However often “Christmas Eve Eve” reminds us of the old gift-giving truism, it’s not just the thought that counts. It’s also the effort and attention to detail that accompany the thought. This year, New Girl presents us with a sweet, silly Christmas episode, full of affection and the implicit knowledge of its characters that is key to the show’s appeal, but it’s wrapped up in a package as clumsy as a gift from Nick Miller, with his “caveman wrapping skills.”
When her roommates try to talk her out of celebrating Christmas this year, Jessica Day, that immovable object of merrymaking, puts her foot down. “Christmas is not cancelled!” she insists. “Christmas gifts are how you show the people you love that you care in a very special, magical, and highly mandatory way.” Her proposed compromise of a Secret Santa gift exchange is intended to lower the stakes (and the stress) of the holiday. Instead, it raises them. Each Secret Santa gift has to be extra-special because it’s the only gift each of them will get this Christmas.
This raising of stakes is largely artificial. “Christmas Eve Eve” assumes these friends exist in a vacuum, in a snow globe of an apartment where no other relationships matter. Cece and Schmidt just bought a house, which tacitly justifies their decision not to spend more money on gifts, but the others all have friends, family, and significant others who might reasonably be expected to give them a token of affection. Jess’ parents, Nick’s family, and Winston’s girlfriend all go unmentioned. Robby’s right there wrapping all their gifts, but (at least in my network-provided screener) he and Jess never talk about exchanging gifts (or not). Even if the loft’s Secret Santa exchange leaves someone disappointed, they only have to wait another 48 hours for Christmas to arrive.
Despite a premise (and an ending; we’ll get that) that stretches credulity, “Christmas Eve Eve” cleverly plays out different kinds of gift-giving anxieties and the emotional realities that underlie them. Some are simple mishaps, like Jess buying Nick a gift so perfect, he ends up buying it for himself just before the gift exchange, or Schmidt refusing Winston’s package delivery just because it’s addressed to retired Rear Admiral J. Garagareaux. (Or is that Jay Garagaroo? Either way, it’s an all-time great on the New Girl fake-name scorecard.)
Some tensions run deeper. Schmidt is certain Winston’s gift will leave ”my Cece” disappointed; Winston gently but firmly insists that his friendship with Schmidt’s wife (“I like to think of her as our Cece”) has its own in-jokes and touchstones. Winston, who knows how to make a thought count, fashions a makeshift bean bag chair from the blandly inoffensive blanket Schmidt snatches at random from a store shelf, and the way Cece’s face lights up proves Winston right. The gift is a private joke referencing a classic Cece-and-Winston mess-around. She loves it and what it says about their friendship.
Jess’s reminder that each present is a tangible expression of love pays off as each unwrapping uncovers another moment of shared history. Schmidt sees that his friends treasure his wife as dearly as he does, and a little more weirdly. Nick’s gift proves that sometimes, the thought that counts is the image an item conjures up for the recipient. As pleased as Schmidt is with his luxurious new socks, it’s the idea of Nick “mispronouncing ‘cashmere’ in a store” that fills him with joy.
In this episode, the thought behind each gift is revealing, and not always in the way the giver intends. Jess’ decision to bring Nick and Reagan together for the holiday is commendable, even self-sacrificing, but it isn’t her first impulse. She only cobbles together the plan to fly Reagan in after Nick buys himself the “cool” sunglasses she’d picked out for him.
Then there’s the heartbreaking reveal that Jess’ name was left out of the Secret Santa drawing. After her frantic orchestrations and her exhortations to see each present as an expression of love, she’s left with a second-hand gift, one with no shared joke or spark of joy. It’s a nice touch that Jess’ exclusion is her own doing, not a sign of a friend’s thoughtlessness. In the tipsy hubbub of the countdown to Christmas, she forgot to write down her own name.
Their touching solution recreates and amplifies Jess’ reminiscences of her childhood Christmases. But like the set-up that artificially excludes every relationship outside the loft, this over-the-top ending doesn’t quite ring true. Nick waking Jess with a cup of cocoa, Furguson appearing with felt antlers just as Jess’ dog Frank used to, Jess turning to see “snow” falling outside her window: These moments feel magical and dreamlike, but they fit into the scale of the New Girl universe.
Despite the treacle-cutting realism of Nick’s “Wait, do you want to put a bra on?” “Christmas Eve Eve” doesn’t sidestep the dreamlike improbability, but escalates it with a city street filled with lights and fake snow, a pre-dawn robed choir, a Motown great appearing to sing and celebrate with these friends. All the elements of this Christmas surprise can be explained individually: Winston arranging the cruisers, Robby’s recently revealed music-industry connections. Even the confetti is set up with a shot of Nick at a shredder. It’s festive and fun and it all falls within the strictest limits of possibility, but it feels outsized and unreal. As heartwarming as it is to see Darlene Love belt out her modern Christmas classic one more time, this ending is more suited to the heightened reality of Scrubs or How I Met Your Mother than the goofy but grounded framework of New Girl.
One key scene in “Christmas Eve Eve” fits the the intimate, intelligent dynamics of New Girl and hints at developments to come, as conflict brings the simmering tension between Jess and Nick to the forefront. Confronting Jess for “acting squirrelly” ever since his return from New Orleans—ever since he committed himself to Reagan—Nick says, “You don’t think I’ve noticed, but I’ve noticed.” It’s a simple line, but it confirms the season-long hints (beginning with the premiere’s farcical near-miss at the bank) that Nick sees more than he’s letting on. This is a perfect execution of the sitcom tradition of a misunderstanding, with a smart twist. Nick misunderstands the immediate reasons for Jess’ behavior, but he’s intuited the bigger reasons with devastating accuracy.
There’s one last subtle thought in “Christmas Eve Eve” that counts… counts a lot. Planning his last-minute trip to Seattle, Nick is taking Jess’ advice to be with someone he loves on Christmas, but he keeps replacing the word “love” in that sentiment. He calls Reagan someone he “cares about” and “somebody I find really special” but not “someone I love.”
- “Christmas Eve Eve” gives us a tantalizing glimpse of this season’s unseen Halloween, with the cast in a group costume as the courtroom teams from The People Vs. O.J. Simpson.
- Nick’s right. Christmas is stressful, with the lists and the lines and the dancing girls at TV Town Song Room. (Schmidt: “Do you mean Radio City Music Hall? How could you get so many things wrong in a row?”)
- Megan Fox doesn’t have much chance to contribute here, but I appreciate her reading of “gravelly bowel syndrome.”
- “Weirdly, this is not the first time that Nick has failed to mention elves in a crisis situation.”
- Everyone has an easy time buying last-minute tickets on December 23rd, huh?
- Jess screeching “SON OF A WHORE” and lunging at the malfunctioning Christmas tree is a perfect Christmas meltdown.
- As you can see in the photo caption, the Fox press site confirms that Furguson’s name is spelled “Furguson.” Bless us, every one!