It’s been a while since a New Girl has left me with the type of conflicted feelings I experienced during “300 Feet.” On the one hand: There’s a great storyline for Nick and Schmidt, in which their bar gets a name (Finally: “The Griffin is the name of the bar we own together, you buffoon!”) and a new rival. There’s Winston’s whole “cop face”/“friend face” schtick, motivated by Officer Bishop’s unwavering commitment to his job, yet doomed by the fact that cop face and friend face are actually one face with separate tones of voice. The episode gets off to a rollicking start at The Griffin (It has a name! It’s not just “the bar” anymore!), squeezes solid laughs out of trendy-new-watering-hole-on-the-block Presh, and sets up a scenario where Jess’ attempts to dismiss a restraining order merely reinforce that restraining order’s reasons for being.

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But “300 Feet” is weirdly front-loaded. It’s smooth sailing in the opening scenes, but the remainder of the episode is riddled with bumps and craters. A couple of extended gags (Nick’s unfortunate pronunciation of “fad bars”; the Presh owner’s description of her bad year) grow winded before their third beat. The “Jessica Day, accidental stalker” storyline starts from a pleasantly vintage-sitcom place of escalating mishaps and physical comedy, but winds up with Jess ramming into a sign post and Dr. Sam nearly running his pickup into oncoming traffic. (Bad week for distracted drivers on shows with “Girl” in their titles.) The logic behind this sudden-onset slapstick is sound—Jess and Sam are dangerous for one another—but the execution feels out-of-character for New Girl. A fair number of the jokes in “300 Feet” land painlessly, but there’s a lot of straining for laughs going on around them.

The hits would outweigh the misses if it weren’t for this thought: The 300 feet of the title feels not like the court-mandated halo failing to keep Jess away from Sam, but rather the distance separating Jess and Nick. Since “Goosebumps Walkaway,” Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson have barely shared any screen time, and scenes where they’re alone together—once the bedrock of New Girl—have been limited. In “300 Feet,” Jess and Nick are both in the bar scene, but their paths diverge for the remainder of the episode. This isolation feels like it could be leading to greater payoff in the weeks to come, but it still robs a certain amount of feeling from Jess’ portions of the post-jury duty episodes.

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The last two New Girls bring up a lot “in theory”: In theory, Jess reuniting with Sam is part of season five’s temptation to look back, like Cece having a hard time leaving her old apartment or Nick and Winston indulging old traditions or Schmidt confronting his father. In theory, keeping Jess and Nick apart feeds the anxiety that’s driven much of season five, the worry among the roommates that they’re growing up and growing apart from one another. Jess pretends toward growing up in “300 Feet,” assuring Sam that she’s not the person he dated three years ago—despite living in the same loft (with one additional roommate) and starting a new job at a new school, while Sam provides the “growing apart” portion of the equation.

I think I’m so drawn to shove this part of the episode into the realm of theory because there’s so little feeling behind it, and it’s not like New Girl to do that. “300 Feet” communicates the impulsiveness of the hook up that’s broken up by Winston, without any of the heat or magnetism that comes along with it. It feels particularly empty next to Nick and Schmidt’s battle against Connie (Busy Phillips), Presh proprietor and orderer of wholesale nutmeg. As bonkers as that storyline gets, it always keeps one foot planted in Nick and Schmidt’s friendship, with its contradictory personality types, business strategies, and opinions on periodic jukebox combustion. Schmidt is just the type of person who’d want to compete with Presh’s “nothing matches, yet nothing is random” aesthetic, and it’s just like Nick to raise a skeptical eyebrow toward a bar with a trendy clientele and properly organized garnishes. This sort of conflict is baked into the characters’ relationship, even as the business of keeping up with the mixology Johnsons provides a fresh angle for exploring that dynamic and bringing the characters back to a place of compromise. Their outsized reaction to the valet-parking plan is both humorous and heart-warming because it’s grounded in the guys’ unique bond.

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And maybe the way that season five puts that bond in the foreground prevents Jess’ rekindled romance from having an impact. Zooey Deschanel’s absence gave the show more time to tell stories about Nick and Schmidt, and their affection for one another has grown to eclipse the arc about Schmidt preparing to marry Cece. “Are they in love?” Connie asks a delightfully drunk Cece at the end of “300 Feet,” but the bride-to-be shows no jealousy. “Yes, very much so.” New Girl’s love story has never been a romantic one. It’s a platonic love story, and even a jumbled episode like “300 Feet” recognizes that.

Stray observations

  • “Who’s that girl?” This week in New Girl pseudonyms, alter egos, nicknames, and adorable names of dead classroom pets: R.I.P., Colonel Flap Ears.
  • As Cece discovers this week, if you’re manning the bar at The Griffin (The Griffin! The Griffin! THE GRIFFIN!) at the top of the episode, and you’ll be back there for the whole 22 minutes. At least it sets up some enjoyable drunk acting from Hannah Simone!
  • Caught up in the moment, Jess misunderstands the basic principles of a restraining order: “When I find Sam, I’m going to kill him!” “You can’t find Sam. Because you have a restraining order.”
  • “Jeff Gillooly”: A name that was meant to be said in Max Greenfield’s Schmidt voice.
  • This is what makes The Griffin The Griffin, part one: “I was trying to cut a runaway olive, and I cut the soda line.”
  • This is what makes The Griffin The Griffin, part two: “I’m just here to see the ‘up’ toilet.”

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