Here is the promo that Fox has been running for “The Decision,” the eighth episode of New Girl’s fifth season and the third of Megan Fox’s run on the show:

Presumably, you’re reading this review after watching “The Decision,” which means you know that “Reagan promises she’ll sleep with either Nick or Winston” isn’t the entirety of “The Decision.” You know that the title of the episode also refers to Schmidt and Cece’s search for a wedding venue; you know how quickly Reagan walks back the “sex bet,” acknowledging that the whole thing feels like the spine of a 1980s raunch comedy. But I can certainly sympathize with someone who saw the above promo, thought “None for me, thanks” and spent their Tuesday night with the Huangs, at S.T.A.R. Labs, or clearing the alien DNA off of their DVRs.

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But that’s at the expense of a great episode, the highlight of the Reagan arc (so far) and an example of a defining New Girl trait: Call it “premise rescue.” Prior to “The Decision,” the show’s premier feat of premise rescue was “Menzies,” which takes the questionable concept of “sympathy PMS” and spins it into one of the funniest episodes of New Girl’s best season. Because this isn’t a high-concept series or one that relies heavily on premise, an episode like “The Decision” can lay out the potentially deadly idea of Reagan offering herself up to Winston or Nick (but only one of them), then spend the remainder of its running time attacking the storyline from unexpected angles and mining it for jokes that are truer to the New Girl voice. The setup is Meatballs, Screwballs, and any other big-screen laffer with a testicular pun in its title; the punchlines are “Menzies,” “Eggs,” and “Girl Fight.” (Come to think of it, those could all be the titles of VHS cassettes sharing a shelf with Screwballs, Porky’s, and Ski School.)

It comes down to Reagan, who’s developed into a reliable agent of chaos in the span of three episodes. In real-world terms, her manipulation of Nick and Winston in “The Decision” borders on sociopathic; in sitcom terms, it’s the next step of what we’ve seen of her in “Reagan” and “Wig.” She’s not a people person, but she knows people, which leads her to push Nick and Winston’s buttons when the roommates can’t settle on a brunch spot. It’s a trait that earns the admiration, and then the confusion, of self-proclaimed “sexual barracuda” Schmidt, who lacks Reagan’s puppeteering skills but knows his best man well enough to guess that Nick has a paper cup pressed to his bedroom door.

Once again, Reagan’s cunning makes excellent use of Megan Fox’s comedic tool belt. She Jennifer’s Bodys her way through a sales pitch for hepatitis-c medication (“FDA approval [Pauses, shifts shoulders, adopts breathy tone.] pending double blind study”) and delivers a motormouthed list of half-ridiculous, half-plausible demands when Winston and Nick come to their first decision. (“Bring something to numb your mouth.”) The sweater, so to speak, is in her hand the entire time: Reagan’s in control for the entire episode, a breezy confidence Fox pulls off in every Cheshire Cat grin and sarcastic line reading. (Winston: “Listen, Reagan, I am so sorry, but obviously we will not be making love tonight.” Reagan: “Nooooo. It’s not fair.”)

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But Reagan can only float above the madness for so long. “The Decision” keeps her human by sending her to the bar with Nick as one of two adults who’s not having sex tonight (and who communicate that decision through ill-fitting plush fabrics). The episode levels its playing field with a deep pull from the wardrobe closet: Nick’s orange tracksuit from “Bachelorette Party,” a sherbet-colored monstrosity that’s one of several excellent callbacks within “The Decision.” Some are instantly recognizable (when Reagan’s game reaches its conclusion, it sends Nick Panic Moonwalking out of the living room), others require a quick IMDB search (David Neher’s return as Benjamin, Schmidt’s “bronemy”/“friemesis” from season one). But none have the impact of Nick telling Reagan he doesn’t want to hook up with her “like this”—those being the telling words Nick chose when stuck behind the blue door with Jess in “Cooler.”

In all likelihood, Nick and Reagan aren’t destined for a love story like the one that greeted Jess and Nick on the other side of that door. But while the show is swept up in the “I already have my dream” happiness of Schmidt and Cece, it’s nice to catch a glimpse of the lovesick New Girl, the bittersweet New Girl, the “look, we’re not going to date but we can work through those feelings with a heart-to-heart over drinks” New Girl. That side of the show has been making a low-key comeback through Nasim Pedrad’s scenes with Lamorne Morris, and “The Decision” finally activates the Winston-Aly will-they/won’t-they that’s been on the table since “The Right Thing.” Of course, Nasim Pedrad has a pilot set up at Fox right now, so Officers Bishop and Nelson aren’t the likeliest “they will,” either.

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The actual decision that Winston needs to make this week involves telling Aly how he feels, affections he’s developed even though she takes considerable pains to make no investment in her partner’s personal life. This sort of outcome is Aly’s stated reason for maintaining formidable personal/professional boundaries, and now she’s got a boyfriend, so… my feelings at this point are “please keep Winston from going Full Boyle here, New Girl.” You said it yourself, show: He’s “lovable as hell,” and channeling his heartbreak into a kamikaze quest for Aly’s heart would take a big chunk out of that lovableness.

But that’s all in the realm of speculation at this point: In “The Decision,” Winston’s thwarted confession merely leads to the 2015-16 TV season’s second-best Boyz II Men singalong. And, really, resurrecting the chance of a Winston-Aly love connection is just another example of the episode’s investment in New Girl history. While giving the special guest star some choice material, “The Decision” engages the show’s institutional memory, reminding us once more that there’s more than Jess tying these characters together. But even with all the returning characters, clothes, physical gags, and potential relationships, it’s that stunning act of premise rescue—the way “The Decision” encompasses more decisions than the decision—that makes this an exemplary New Girl episode.

Stray observations

  • “Who’s that girl?” This week in New Girl pseudonyms, alter egos, and nicknames: The return of Benjamin also means the return of New Girl’s harshest nicknames: “Schmidty Balls,” “Schmidt Stain”—the number of rhymes with “shit” are the only limits on this man’s imagination.
  • Schmidt and Cece’s venue tour from hell makes for another great season-five montage; kudos to Max Greenfield and the makeup team for really selling that “Is there hay in here?” punchline.
  • Another great editing choice: The beat that lingers after Nick drops this metaphor: “Get ready for the skin circus, you little peanut.”
  • Is there anything more Winston than Young Winston’s reaction to Nick making out with Cindy De La Garza? “They’re Frenching!” If there is, it’s this admission: “I’m feeling a little insecure about my body and the way it is connected to my face.”
  • Nick gets the rare opportunity to correct Reagan: “First of all, dibs can’t be singular.”
  • As Benjamin’s fiancée, Angela Trimbur doesn’t get much to work with, but she does get this: “Our wedding is going to be so big that… the giants will come to town and everyone gets a big spoon!”
  • Winston choses his words poorly: “Officer down to meet your boyfriend”
  • Nick explains his scribbled signature: “I thought of it when I was getting tickets to the World Series of Chili and had to prove that I was human.”

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