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New Girl: “LAXmas”

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Tonally, New Girl is a Christmas show: Just look at how easily Jess slips into the role of airport elf in “LAXmas,” working innate charm, Christmas cheer, and a rockin’ (and possibly too-casual) tartan as she magically erases her friends’ traveling woes. But because the show is about transplants in L.A. who haven’t started families of their own, these characters are never going to celebrate the holiday together. Theirs is a Christmas show in a Thanksgiving’s show’s body, which is just one reason to throw some ingredients from the 1980s’ best Thanksgiving comedy—Planes, Trains And Automobiles—into “LAXmas”’ holiday-movie melange.

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“LAXmas” isn’t a strict homage to the type of films the New Girl characters might watch every December, but it feels like its at least structured to resemble parts of Planes, Trains And Automobiles, Home Alone, or Love Actually. The third of those films is name-checked in the dialogue, but I was hearing “God Only Knows” well before the final scenes: The episode essentially takes place on the opposite end of Love Actually’s prologue, telling the semi-connected vignettes of the people boarding plane while other people cheer up Prime Minister Hugh Grant by disembarking. (Though the Richard Curtis-esque picture is painted even before “LAXmas” heads to the airport, with Ryan talking in vague descriptors of a rom-com London.) It’s a good framework for a New Girl Christmas, because these movies are all grounded in the fear of spending the holidays by yourself. And that’s the engine of “LAXmas”: God only knows what these characters would be without one another.

At least everybody but Coach and Jess has a travel companion when they’re confined to Los Angeles International Airport (or a facsimile thereof). Nick and Winston are sharing a flight to Chicago (and a drinking plan for Christmas Eve Eve); Schmidt and Cece are headed to separate destinations in the vicinity of New York City: He to his former Long Island stomping grounds, she to Manhattan and the general vicinity of Matt Lauer. Only Coach embraces the lonely Christmas lifestyle, though he’s being sent guilt-trip vibes from his favorite niece (and her mom) in Detroit. With Ryan already in London, that leaves Jess to fret about whether or not she’ll be accepted by his family—which provides the through line of “LAXmas,” as she goes about demonstrating exactly why skeptic strangers eventually take a liking to Jessica Day.

It’s a warm note for a cold period on the calendar, but not as satisfying as the travel-related mini-movies it ties together. Based on the scale of its setting, “LAXmas” is the most ambitious New Girl of the season, scattering the leads to the far corners of a major travel hub for a series of episodes-within-the-episode: Schmidt and Cece handle the emotional baggage by getting downgraded from a first-class lounge to the food court (all the while upgrading their friendship in romance-complicating ways); Nick and Winston’s misadventures in standby concentrate a lot of the episode’s biggest laughs in a quick-cut montage. (Their shortcts to the top of the manifest are backed by some sound Nick Miller logic: “It’s foolproof. Unless it doesn’t work, then it didn’t work, so I think we got a 50-50 chance to do it, so let’s do it.”) In an episode that puts greater emphasis on high jinks and holiday-related hassles, the Schmidt-Cece material is particularly important. Rather than insult Cece, Schmidt shirks as status symbol—the key to first-class lounges worldwide—and that’s a huge step for the character. It’s a bigger step for Cece to declare that she likes being friends with her ex, though the sparks-over-fountain-drinks flying between Hannah Simone and Max Greenfield suggest New Girl hasn’t given up on this couple. (But with those words in the air, it’d be great if the show stuck by the decision—as it has with big narrative moves—and put aside the notion of a Schmidt-Cece coupling for the rest of season four.)

“LAXmas” bears some of the formal audacity of season two’s “Santa,” but hesitates to go as big and as unorthodox as that parade-of-parties installment. Jess’ happy ending is a more traditional, if no less festive, New Girl conclusion, as “LAXmas”’ own Kevin McCallister gets the family reunion she earns through loving, questionably legal gestures. Further shoring up those Macaulay Culkin parallels, Jess forms a bond and gets a hand from a previously terrifying presence: Billy Eichner as airline desk agent Barry, who’s one part Roberts Blossom in Home Alone and another part Edie McClurg in Planes, Trains And Automobiles.

