“Swuit” saves one of its biggest laughs for last. After Jess scrambles out of the bar in order to give Cece some disproportionate financial aid, she leaves Nick, Schmidt, Winston, and Coach behind to deal with her jukebox selection: “Takin’ Care Of Business” by Canadian rock ’n’ roll concern Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Initially, they’re dismayed at the situation, but the low-fuss charms of Randy Bachman’s working-man anthem win them over. The dam bursts swiftly: Nick starts bobbing his head to the beat; Coach and Winston join him in singing the chorus. After Coach take the high harmonies for a few bars, the song reaches Homer Simpson’s favorite part, and Schmidt joins the party with Homer-like enthusiasm: “AND WORKIN’ OVER TIME / WORK OUT!” It’s such a characteristically New Girl moment, four friends united in shared stupidity—then realizing they’re in the presence of other people who aren’t their friends.
“Swuit” is the right type of episode for this point in the fourth season: Satisfyingly funny and primarily focused on the main cast. It’s not a grand slam, but it’s not a swing-and-a-miss, either—and since we’re in baseball-metaphor territory, here’s where I’ll mention that its centerpiece is a business pitch for a business suit made out of the sweatshirt material that fails to connect with Shark Tank panelist and “queen of QVC” Lori Greiner. (You’ll note that the Fox-owned New Girl characters only allude to the title of Greiner’s ABC series, which is produced by Sony Pictures Television. Fortunately, corporate rivalries cannot squash Winston’s dreams of a shark playing golf on a T-shirt.) But it also highlights how putting emphasis on the roommates plus Cece has benefitted this season—and how romantic relationships with people outside that circle have been a mixed bag.
Depictions of dating on a serialized comedy are tricky. There’s a rooting interest in a will-they/won’t-they setup, and tremendous payoff (which New Girl has firsthand experience with) when “they will.” By drafting guest stars to play romantic prospects, a sitcom avoids the potential for a “they will” that disintegrates on impact, doing so at the cost of viewer investment. It’s the Cheers approach versus the Seinfeld approach, basically, and while New Girl bears traces of both shows, its many multi-episode romances—Nick/Jess and Schmidt/Cece, but also Jess/Fancy Man, Winston/Bertie, Cece/Shivrang, Jess/Ryan, and Nick/Kai—prove that it inherited its love life from its Boston ancestor.
But while Jake Johnson and Max Greenfield romp around “Swuit,” shouting nice things at Jess and mumbling incoherently in front of their business-guru guest, Greta Lee lingers on the edge of the episode, picking up table scraps and dumping Johnson’s character offscreen. Nick and Kai’s breakup is such an inconsequential part of the episode, but given what it meant to season four—Nick getting over Jess, Nick finding a romantic partner who could accept his laziness—the reveal shouldn’t feel so limp. The punchline that comes out of it is a personal victory for one of the show’s protagonists—for the first time in his life, Nick is dumped because he’s working too much—but it lacks emotional impact.
The struggle to find that impact looks more pronounced in contrast to the rest of “Swuit,” in which the threat of a Schmidt-Nick falling-out supplies the episode with a lot of laughs and a lot of tension. Sure, it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison: We’ve followed this friendship through three-and-a-half years of ups and downs, and it’s one of the show’s foundational relationships. But even without any followthrough behind it, the potential of Schnick Industries splitting up has more narrative juice than the distance that’s clearly growing between Nick and his girlfriend. And it gets treated as such, occupying the main storyline of “Swuit” and providing the big comic showcase for the week, in which a Swuit-clad Jess (looking like David Byrne in the unreleased workout-video cut of Stop Making Sense) mends the rift between the two halves of Schnick and gives them the confidence they need to stage one brilliantly disastrous presentation. (She also swipes the “line of the night” honors out from under them: “Don’t swettle for swubstitutes.”)
It’s easy to linger on the Kai thing because of its placement within “Swuit”: We learn that Nick is once more single at the end of the episode, where developments that will have bearing on a show’s future episodes usually go. It’s given priority in your memory of “Swuit,” despite being eclipsed, quality-wise, by thoughts of the Think Harder Box or the entirety of Coach and Winston’s moonlighting as college-loan officers. The unprecedented nature of a Coach-Winston-Cece storyline (a classic Winston-and-Coach mess-around—or maybe it’s a Coach-and-Winston mess-around) prompts a lot of lantern-hanging from the script, but it’s a more natural fit than that. Of course the guys would crash Cece’s art history class: Winston’s overzealousness has him re-imagining the act of Cece borrowing money in terms of return-on-investment, and Coach didn’t earn his nickname by not offering guidance and support—even when it’s unsolicited.
And, more than that, they’re friends of Cece’s. (Even if they don’t know her full name.) New Girl doesn’t have to make excuses for putting its characters together in different configurations, because it always has the excuse of these people’s lives intersecting and overlapping in ways that border on codependence. The show is rooted in the actions Jess takes throughout “Swuit,” assistance that has the same emotional motivation as Winston floating Cece some tuition money. Throughout the episode, Jess advises the Schnick partners to “meet in the middle”—for these people, “the middle” is usually one of their friends.
That’s the sort of love that New Girl has always been best at expressing, a platonic attachment and attraction that unites these characters even when one of them puts a crummy song on the jukebox. Romantic love might be waiting for them in one of these fabled “not in the loft” locations, but there’s something uniquely satisfying to the relationships they’ve forged at home.
- For a contemporary spin on the Seinfeld approach to sitcom dating, see Broad City, in which the men of 2010s New York City are to Abbi Abrams as the women of 1990s New York were to Jerry Seinfeld—only with more paper towels in their ass cracks.
- Speaking of: Not three weeks after Phil Of The Future star Ricky Ullman appeared in Broad City’s season premiere, Ullman’s former TV father Craig Anton shows up as Cece’s art-history professor. Might the fifth season of Girls bring the whole time-traveling Diffy clan back together in 2016? And do you mind… telling Anton’s professor character where he can find more information about hotel management?
- Jess’ “man problems” con is a little bit Sitcom 101, which I’d like to think the writers are acknowledging with “Swuit”’s repeated use of the phrase “Who’s the boss?” (Of course, we all know the answer to that question: Angela.) Props to the show for not stringing the con on for longer than it had to, and for wringing additional laughs out of the deception by ping-ponging between Jess duping Nick and Jess duping Schmidt.
- Guys, stop fighting. You’re upsetting Winston:
- Until next week, remember Schmidt’s Seven “S”s: “Strategy, sizzle, Schmidt, sex, salesmanship, something, synergy.”