nick, who’s staying home to work on The Pepperwood Chronicles. By separating Nick and Jess, the episode addresses Jess’ unrequited feelings without belaboring them, and gives other feelings a chance to bloom.

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I’m a little surprised I never saw how well Jess and Robby—dorky, affable Robby, who loves goofy Halloween costumes, who tries to de-escalate conflict, who takes himself out for a dessert date every Sunday, whose highest praise is “you’re the nicest”—might fit together. Maybe it’s his history of light stalking that put me off? But New Girl has a history of treating light stalking as adorkable. More likely, it’s his history with Cece, an issue “Single And Sufficient” dispenses of with a few words when the happily married Cece (who only “did hand stuff” with Robby anyhow, “per his neurosis”) gives Jess her blessing.

Even Cece is surprised by the chemistry between them. As Jess and Robby sing Toto’s “Africa” around the campfire, Cece whispers to Schmidt, “This is electric.” I have to agree. It’s not just an unexpectedly sweet rendition (yes, even sweeter than Troy and Abed’s), but an unexpectedly sweet portrait of blossoming chemistry: the sheer pleasure on their faces, their back-to-back swaying, the intensity of connection as they turn and gaze into each other’s eyes. It’s a great use of Nelson Franklin’s easy, goofy charm. As always, he makes Robby immensely likable, a little preposterous, and completely, weirdly plausible.

The episode is light on Jake Johnson but heavy on solo Nick Miller panic-spiral content, arguably the best Nick Miller content. As Erik Adams says in his review of “Cabin,” “This guy won’t stop building walls that keep him from what he really wants.” This time, it’s writing, not romance, that’s scaring him off. When Schmidt returns The Pepperwood Chronicles (the whole untidy ream of it, stuffed into a freezer bag) with no notes, just praise and a demand for a new chapter by Sunday night, Nick gazes off into the distance and says with quiet amazement, “I’m a writer.” But once he’s alone with his thoughts, Nick can’t trust Schmidt’s praise any more than he trusts himself. “No notes,” he tells himself, sitting down to a blank page, “all me.” And that’s when he breaks down.

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It’s a masterstroke to have Aly and Winston read Nick’s work in progress, tying their sexual procrastination into the larger plot and giving the audience another view on the novel. Schmidt’s appetite for more Pepperwood (I KNOW WHAT I SAID) is affecting, but seeing Aly and Winston swept up in Nick’s story cements its excellence. Finally, Schmidt turns his characteristic frankness on Nick, who won’t stop badgering him for notes: “You are a writer, and a damn good one at that. But you’re just too scared to admit it to yourself.” All those years of plugging away at his (terrible, terrible) writing are paying off. He’s come into his own, if he can just trust himself and keep moving forward.

Like the best of New Girl, “Single And Sufficient” doesn’t shy away from messy complications and unwelcome insights, whether that’s Jess’ dawning attraction to Cece’s ex, Aly and Winston’s secret weariness after 13 bouts of reunion sex and their equally secret reluctance to admit to that exhaustion, Nick’s always shaky self-confidence, or Jess’ sudden realization that the glasses-wearing clown from her nightmares is herself. “Single And Sufficient” takes time to indulge the characters’ unconscious fears and coping mechanisms, but ends with them all facing those fears and moving forward.

For Winston and Aly, that means restating their relationship’s foundation of honesty and trusting their bond. For Jess, it means admitting to herself that she returns Robby’s feelings, at least for the moment… and letting herself move on from Nick. For Nick, it means learning to believe in himself with even a fraction of the faith Schmidt has in him. By episode’s end, they all stop stalling and let themselves approach something better that lies ahead. It’s as if they, like the narrator of Toto’s “Africa,” are finally taking the advice of the old man quoted in the song: “Hurry, boy, it’s waiting there for you.”

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Stray observations

  • Instead of using Schmidt’s stolen whiteboard to plot out the remainder of his novel, Nick draws a surprisingly well-rendered caricature of Schmidt as a well-groomed, talon-fingered monster roaring “NO NOTES!” as he looms over Nick.
  • This episode was also a little light on Lamorne Morris, since Winston and Aly spent a lot (and I mean a lot) of their time offscreen and pantsless.
  • “Hey, Winnie, are you okay? You sound like you’re being chased up a hill.”
  • “I think this whole ordeal illustrates how three months isn’t three days.”
  • That’s Becky Thyre of Weeds and Transparent as Brenda, “a circuit court judge who also teaches a taxidermy class for kids,” making excellent emphatic use of her maracas, but she’ll always be Becky Thyre of Mr. Show to me.
  • Curtis Armstrong as Principal Foster, scolding Becky and Hugh for their canoodling: ““Well! I hope we don’t see a repeat of that behavior with me later on.”
  • Except for Schmidt’s impassioned speeches to Nick, “Single And Sufficient” doesn’t give Schmidt and Cece much story, but Max Greenfield made me laugh with almost every line reading and expression. Cece has even less to do, but when Schmidt says they have to make friends with a married couple, Hannah Simone makes the most out of a throw-away line: “Yeah, but how are we going to do that? We don’t have a kid and I refuse to take cooking classes.”

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