It’s fitting that there’s so much talk about bad driving in “Double Date,” because the episode hinges on an emotional car wreck of a premise. Schmidt couldn’t keep the farcical wool over Cece and Elizabeth’s eyes forever—but just because the audience knows the impact is coming doesn’t make it any easier to watch. And “Double Date” is fitfully difficult to watch, for reasons beyond Cece’s confrontation of Schmidt. It’s a challenge to laugh with your eyes closed and your fists clenched, even with all the comedic padding tonight’s episode stuffed into its painful centerpiece.
When I spoke with the New Girl showrunners about the end of the show’s second season, Brett Baer said they opted to leave the Schmidt-Cece-Elizabeth love triangle unresolved because it gave the show’s staff something to write toward for season three. Also: “Watching the character of Schmidt squirm is what we’re going for.” To me, there’s a third reason for keeping that thread hanging: because there’s absolutely no coming back from making that decision in a season finale. Either Schmidt breaks the heart of a woman for whom he’s rediscovering some deep-seated feelings or he lets down the ex who was just left at the altar—and then the viewer sits with his or her misgivings about that development for four months. For themselves and for their audience, the New Girl writers made the correct decision last spring.
And besides, by bringing Schmidt’s charade to a crashing halt in the third season’s third episode, it gives him another 20 or so episodes to crawl out of the hole he’s dug. In effect, the events of “Double Date” give him the chance to be the douchebag he’s always pretended to be, the womanizing dandy who attempts to build his own (tiny) corner of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and then threatens to break up two of his best friends. Schmidt’s squirmed enough—he’s made a decision, and that decision involves a heel turn, an intriguing choice for a show where conflict is typically low-stakes and low impact. He’s still not quite that guy, but he’s not the guy who comes up in his apology to Cece, either. And that’s why Schmidt ends up with Elizabeth’s pie on his face, rather than in his stomach.
The goopy exclamation point on the Schmidt-Elizabeth relationship is one of several cushions provided for the emotional blows of “Double Date.” It’s not as out-and-out funny as the first two episodes of the season, but tonight’s New Girl hits its comedic highs early—Zooey Deschanel’s country-lawyer voice, Winston mistaking a glass pebble for a mint, Jake Johnson finding the third season’s “Give me cookie gave you cookie” in a string of “What do you mean?”s—before everything goes squirrelly. There’s not much variety in the energy levels among the cast members this week, which has a flattening effect on the second act. Everybody’s playing big, loud, and exaggerated, and for me, that knocks some of the wind out of Schmidt’s confession. When even Hannah Simone’s so amped up—pretending to punch a co-star in the junk has that kind of effect on a person—Schmidt’s deeply felt disclosure comes off as a touch abrupt.
The weight of that moment for Max Greenfield forces everyone into a supporting capacity, though Winston’s third solo plot in three episodes makes it seem like the writers are intentionally keeping him isolated for future purposes. The puzzle, the cat, his zealous pursuit of a dinner reservation—there’s a recurring theme forming where Winston leaves himself out in order to be included. (Cleverest unspoken joke of the night: He’s sitting alone at the community table.) Lamorne Morris has also had a strange twinkle in his eye the last few weeks, as if to suggest Winston is pulling a Nick Miller and covering up a deeper pain with erratic behavior. This is complete conjecture (and a possible transference of misgivings about some noticeably underwritten—even for Winston—plots) but I wonder if this is all pipe being laid for Coach’s return, an arc that, no matter how it plays out, will prompt some questions about Winston’s place in the loft. He’s apparently taking Ferguson out for a night on the town next week, so at the very least the show is building toward more of this sort of storyline.
“Double Date” isn’t the most successful merging of New Girl’s comedic and dramatic sides: It takes both to the extremes—Nick and Jess’ list of ways Schmidt can get into their heads for the former; Hannah Simone’s quiet devastation for the latter—but has trouble finding the points at which to bridge them. Still, there’s something to admire about the attempt. “Elaine’s Big Day” set a high level of difficulty for the third season’s early goings, and the Schmidt situation was the trickiest maneuver of all. That it didn’t stick the landing is disappointing, but not surprising. But it’s still admirable that the show tried to do so in the first place.
- It bears repeating that the characters of New Girl have grown so close that they’re not only dependent on one another—they’ve also imprinted their personality traits on one another. (Check out Nick, in goofy headgear and doing a dance “for everyone to be happy,” as if he’s Jess in “Kryptonite.”) This is a show that started with its characters off in separate corners. (Get a load of the fact that he and Jess overcame seemingly unsurmountable differences and are now dating.) Schmidt announcing that he intends to wedge himself between the lovebirds with whom he splits rent might feel contrived, but it could also be an attempt to return things to the way they were. A chance to take apartment 4D back to a different time, a stabler time, when he wasn’t the one being called a crumbum.
- Lamorne Morris shows some Bob Newhart-level skill with a fake phone call: “Hello, Picca? Yes, I need a table for five. This is author Toni Morrison. I am? Well I think you’re a woman.”