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Thank Santa (but not the one from the airport bar) for Eichner, who tones down his Parks And Recreation/Billy On The Street persona and ably fills in for the ensemble members absent from Jess’ storyline. Eichner’s a good fit for this show: He shines in a heightened reality like New Girl’s, and the show’s sense of humor has enough wiggle room for his human-Twitter-feed pop-culture zingers. (“It’s Christmas.” “Oh, I didn’t know that—I thought they just did a black version of Annie for no reason.”) At the top of his game, Eichner is a Paul Reubens for the 2010s—for evidence of that, check out that take he does while sneaking behind Barry Bostwick at the check-in desk. Turns out the final film in “LAXMas”’ DNA is Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, because that look is 100 percent Bellhop Pee-wee during the “Paging Mr. Herman” scene.

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Subliminally, “LAXmas” sells the mood of its multiple departures: The characters aren’t thrilled about temporarily heading their separate ways, and I felt that emotional dip along with them. As exciting as the episode’s “scenes from an airport” setup is, it disrupts the full-cast chemistry that’s been vital to season four. Fortunately, assists from Eichner, Bostwick, Haskins, Curtis “10 Days Down A Bottle” Armstrong, and the “Move, white bitch!” Lady mean the show’s revitalized energy doesn’t flag too much. New Girl handles its Christmas disadvantages with aplomb, even as it makes it clear that all the sugarplums dancing through its head can’t make up for the fact that it’s more comfortable when its characters are slicing turkey around a communal table. Maybe that’s why Schmidt and Cece are sharing food-court sodas when Schmidt delivers the episode’s epigram, a loaded line that leads the show into the new year: “I like being your friend, too.” And he doesn’t even need cue cards to get the point across.

Stray observations:

  • “Who’s that girl?” This week in New Girl alter egos, pseudonyms, and nicknames: “Well, well, well: If it isn’t old Bangs Larue.” (Honestly, the way things go in the first-class lounge, I was expecting “Robert Goodman” to be a fake name.)
  • Okay, let’s talk about that product integration: It’s abundantly clear that no one onscreen or behind the scenes was thrilled about inserting advertising copy into the script for “LAXMas.” At the same time, could the show have afforded its airport shooting locations without an infusion of cash from the Ford Motor Company? I don’t know, but I do know this: If the show had to turn its characters into temporary pitch men, at least it made the weird choice and put Outside Dave in charge. And then Schmidt gets the last word on how unnatural the segment is, riffing off the fact that Coach uses his name as a verb while describing one of the car’s features: “Well look at that, your name is Coach! I don’t know why that’s fun to me, but it is.” If this sort of thing is a permanent part of our brave new media world, at least shows like New Girl are willing to be smart about it. (For further reading on this topic, click here.)
  • By casting the former Mr. Belding as the airport bar’s “Pervert Santa,” New Girl kills two nostalgic birds with a single, peppermint-striped stone.
  • The greatest gift Fox can give New Girl viewers this season is a complete version of that revenge-thriller Christmas play Jess’ students are staging in the cold open. Put it on your wishlist, and maybe Non-Perverted Santa will come through.
  • Pure Schmidt: Squeezing this observation about Jess’ Merry-Old-England talk between statements about Hasidic Jews and gypsies: “You gotta stop it with that accent, it’s borderline racist.”
  • Ask an Outside Dave question (in this case, “Will you take a holiday picture?”), get an Outside Dave answer: “Well, I’d prefer to paint you, but it appears time is pressed against us.”
  • This quote takes on a whole new meaning when you see what type of keyboard has been plugged into the charging station: “Is that a keyboard? Dude, c’mon.”
  • In light of flight cancellations, Nick says “I told you so”: “That’s why we should’ve taken trains: Because the sky’s to fickle, it’s the playplace for butterflies.”
  • Even at her lowest, Jess knows herself too well: “Sir, I’d like the strongest drink you have. And also a wine spritzer in case I don’t like it.”
  • And with these words, Max Greenfield resurrected the legacy of Neptune, California’s most unintelligible sheriff’s deputy: “New York. Long Island. Billy Joel.”
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