At this stage in New Girl’s run, is any sitcom better at will-they/won’t-they relationships? Is any sitcom better at Thanksgiving episodes? And is any sitcom better at will-they/won’t-they Thanksgiving episodes, as in “will-they/won’t-they get to eat that turkey”?
Spoiler alert: They will. Get to eat the turkey, that is. That turkey is more than a delicious-smelling bird Jess has been toiling over since 5 a.m. It’s a symbol of all the relationships around this holiday table: lovingly tended, but overstuffed and occasionally bungled. However battered they may be, those relationships always get trussed back together. And ultimately, they’re both celebrated and satisfying, even if they’re not picture-perfect.
At the end of “Last Thanksgiving,” Jess realizes that next year Schmidt and Cece will be in their new home, and she raises a glass to the last loft Thanksgiving. “They weren’t always perfect, but they were memorable,” she toasts, and the group around the table bubbles over with stories of Thanksgivings past:
“Remember when you fell down that hole?”
“How about Schmidt cooked the meal in our dead neighbor’s kitchen?”
“Remember when we had sex with strangers?” (“That’s a misrepresentation of what happened.”)
“Remember when your parents mated in the bathroom?”
“Or last Thanksgiving when we all accidentally took peyote and, Winston, you wouldn’t let us break the wishbone?”
Like the episode’s title, that last quote is a wink at last year’s broadcast schedule. Season five started airing in January of 2016, not September of 2015, so we missed the gang’s Thanksgiving. It sounds like it was a doozy.
So’s this Thanksgiving, from its early-morning ceremonial lighting of the third burner to its climactic goosebumps walkaway. In a familiar holiday sentiment, everyone wants everything to be perfect, and nothing is going to be perfect. Jess is looking forward to a Thanksgiving without her accidental boyfriend Robby (Nelson Franklin), with whom she feels no oomph. Robby shows up anyhow (“Guess who’s too injured to fly?!”), ready to celebrate—and to plan out the months ahead of them. Schmidt’s planned out a day of full-bore father-son bonding for his first Thanksgiving with Gavin (Peter Gallagher), starting with “a game of American football featuring Cowboys of Dallas.“ Nick’s anticipation at seeing Reagan, who’s flying in for the holiday, doesn’t just put him in good spirits; he’s suddenly as deft with a kitchen knife as “that scissorhand guy, what is his name? Is it Rick Snip?”
Everyone’s looking forward to a perfect Thanksgiving. Everyone but Cece. She spends Thanksgiving warning her husband not to put too much pressure on this one day and coaxing her best friend into being honest with her unwanted boyfriend. Once again, Cece is the steady hand steering this day, and once again Hannah Simone makes the most of a script that gives her very little story of her own.
The downward spiral of “Last Thanksgiving” is perfectly crafted, with Gavin as the catalyst for most of its action. Arriving heartbroken after his girlfriend dumps him, he shatters Schmidt’s hopes for a picture-perfect holiday. Gavin’s despair amplifies Nick’s disappointment over Reagan’s last-minute cancellation and as they descend into drunkenness, he draws Nick into his disillusionment. Gavin’s heartache tacitly reinforces Jess’ determination (already bolstered by Winston’s advice) not to dump Robby on a holiday, but his proposition spurs Jess and Robby’s break-up. Then his casual ignorance of even the most elementary facts about Jess sparks Robby’s outburst, which in turn sparks that oomph Jess has been missing.
The reveal that Gavin’s tears are the result of his own philandering is perfectly in character and perfectly on message. Schmidt’s dad isn’t the sweaters-and-whittling archetype of fatherhood his son dreams of. He’s a roguish womanizer, juggling a half-dozen girlfriends and trying to make his son’s roommate number seven without knowing anything about her except that “she tasted like licorice. Sweet, but with a bite.” He’s not the father Schmidt wants him to be, he’s only the man he is.
