(Lamorne Morris, Jake Johnson, Zooey Deschanel, Hannah Simone, Max Greenfield) (Photo: Adam Taylor/FOX)
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“Homecoming” works—mostly—because it’s first and foremost an episode of New Girl. Schmidt returns to New York, “the bosom of Lady Liberty!” (or, as Jess calls it, “the city of garbage water and pizza trash”) to accept his high school’s Distinguished Alum award, and to rub his success in his peers’ faces. Winston and Nick go off on an exploit of extravagance and end up in a scrape, only escaping by their wits. Jess tries to repress sour memories of her last trip to New York under a blanket of positivity, and ultimately she turns her resentment into a life lesson. These are all recognizable New Girl hijinks. They just happen to take place in the New York of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. (More or less. Let’s ignore the geographical improbabilities. The writers sure did.)

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All five roommates come along to see Schmidt honored, but the episode quickly splits them up. Schmidt heads home to Long Island with Louise (Nora Dunn, returning as Schmidt’s mother) with Cece and Jess in tow, each nursing her own anxieties. Cece tries to keep peace with Louise, who vies for primacy in Schmidt’s affections. Just being in New York feels like a comeback to Jess, who’s determined to keep her sour memories from spoiling the trip for everyone.

Soon, Schmidt is holed up in his childhood bedroom (now the dog’s bedroom), “blasting Dookie on cassette” and simmering with rage over his high school’s ploy. He thought Fitzgerald High’s award was a true honor, a comeuppance for the bullies who taunted and excluded him, a recognition of how far he’s come. Instead, it’s a fundraising strategy bestowed on a hundred former students at a time. Furious, hurt, and regressing, Schmidt can only be soothed by the comfort food of his youth, Schmegelman’s special soup. With Louise and Cece squabbling to stay by his side (actually, by his locked door), Jess volunteers to drive to Schmegelman’s, further fracturing the group. Louise tries to discourage her, but Jess scoffs. “I think I can handle going to a deli.”

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Cut to Jess, not handling the deli.

(Zooey Deschanel) (Screenshot: FOX)

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Meanwhile, Winston and Nick have been disporting themselves as “men of means” in Manhattan, blithely ordering up lobster after lobster, martinis and champagne, “and a telephone on a tray—rotary.” Like his mother with Jess, Schmidt tried to warn them—“This is New York City, a city only one Baldwin could afford!”—but soon they’ve spent every dollar they have, and they have to hustle up their fare to Long Island.

Cut to Winston, handling the hustle.

The busking scheme is the comic highlight of the episode, with Lamorne Morris letting Winston’s impromptu showmanship dissolve into doubt, then soaring into certainty, over and over. From this point, their B-story has a tenuous, fluid energy that suits the improvisational nature of the ruse and raises tension without contrivance or artificial drama. As Winston acts as barker for an act he hasn’t bothered to conceive, Nick chimes in, “Who wants to see what he’s going to do? I do!” Me, too, Nick! Me, too!

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What he’s going to do, it turns out, is nothing. Winston’s subway performance is all anticipation, no action. He times their chanting overture to end just as a train pulls in, so their audience disperses without ever demanding to see the act. It’s simple, it’s brilliant, and it’s a perfect draw for Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) and his son Nikolaj. (Wait, I can get that right: Nikolaj. “Not even close.”)

But the emotional meat of this crossover episode isn’t the unwitting role Charles and Nikolaj play in getting Nick and Winston to Schmidt’s ceremony, or even the bristling banter between Jess and the brash New York cop who commandeers Louise’s car from her and immediately crashes it. Of course Jake crashes the car. That’s Jake all over. Andy Samberg and Zooey Deschanel play their brief minutes together with fun, light tension, but Jake Peralta and Jessica Day are like chalk and cheese, or like Schmegelman’s Deli and Ling’s Palace. (What I’d give to see Amy and Jess together! Those two would bond instantly or burn each other to the ground, and I don’t know which.)

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The episode’s emotional weight comes from Jess’ realization in Raymond Holt’s office. Her last trip to New York was “a complete disaster,” but not that’s not why it haunts her. (“Did you go to the opera and were disappointed? It’s this new director,” sympathizes Captain Holt.) She hates New York because she cut short that trip… and caught her boyfriend cheating on her. A lousy few days in New York jumpstarted the first episode of New Girl.

As always, Andre Braugher grounds Holt in calm authority and an earnest attempt at understanding, though Jess is impossible to understand. Suddenly pausing in her reminiscence, she asks, “That’s when that was?” With serene, hilarious sincerity, Holt answers, “Obviously I don’t know, because I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Braugher is the best thing to happen to a sitcom for years, which is something I never thought possible while I was watching Det. Frank Pembleton cerebrate, antagonize, and agonize for all those years.

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“Homecoming” is stronger on a second viewing, when the viewer is no longer bracing for the possibility of clumsy, forced connections between the two casts. That’s too bad for its initial run, but bodes well for syndication and long-term streaming. Like Schmegelman’s deli, any given fictional world has its own arcane set of rules and realities that are immediately apparent to those familiar with that world and its characters, but likely incomprehensible to those just stepping into it. New Girl’s and Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s showrunners and writers worked diligently to capture each others’ characters and comic beats, and it shows.

Stray observations

  • Winston feels terrible after that red-eye flight from Los Angeles. “My eyes are all red—oh, I see what they did!”
  • When it becomes obvious that the never specified, now unavoidable feat Winston and Nick have been trumpeting is a leap over their accumulation of rubbish bins, safety cones, and trash bags, Nick whispers, “That is bone-chilling news.”
  • Cece threatens to introduce Schmidt’s still-bullying classmates to her fists, “the corner of Fairfax and LaBrea!” Winston, sotto voce: “Those are parallel streets.”
  • Schmidt has to drag her off-stage, still spouting trash talk. “You’re just naming places in southern California now.”
  • The stinger with Coach rounding a corner to see his five friends, making an unannounced visit to his new home, lampshades the artificial world-shrinking a crossover episode can be guilty of. He’s not mad they didn’t call; he’s been to L.A. five times without telling them. “I’ve got other friends!” he cheers, coming in for a group hug.
  • I linked to it above, but be sure to check out LaToya Ferguson’s review of the Brooklyn Nine-Nine half of this crossover!

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