A good TV show is like a puzzle. No, its interlocking pieces aren’t stationary. Let’s start over: A good TV show is more like a build-your-own-clock kit, the kind with a transparent face that allows the clockmaker to keep an eye on the mechanisms, making sure he or she lined the gears up just right, so that they’re connecting in the proper fashion and keeping the device operational. And that, in and of itself, is a form of a puzzle—a more complicated version than the one Winston attempts to conquer in “All In” before it’s made apparent that the odds of doing so are not in his favor. With a puzzle as well as with a clock, you can’t force the pieces together and expect the picture to come out right or the time to be told. The pieces are made to fit together in ways beyond the control of the person assembling them.
But even when those pieces come together to create a greater whole, there’s room for tinkering—which is just what the people in charge of the New Girl puzzle did at the end of the show’s second season. It put together two pieces who’d shown compatibility in the past—Jess and Nick—and scrambled what it had established between Schmidt, his ex-girlfriend-turned-current fling Elizabeth, and his ex-girlfriend-turned-reluctant-bride Cece. That’s not to say the season-two finale scattered everything that was good about the show to the winds—just that the episode marked bold changes and big challenges for the season to come.
The New Girl landscape has shifted, and creator Elizabeth Meriwether was smart to acknowledge that in the script of “All In.” No scenes in the season premiere feature all four roommates together in the loft; more importantly, Jess and Nick are never seen together in the familiar surroundings of the home they’ve shared for two years now, stopping just short of crossing that threshold in the moments that bookend the episode. Their anxiety is understandable, and it’s channeled throughout the entirety of “All In”: Life as a couple within the loft is a big leap, and though they leaped their way out of “Elaine’s Big Day,” returning to the ground (with its meddlesome reality and jobs and a bathroom—and sometimes towels—they have to share with two other grown adults) is a much harder feat to accomplish. “All In” handles this honestly, though because this is a sitcom, that honesty entails driving ’til Jess hits Mexico and living out of the trunk during a beachside jaunt out of Nick’s wildest Hemingway fantasies. (Had he actually ever read Hemingway, of course.)
Appropriately—given the nature of the relationships within Apartment 4D—it’s a strategy torn straight from the pages of Schmidt’s own playbook. “Avoidance” remains the name of the game when it comes to Elizabeth and Cece, even if the minimal presence of Merritt Wever and the rigidity of TV contracts (and the fact that it was reported over the summer that Wever only signed on for two episodes) tip the show’s hand with regard to Schmidt’s eventual decision. There’s also the matter of what Cece gave up for the guy, a decision “All In” doesn’t take lightly. Though Schmidt’s so elusive, he manages to push any of that potential fallout off on newly inducted best friend Winston. There’s such great joy in seeing Max Greenfield squirm, but that feeling jumps up considerably when he’s synchronized squirming with Lamorne Morris, both out of Hannah Simone’s line of sight as it’s silently communicated that Winston’s getting thrown under the bus. New Girl did such a great job of building up Schmidt in season one and Nick in season two; I sincerely hope the way Lamorne Morris tossed off winner after winner tonight indicates that season three is the Year of Winston. Just look at how he played the colorblind beat of the puzzle storyline—or the way he delivered the line “I know everyone is going through a lot, but I think it’s time for me to start a puzzle.” The guy has earned this.
Then again, to assign any one season of the show to a single character goes against the spirit of New Girl. What remains so enjoyable about the show and what pleasantly carries over from season two is the sense that these characters need each other. Schmidt needs Winston to clean up the mess his indecisiveness is making. (You know what? I take back my previous prediction. Schmidt’s going to loose both Cece and Elizabeth because it’s some heinous shit to string both of them along like this—even if Elizabeth is just going to run back to Edie Falco.) Winston needs Jess, Nick, and Schmidt to inform him that a regressive genetic characteristic is keeping him from getting that damn Japanese garden together. The guys need the no-longer-new girl to pull a Jeff Winger and explain that they’re four people who can’t choose to be apart. Never before (and probably never again) has the phrase “I got a really great deal on Craigslist” sounded so sweet.
To me, what remains so enjoyable about New Girl is in the way the show allows its characters to be so outwardly, unapologetically broken. There’s a dependency to the relationships among the roommates that borders on unhealthy—and I think “All In” opens the door for the show to explore that somewhere down the line. That’s a pretty good way to explain Schmidt and Winston’s tough-guy chicken-walk circle, at least. If not, then the devolution that occurs within the loft during Jess and Nick’s Mexican respite is an equally good illustration of what happens when a few pieces go missing from the show’s puzzle. Separated for multiple days and multiple scenes, these people start to break down into elemental forms. Nick gets hermit-like, Jess gets moony, Schmidt gets douchey, and Winston gets a hoodie confused with jogging pants. (I’m so thankful that his decision to bite The Man With The 132-Lb. Scrotum’s style goes unexplained. He’s wearing a hoodies as pants—no need to elaborate.) It can’t be accidental that there’s a whiff of Lord Of The Flies to the beachfront hideaway that “All In” builds in the back of Jess’ car.
And the best manner for reinforcing how much these characters deserve each other is also my one quibble with the premiere: “All In” flits by with precious little interaction between New Girl’s core four. I know I’m not the only person who missed these characters over the summer, and while that’s a nice place to be with a TV series (albeit a place where you can’t stay forever), it is a letdown that the first episode of New Girl’s third season spends so much time with Jess and Nick separated from Schmidt and Winston. The end of season two left a lot to be resolved—some of it needed to be taken care of right away (Jess and Nick), while some of it can wait another seven days (Schmidt, Cece, and Elizabeth). A lot of “All In” works out of necessity—but what counts is that it works. It’s in those moments that the first episode of the show’s third season demonstrates how well this particular puzzle came together in seasons one and two. Because it doesn’t feel like the “real” New Girl until everyone’s truly “all in.”
- This week in New Girl alter egos: In Mexico, the carefree couple of the half-hour adopts new personas: Paradise Jess and Paradise Nick. They’re less freighted with worry, but that also makes them less entertaining than the real thing.
- I’d be interested in knowing if Meriwether spent the summer brushing up on David Mamet, because the way the characters repeat the titular phrase of “All In,” it’s like they’re trying to unload lots for Mitch and Murray.
- Here’s a YouTube version of Sonia’s “Aquí En Mi Nube,” the fantastic Spanish-language version of The Rolling Stones “Get Off Of My Cloud” that plays in the background of one of the Mexico scenes.
- What kind of Emoji keyboards is Schmidt downloading to his phone? “It’s either male genitalia or a really big thumbs down.”
- His breakup speeches, however, are definitely cribbed from an old 3M industrial film: “In a marketplace of ideas where culture is king and data moves faster than people—where scalable opportunities come from turnkey solutions.”
- Nick has his priorities straight once he realizes he’s in Mexico: “Oh my God, pull over—that piñata looks like a monkey!”
- Schmidt provides the perfect punctuation for the next screaming match with your own roommate: “DISGUSTING TRASH PERSON, GARBAGE CHILD!”