A TV show makes an episode like “Mars Landing” so it can then make an episode like “Big News.” That’s a fact of narrative succession as well as a reason to break up a couple that most viewers aren’t ready to see break up: While Nick and Jess were together, all sorts of kinetic energy built up within New Girl. In “Big News,” that energy bursts forth in the form of the “Honey Roast,” a bizarre invention of Winston’s that combines the pageantry and over-indulgence of True American with the wardrobe of a community-theater production of Cats. It’s hilarious, it’s bizarre, and it’s the appropriate salve for treating the burn left by “Mars Landing” and its conscious uncoupling.
It’s a lot of fun to watch New Girl indulge this side of itself. The show has lasted three seasons and earned the promise of a fourth because it’s willing to be strange and tangent-prone and inclined to inventing traditions like a roast where the participants say only nice things about the guest of honor. This is the kind of stuff that differentiates the umpteen “singles on a couch” sitcoms that preceded New Girl and the infinite variations on that same format that will follow. When it arises naturally and it’s treated realistically, it produces some of the show’s most special moments. There’s no way of telling it from the out-of-context image above, but all of the sight gags packed into that photo—and the intoxicated state of two-thirds of its subjects—are an organic outcome of events or pieces of dialogue that occur earlier in “Big News.” And it’s all wrapped around emotions that are complicated by a few big steps that the show’s creative staff boldly took and refuse to take back.
From the start, New Girl was a “weird” television program. Often aggressively so: If there was anything about the earliest episodes that left a bad taste in my mouth, it was the insistence with which they wanted us to accept Jess’ quirkiness and uniqueness. That’s The Case Against Zooey Deschanel (Circa 2011) in a nutshell, the criticism that anyone who tries so hard to be a singular personality can’t possibly legitimately singular. I always caught a whiff of bullshit from that argument, but I also don’t share a knee-jerk aversion to twee with the Internet at large; I could see it applied to early New Girl episodes, however, because few young sitcoms are confident enough to just be the show they are. They work toward being the show they want to be, and sometimes that leads to an episode where the main character is suddenly the director of a youth bell choir.
This all ceased to be a problem when the show up and admitted that maybe Jess wasn’t so special after all—maybe everybody in the loft was a weirdo searching for a sense of belonging. “Big News” is a welcome reminder of the outsider status shared by all of these people: Winston wants to celebrate his admission to the police academy by holding a banquet in his own honor. In an effort to look like he doesn’t know Nick and Jess broke up, Coach commits to a deeply strange, multi-part greeting. Cece doesn’t know that Perth is a major Australian city. New Girl is a much better show when all of its characters unite to revel in their eccentricities and collectively heal their damages. These are people who’ll go the extra mile for one another (even if it’s implicitly sad that no one else will—that’s some paltry attendance at the Honey Roast), and that mile is paved in cat costumes and fancy-fixed Iron Thrones.
“Big News” is also one of those New Girl episodes that frees the cast up to attack the soundstage with extreme ferocity, something we haven’t always gotten from season three. Max Greenfield and Jake Johnson each get a couple of long interludes for riffing in the first act, and they’re skillfully blended with the kind of quick, choppy cuts that get the ball rolling during the “boob season is over” repartee between Johnson and Zooey Deschanel. It’s a delightful encapsulation of the difficult situation they now find themselves in, as exes who have no other choice but to share a room and provide each other with post-breakup moral support.
One thing New Girl has always been good at is accepting its own potentially disastrous decisions and building off of them. A number of season-three happenings, all having to do with living arrangements—Schmidt moves out of the loft, Coach returns, Nick and Jess decide to share a room, Schmidt moves back into the loft—have left the show’s two main characters in a ludicrous, torturous bind. Roommates became friends became boyfriend and girlfriend became exes, and now those exes are still sleeping in the same bedroom. The show continues to embrace the new situation, and while I’m sure it’s not passing the smell test for some viewers (because who could actually live in such close quarters with the person who just put you through such trauma), it deserves major kudos for not activating the ejector seat. The show isn’t denying the psychic pain this is causing the characters, and Deschanel and Johnson get fantastic opportunities to express the tragicomic effects of the breakup in “Big News”—often through drunk-acting, one of the funniest forms of expression for the duo.
Part of me assumes Nick and Jess are being kept in such close proximity because a reconciliation is in the offing. There’s a reiteration of the whole “we have nothing in common” line when the breakup is finally made public (well, public to Winston), suggesting the characters are still trying to convince themselves that they shouldn’t be together. I appreciate the honesty with which the show treats this new reality (“I don’t know where to change or where to sleep or where to go to the bathroom”), but I’d hate to see New Girl get into some sort of uncoupling/recoupling cycle with these two, because that’s one skid Schmidt and Cece have always had difficulty steering into. And to do this all over again, again and again, would nullify part of what makes “Big News” special. I love this episode because of how it uses a major event to propel the show forward—but that’s not all there is to love about “Big News.” There’s Winston’s Honey Roast tux and Nick’s doped-up inability to stop smiling and Tran’s wordless advice and tearful Jamie Lee Curtis and a volley of “e’ry day”s between Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson. All this energy was going unused, and now the show needs to start conserving it for the next big release. To let it off in shorter bursts would be a waste, like a police-academy-admission banquet without a creepy policeman piñata.
- Surely the words “police academy” can’t be uttered this many times without summoning Steve Guttenberg or Michael Winslow to the loft. Surely.
- From now on, my most extreme levels of happiness shall be quantified as “happier than watching Jess watching Coach watching Winston yawn.”
- Sound advice from Nick’s left hand: “Writing left handed is HARB.”
- Nick Miller goes on a pharmaceutical journey: “Did you take the pills?” “I feel as if I’m of cotton.”
- Jess’ drunken Roald Dahl fantasies will not be realized today: “Should we all try to live inside a peach, or is that weird?”