The longer I sit with “D-Day,” the more I like the episode. In spite of its own nods to another’s show’s history, “D-Day” is the emotional gesture that complements all of season five’s meta-TV hijinks. Not that the episode is completely devoid of the stuff, as its storylines tinker with sitcom standbys like mistaken-identity makeouts and grass-is-always-greener job swaps. It’s just that the mistaken identity belongs to Schmidt’s absentee father (played by Peter Gallagher), and the greener grasses Nick and Winston observe have to do with Nick wanting Winston to be proud of him (and vice versa). Last week was Jess and Cece’s chance to note the passage of time; this week it’s the guys’ turn.
Only one pair of eyebrows is fit to play Schmidt the elder, but Peter Gallagher transcends that stunt casting as Gavin. As the charming wine merchant who charms his way into Jess’ affection (and happened to charm his way out of the Schmidts’ lives two decades ago), Gallagher is all rakish line readings and Fancyman woo. It’s a treat to see him returning to the type of charismatic scoundrel he was playing with some regularity at the turn of the century, but there’s some Sandy Cohen in him yet: Speaking to Gavin’s son through the camera attached to Zooey Deschanel’s head (Jess, foreshadowing: “Sometimes I think I was bred in a lab to help people”), he drops penitence and self-deprecation with gusto. “I’d love to have a drink with you, and meet the man that you’ve become,” he says, and an entire nation wonders if they too can FaceTime Peter Gallagher whenever they need a fatherly pick-me-up.
Schmidt and Nick are connected in part by bad dads, which is the element of “D-Day” that links the episode to another pair of Josh Malmuth scripts: “A Father’s Love” and “Chicago.” But whereas those those episodes were about Nick learning to forgive Walt Miller, “D-Day” is about that most masculine of quantities: Respect. Schmidt and his father both acknowledge and admire that the other has grown and matured, which is the point Winston and Nick reach once Aly points out that they’re both being idiots. Earning the esteem of a man you look up to, then having a Saturday Night Live alumna point out the ridiculousness of the situation: “D-Day” would be Jack Donaghy’s favorite episode of New Girl.
And not just because of its male-weepie qualities: The conventional sitcom bones of “D-Day” would make the network executive in Jack raise his scotch, too. These are storylines that have been done by countless other shows, something New Girl both embraces and rejects. You can sense the latter in the way Aly dredges up the subtext of Winston’s day on the job(s) with Nick; the former is in the mess that develops when Winston takes over the calendar at the bar.
In between those poles is the cycle of disgust that the roommates experience when they learn that Jess made out with Schmidt’s dad, a comedic setup that’s a little bit disturbing when you stop laughing and start thinking about it. Jess sums up this approach in a single line: “I didn’t know you were Schmidt’s dad when we kissed, and you didn’t know I was his roommate. And those are facts that will haunt us forever.”
You might have seen two friends walk a mile in each other’s work shoes before, or watched an inveterate do-gooder volunteer to help a buddy out, only to get in completely over her head—but episodes like “D-Day” bank on the fact that you haven’t seen these people in those scenarios. Jess has an established weakness for well-heeled silver foxes; stubborn adherence to a ludicrous claim (disguised as opening up to a friend) is a Nick Miller specialty. New Girl is a character-based comedy, and these developments are as in-character for the show as jokes about gas-station TV and “Genie In A Bottle” sung as a lullaby. What happens between Schmidt and Gavin and Winston and Nick is an equally important component of New Girl’s personality, and it’s great to see “D-Day” returning to it.
- Bold prediction: Schmidt’s first name will be revealed in his wedding vows.
- Of New Girl’s many Cheers echoes, I’m glad that it now has its own equivalent of Sam’s office, one of my favorite sets in sitcom history.
- Wedding planning is wearing Schmidt down so much, he’s now requiring the occasional administration of rectal nutrients. It’s not anywhere Nick hasn’t been before: “I mean, I didn’t like it, but I did it. Am I proud of it? No. Did I do it? Yes. Have I done it again since? No.”
- Winston’s had a wild day on the beat: “I busted a poker room, which was a front for a crack house, which was a front for a brothel. It was a crime turducken!”
- Jess asks Gavin what everyone is thinking: “Have you ever had your eyebrows combed by a woman you just met?” The answer: “Yes.”
- Schmidt’s color-coded filing system is elementary: “Chairs are color-coded under chartreuse, because it sounds like ‘chair truce.’ Salmon mongers filed under fuchsia, because I re-fuchsia to serve salmon at this wedding. The groomsmen tuxes are under magenta, because magenta men will be wearing the dope tuxes.”