Gavin’s lapses give Schmidt more than a chance to see his father clearly. They let Schmidt see himself clearly. Instead of pining for the man he wishes his father were, Schmidt lets his wife remind him to “be the bigger man,” the man Cece already knows him to be. When Gavin yields carving duty to “the man of the house,” Max Greenfield manages to convey both the gravity of the moment and Schmidt’s inimitable childlike glee. It’s both touching and richly comic.
Reagan can’t be the constant companion Nick’s previous girlfriends have been. Her high-powered, high-pressure career might always keep her at a distance. But once Nick’s panic passes, he realizes she’ll also always be on the other end of the phone, sending loving holiday messages like “[heart emoji] [smiling pile of poo emoji] i want to [tongue emoji] your [monkey emoji].” As they all gather around the bounty that includes their much abused, patched-together turkey, Nick seems to realize that true contentment comes from accepting the imperfect bounty in front of you, not the illusory perfection of imagination.
Before you accept someone for what they are, make sure you know who that is. When Robby chastises Gavin with an inventory of Jess’ charms, she realizes that she’s that she’s resigned herself to breaking up with him without ever learning anything about him. In a vacuum, this would be a credible twist, but no sitcom operates in a vacuum, and especially not New Girl, which maintains strong continuity of character and story.
Jess and Robby’s singles-only club is one long joke about oversharing. Just last week, they shared a “very inside and alienating” joke about their friend and fellow member Tony, who sleeps bottomless. Jess isn’t the kind of person who would ignore or forget stories shared by a friend, much less someone with whom she has an electrifying connection. And Robby isn’t a new acquaintance. She’s known him, on and off, since he dated Cece. Unless there is nothing to know about Robby, Jess should know plenty about Robby by now. (Let’s face it, it’s possible there is nothing to know about Robby, who takes a first date to a restaurant specializing in birthday parties, who’d never left California until Schmidt’s bachelor party, whose highest compliment before today was “you’re the nicest.” But dang if I don’t love him for immediately turning his disappointment into a special treat for his mom: “I’ll take my mom to Phoenix. She’s nuts about Phoenix!”)
But the performances sell the moment. Zooey Deschanel’s breathless “I felt it” and Nelson Franklin’s gratified eyebrow raise center the scene not on Jess’ dubious confession, but on the far more convincing chemistry between them. It’s no small feat to show that oomph, that ineffable thrill, without eschewing the essential dorkiness of the characters, and they make it look easy. “You felt the oomph?” he asks Jess, and she sure did.
Me, too. I felt the oomph. Robby’s speech gave me goosebumps. Robby, with his dad-khakis and his sweet little change purse. Whether he knows it or not, Robby has nailed the art of a goosebumps walkaway. If the bland affability of his goofy appeal masks that kind of intensity—and this season has been hinting all along that it does—he’s a good match for Jess. A perfect match? Maybe not. But as “Last Thanksgiving” demonstrates, perfection is overrated. Say what you will about this turkey, these relationships, and this show: They’re imperfect, but they’ve got oomph.
- “The secret is a pinch of brown sugar, then a couple more handfuls of brown sugar. Actually, just a lot of brown sugar.”
- A few facts about Jess: “Did you know that when she was 6, she tried to eat a lightning bug so that here heart would glow like E.T.? Did you know that she tried to give herself Lyme disease out of solidarity to her fourth-grade classmate? Or that she never lets any of her electronics go below 25 percent just in case someone else needs to use them? Did you know that she’s terrified of the large bubbles in the bubble wrap but she loves the little tiny ones? It’s so cute, man!”
- Comedy Bang! Bang! viewers, if Ann Kim (Emily Chang) looks familiar, there’s a good reason. She also plays the Goneril stand-in on last week’s Thanksgiving episode.
- Nick’s favorite whiskey glass is the filmy, unrinsed bathroom cup that holds all their toothbrushes.
- “I like Winston, but he’s been telling this bagel story for 10 minutes and I haven’t even met all the main characters yet.” I demand more Winston, even if it means listening to his interminable bagel story.