At least once a season, a New Girl episode is preceded by what Nick Miller might affectionately refer to as an “Uh Oh”: A plot synopsis that sounds like it belongs to a different, crasser program. Here’s the copy about “Goldmine” I received a few weeks back, some of which was met with raised eyebrows. Try to guess which parts:
Nick (Jake Johnson) pretends to be gay to make his status as Jess’ “ex” less of an issue to her new beau (guest star Michael Stahl-David). To Coach’s (Damon Wayans, Jr.) annoyance, Winston works his “Long Game” on their attractive neighbors, Michelle (guest star Alexandra Daddario) and Viv (guest star Amber Stevens). Meanwhile, Schmidt (Max Greenfield) panics when Cece (Hannah Simone) considers having a breast reduction.
Like I said, we’ve been here before with New Girl. These are just loglines, pinned to the “sexiest” (for lack of a better term) aspects of an episode with the hopes of grabbing the attention of reporters and viewers who aren’t necessarily watching the show every week. You can’t convey a whole narrative arc in such little space; there’s precious little room to explain the emotional thrust, either. Can you remember an episode in which “Nick and Schmidt go out on a ‘bro’s night,’ but quickly become infatuated with and highly competitive over a beautiful woman attracted to sadness”? Does it jog your memory if I mention that this episode ends with Nick and Jess sharing a passionate kiss?
Don’t sweat the way the network has chosen to promote an episode; sweat the actual content of that episode. “Goldmine” devotes a lot of energy to Nick pretending to be attracted to men and Schmidt running around fretting about the state of Cece’s breasts, but it handles those ideas with as much nuance and finesse as it can. In developing the persona of Jess’ gay ex-boyfriend, Nick refuses to be put in a stereotypical box; at the end of his horn-dog moping, Schmidt expresses some kind things about Cece as a person. This is some tricky material, but New Girl navigates it well.
This is also fourth-season television. New Girl has been on for a while, and it’s explored a lot of comedic territory. Here, it’s attacking two established stories—a) Jess and Nick are exes and roommates, and b) Schmidt loves Cece—from new angles, one that’s slightly more fruitful than the other. The ruse Nick and Jess concoct to keep Ian from fleeing leads to some fun, farcical tangles when a one-night-stand “Uh Oh” wanders into the picture. Additionally, the whole setup of Nick’s dates leaving upon hearing that he and Jess used to date effectively lays some pipe for revisiting their breakup in a future episode. Schmidt’s “panic” is properly calibrated to his character, but it only gets good when he’s actively contributing to the lies and misunderstandings his roommates have cooked up.
In other words, “Goldmine” is New Girl luxuriating in the strange bed that it’s made for itself, rolling around in the weirdness of exes who haven’t moved away from each other and grown men and women who have to queue up for the shower every morning. That leads to a startling moment of clarity on Jess’ part, though it’s been the unspoken truth of the series for sometime: “Oh my God, we’re the weirdo assclowns.” I’d stop at the “weirdos” part, because it’s been shown time and again: The willingness to lean into its characters bizarre behavior is what defines New Girl. They’d like to stop being this way, but they can’t, which is the tragicomic holding pattern of nearly every sitcom character. All they can hope for is incremental growth; the incremental growth in “Goldmine” is the realization that they’re judging people for being weird, while those people are judging them right back. Or, as the episode’s other piece of dialogue-as-epigram goes: “Can we agree this is not the most mature way to handle things, even though it is pretty fun?”
Coach sarcastically counters that everyone in their 30s behaves this way, but he’s not completely off the mark. The roommates are surrounded by weirdos and assclowns this week, like the neighbors (Alexandra Daddario and Amber Stevens) exploiting Winston for his handyman skills, or the “Uh Oh” played by Amanda Lund who out-crazies Jess’ fake-crazy act. It’s not necessarily discomfort with Nick and Jess’ living situation that sends Ian packing at the end of “Goldmine,” but rather the fact that he’s an average guy who’s wandered into a madhouse. Seeing these people on a nearly weekly basis, we might get inured to their idiosyncrasies. Ian’s the Frank Grimes who stops by to remind us that, no, most people don’t share lofts with their ex-boyfriends, and most of those ex-boyfriends don’t adopt a wildly fluid fake sexual identity to hide their inter-apartment romantic history.
Among the regulars, this is a role that’s most often fulfilled by Cece and Coach, which is why it made a little bit of sense that those two might drift together last season. (Aside from biological imperatives, that is. Can you imagine how good looking those kids would be?) Hannah Simone has the main cast’s best deadpan, and her non-amusement at Schmidt’s “Goldmine” helps lift that breakdown out of the gutter. She is not amused by Schmidt’s premature mourning for her breasts, and she shouldn’t be because it’s her damn body and she can goddamn do with it what she pleases. Even for Schmidt, this reaction to the scenario is horrendous, but it sets Max Greenfield up for a funny background role. This mammary-focused fugue state sends Schmidt darting in and out of other characters’ stories, saying the exact right thing at the exact right moment, even though what he’s really talking about is boobs. In an ironic flourish to this macho-man, hyper-hetero sulking, some of that sulking is confused for Schmidt posing as a caricatured gay man.
The tone of “Goldmine” is pretty high-pitched. There are even more lies and misunderstandings than in “Background Check”; with some added uncoupling and re-coupling, it’d wind up as bedroom farce. But at it’s most absurd, there’s recognizable heart here: Cece’s surgical consultation isn’t the greatest material the show has ever given Hannah Simone, but we know why Schmidt reacts to it the way he does. He’s madly in love with this woman, and would hate to see her change in anyway; he’s an outwardly superficial person, so the changes he’d most hate to see are superficial. He absolves himself when Cece removes that right earbud, interrupting Max Greenfield’s physical-comedy solo to expose the sincerity that’s buried under all of Schmidt’s smarm. To paraphrase Jess, it’s not the most mature way to handle things, even though it is pretty fun.