Jake Johnson (left), Zooey Deschanel, Lucy Punch, David Walton

The loft is not a place of happy memories for hunky pediatrician Sam (David Walton). After a blind date with a woman he thought was named Katie—but was actually Los Angeles-area educator Jessica Day—Sam paid a rom-com third-act visit to Jess’ home, looking to put the lie behind them and start a no-strings-attached fuck-buddy arrangement. And it was within that “sun-soaked and beige-y” space that Jess developed genuine feelings for Sam, leading to their parting and eventual reconciliation, an emotional roller coaster conducted between the very Jess Day holidays of Halloween and Christmas. And though news of The Kiss first reached Sam in a hotel hallway, that fateful lip lock took place in the loft while Sam was there, probably 10 or 15 feet away from the smooching roommates.

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So when Sam storms out of 4D in “Sam, Again,” he channels all that frustration, pain, and anger into his parting words: “As usual, I have had a terrible time in your horrible loft with all of you idiot people.”

“Sam, Again” is not a terrible time. It’s doesn’t pack a lot of throat-punching comedic power, but it does put a novel spin on one of the show’s defining moments. New Girl put in the work to make Jess and Nick’s first kiss mean something, but it wouldn’t have had the same bittersweet impact if there wasn’t another point in space wrangling the characters into a love triangle. Three years and two months after “Cooler,” New Girl brings Sam back to the loft for a view from the other side of the ’ship.

You don’t necessarily need Sam to tell this story: Fellow teacher Ryan (Julian Morris) could’ve served as the complicating factor in a story about Jess’ search for a new job; same goes for Genzlinger (Justin Long), last seen at the end of his post-Jess rope in “Walk Of Shame.” But Sam matters to “Sam, Again” on a character level. Jess feels bad about hurting him (emotionally), and Nick is afraid of getting hurt by him (physically). When the episode cuts to a montage from Jess and Sam’s relationship, it’s more than just a grab-bag of scenes saying “Remember him?” It’s an efficient refresher on what Jess and Sam meant to each other, and the act of Sam-on-Nick violence that ended it all. (And the editing better get the job done, since it’s cutting away from footage directed by New Girl’s long-time editor Steve Welch.)

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Since last we saw him, Sam has become the only doctor on the ward who wears prayer beads and Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison beard. These are the results of his relationship with Genevieve (Lucy Punch), the Bohemian administrator at Academy Of Banyon Canyon, where conflict is resolved in the Feelings Farm and, presumably, students can get a crocodile in spelling. Genevieve is exactly the type of character we usually see running one of these new-age feel-gooderies (though, based on those two references, apparently the only one who’s made an impression on me is the Arrested Development version), but Punch’s performance keeps the character from feeling like Sam’s shoes: A re-tread. It’s all in the confidence she projects in the part, a palpable faith in Bayon Canyon’s patently absurd philosophies. (Genevieve: “Who are we to tell the children what to learn and when.” Jess: “Their teachers?”)

Genevieve winds up hiring Jess, so “Sam, Again” has to preserve some Montessori material for a later date. The beginning of the episode lays its stuff about unconventional names and snacks on pretty thick, but it’s all in service of getting Jess, Nick, Sam, and Genevieve to the episode’s centerpiece: A Feelings Farm where Sam demands an apology from Nick. Given his post-Jess downward spiral, Sam isn’t a true Frank Grimes figure, but this development gets Grimey nonetheless, with New Girl putting The Kiss in real-world terms. Yes, Nick and Jess were acting on feelings they could no longer hold back, but it was also shitty for a) Nick to kiss Jess behind her boyfriend’s back, and b) for Jess to kiss someone else when she was dating Sam. “Sam, Again” allows New Girl to acknowledge that its defining romance got off on a morally dubious foot.

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The episode also allows Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson to show that even though things went south between their characters, they don’t regret getting together. That’s bringing some sophisticated, adult emotion to an activity designed for children; Sam, meanwhile, can only get truly honest with his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend in the presence of an empty chair.

“Sam, Again” is a New Girl episode that praises the bond between the roommates while also having fun at that connection’s expense. When Nick picks up the bug that Jess brings home from her new school, he makes the loft figuratively toxic to outsiders. It’s a clever little way of further separating these people from the rest of the world, while adding some less-than-desirable items to the list of things they share: Sniffles, a bedroom sealed off with cellophane wrap, and a fascination with the children’s television series Poppycock Palace. Schmidt’s DIY quarantine establishes a physical boundary between the healthy and the ill, but everyone in the loft winds up carrying the germs in one way or another.

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Unless they’ve built up a resistance to the place and the people who live there—like Sam. “Sam, Again” sets up a conclusion in which Jess follows Nick’s apology with one of her own, but Sam isn’t having it. With Walton’s hair and face returned to their normal, scruffily affable state, he looks his old self, the type of fella who could take up residence in New Girl’s palace of poppycock. But she finds no forgiveness on Sam’s stoop—just fistfuls of ground up brownies.

“All these puppets do is sing about how they’re friends,” Winston says back at the terrible loft, while having a horrible time watch Poppycock Palace. “I’m starting to not believe them.” Sam might harbor similar feelings toward the New Girl roommates, but he’s been given nothing but reasons to believe that these (wonderful, hilarious) idiot people are the best of friends.

Stray observations

  • “Who’s that girl?” This week in New Girl pseudonyms, alter egos, and nicknames (plus, for a limited time only, superlatives): A new plaque for Nick’s trophy case: “The Most Throat-Punchable Boy In All The World.”
  • I hope Fox makes the Poppycock Palace B-roll available in one form or another—assuming the show isn’t going to become a recurring element of the New Girl mythology, like True American or The Douchebag Jar. Still: When that giant letter shows up, Poppycock joins Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s “This Is Your Left” in the canon of adorably discomfiting fake childrens’ TV.
  • Only hens in the Banyon chicken coop: “Banyon Canyon has a strict zero-cocks policy.”
  • Schmidt’s presentation for a chair company has a no-brainer title: “I Hope You’re Sitting Down For This.”

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