With three big stories that take all the core characters outside the loft and a gang of guest stars, “Young Adult” has the potential to be a distracting mess. Instead, it explores all the milestones that “Rumspringa” skips over and more, showing every regular not just making changes and achieving goals but also articulating the complexities and challenges of those changes for themselves and each other.

In the episode’s smallest story, but the one that forecasts the biggest change, Cece’s packing up for the big move to Jaipur-Aviv, and Winston’s helping her… for a few seconds of airtime, anyhow. That might sound like a slight, but it isn’t. One of the strongest element of this silly, shamelessly sentimental plot is how little pretense there is to it. When they drop packing in response to the news that Furguson’s been catting around on Winston with neighbor Gil (Mary Holland), it makes perfect sense. This time together wasn’t really about the practical business of packing. It was about spending the day celebrating their bond as roommates, and maybe getting in one last mess-around before Cece moves out.

Holland has a tendency to go extremely broad, but it takes an over-the-top character to rival Winston’s devotion to his cat and to challenge his claim to Furguson. Sure, Winston has treated Furguson to a mini grand piano, a cat-sized treadmill, teeny barbells, and matching shirts. But for a year, Sweatshirt (that’s Furguson to you and me) has been two-timing Winston, eating sashimi from between Gil’s toes and canoodling with her at the airport as planes took off overhead. (“You did what?” Winston asks.)

Winston is a passionate companion to Furguson, but Gil is obsessive. She feeds him conscientiously, tracks his “eliminations,” weighs his hairballs, and tracks all these changes on the cloud. Winston wears bird shirts; Gil wears cat shirts and ball-of-yarn earrings. Even her hair is balled up in two little ears atop her head. If anyone could take Furguson away from Winston, it’s this strange neighbor who’s so ferociously attached to “her” cat.

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Just as Winston’s offer to help Cece pack isn’t really about packing (and they barely pretend it is), Cece’s determination to help Winston reclaim his cat isn’t just about Furguson, it’s also about a fierce desire to protect her friend from loss, and about her own reluctance to leave the loft. When Cece tells off Gil, insisting, “Furguson is happy here around people that cherish him and that helped him become the cat that he is,” she’s talking about herself, too.

The frank emotion of the scene even moves Furguson, who couldn’t be tempted by coaxing or the scent of secret crab legs, but who returns to the loft when the two friends are distracted by their own love for each other, and their fear that their friendship will suffer when they live apart. Even the phlegmatic Furguson is moved by the obvious double meaning in Winston’s heartfelt words to Cece: “Just because you stop living together doesn’t mean you stop caring about somebody. Because caring, that is the real mess-around.”

Or maybe he’s just a cat who wandered into one of his two homes looking for fish nuggets or a place to poop. But don’t try to tell Winston that.

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Schmidt, already giddy over his new position as a marketing director at AssStrat, is imagining what kind of boss he’ll be, but first he has to understand what it means to be the boss at all. His improbably efficient assistant Jeremy (Asif Ali) feels like a character from a psychological thriller, a mini-Schmidt looking to Single White Female his way into his boss’ position—and maybe his life. He anticipates Schmidt’s needs, knows his coffee order (dark roast, soy creamer, 160 degrees), fixes technical glitches before Schmidt can ask him to, and organizes every file before his boss thinks of it. But Jeremy also slips into the loft while Schmidt sleeps to leave him a coffee, he knows Schmidt’s wife’s lexicon better than Schmidt does (“Sir, I believe the correct term is mess-around”), and he introduces himself to Cece by calling to ask her blood type.

Ali plays Jeremy as a flawlessly cheerful, endlessly capable assistant, letting any sinister notes in the character come from his exhaustive attention to detail, not his demeanor. It’s a smart, effective way to construct the character, letting any off notes come not from Jeremy but from Schmidt’s unease as his boredom (from having all his work flawlessly performed before he can even assign it) escalates to fear and finally resolves into pleasure at having such a capable underling dedicated to helping him succeed.

“Young Adult” provides every main character with an achievement and emotional arc, and it weaves together Nick’s and Jess’ with elegant simplicity. Unnerved by the success of The Pepperwood Chronicles (“It sold over 30 copies!”), Nick is so mired in writer’s block, he’s tossing poetry magnets at the fridge in search of inspiration. Jess—Principal Day at last!—is desperate to reconnect with the students from whom she’s suddenly distanced by her newfound authority. Overhearing some students talking about The Pepperwood Chronicles, she decides Nick’s the key to that connection.

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But introducing her students (played by Makayla Lysiak, Saylor Curda, and Olivia Rodrigo) to Nick opens that door wider than Jess wants. When they learn that the author who writes graphic scenes of sexual awakening and fish morgues lives with, and used to be in love with, their sweet, dorky principal, she trades off the imprimatur of authority for the cachet of cool. “P.J.” (for “Principal Jess”) loves hearing that she’s gone “from nehhhh to sort of cool to totally the coolest ever!” but she’s less thrilled when her students breezily include her in their impromptu dance parties and plans to ditch class so they can go to the drama room and dress up like old men.

Is it any wonder these girls just get Julius Pepperwood? Nick imagines his audience as “blue-collar nautical workers on the coastline of Maine,” but teenaged girls have always, always appreciated Nick to the (uh) upmost. (“What’s an ut?!”) In turn, Nick reacts to being called to the principal’s office with the predictable whine that even his young-adult fans won’t stoop to. His “I didn’t even do anything!” (a callback to “James Wonder”) is classic Nick Miller regression. But finding, and learning to accept, his unexpected fan base, Nick rediscovers his voice and rekindles his creative fire, which is one more step in Nick Miller’s long road to adulthood—whatever peculiar, satisfying version of adulthood he decides fits him best.

In his review of the episode where Winston acquires Furguson (hey, no one tell Gil that Winston stole the cat, okay?), Erik Adams reminds us how much New Girl’s characters love to inhabit new identities. (In “Young Adult,” even Furguson gets in on the action.) Nick, Jess, and Winston especially have used excursions into other identities in the same way Jess’ students use their visits to the drama room—to play at being who they aren’t, just for fun. Just as often, they’ve used them to escape the disappointments or difficulties of the everyday. But sometimes those fictional identities unconsciously lead the characters to who, what, and how they want to be. Even Julius Pepperwood first emerged as a fake identity; now he’s the protagonist who’s leading Nick to adulthood—whatever peculiar, satisfying form of adulthood he decides fits him best.

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In season six, these characters are growing into the adults they want to be. In “Young Adult,” Jess finally learns what every administrator must: “I don’t want to be your enemy, but I also don’t need to be your friend.” That’s a big lesson for Jessica Day, and for New Girl, which has often shown her floundering or getting distracted as she tries to retain authority. With Cece and Schmidt moving out, Winston finding love and planning a wedding, Nick finding his groove (if not his fortune) as a writer, and Jess learning there are more important things than being beloved, there are big changes afoot at New Girl.

Stray observations

  • New Girl’s great with observational details, like a bunch of housemates arguing over who gets the last cup of coffee for longer than it would take to start a fresh pot.
  • “Why is there a magnet that says feces?”
  • Jess on the copies of The Pepperwood Chronicles she added to the school library: “The librarian didn’t think it would go anywhere. I can’t wait to rub that in Esther’s smug face.”
  • The episode’s end, with Jeremy delivering coffee labeled with detailed caricatures of each character, is a candidate for the #EmptyCupAwards—and an especially egregious one, since the cups are the focus of the scene.
  • Nick’s plan for the Pepperwood prequel: “It opens with a very graphic description of his birth. It’s like a dark Look Who’s Talking.”

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