Looking back on New Girl’s second season, “Bachelorette Party” will likely blend in to the episodes that surround it. It tells its jokes well, and the principal cast is on its game, but the storylines just don’t stick. Each thread of “Bachelorette Party” lives or dies by how well it suits the characters within it: Schmidt’s mission to secure a plus-one to Cece and Shivrang’s wedding by finding a serious girlfriend works because, well, of phrases like “secure a plus-one.” Schmidt:New Girl::Barney Stinson:How I Met Your Mother, after all, so it was only a matter of time before he said the words “challenge accepted.”
Schmidt’s attempts to win back Elizabeth, his long-term girlfriend during his “big guy” phase, are aptly played and duly revelatory, shedding light on the cutthroat, image-obsessed, boot-camp-attending Schmidt we know through the compassionate, geeky, portly Schmidt glimpsed occasionally in flashback. That he used to be a more thoughtful person isn’t the most shocking conclusion to jump to, but it kicks off some fruitful soul searching and complements the notion that Cece’s turning against her true self in order to settle down with Shivrang and start a family. (In a callback to the episode that kicked off that whole thread, June Diane Raphael hangs at the fringes of “Bachelorette Party,” sporting the pregnancy belly she reportedly wanted to wear in “Eggs,” but couldn’t for plausibility reasons.)
But Schmidt and Cece are exceptions to the rule in “Bachelorette Party,” an episode that works so, so well at the micro level—Winston’s overzealous participation in Shivrang’s “kidnapping,” Nick’s invocation of the “dead dad” pass, Jess’ weird “Cece’s coming!” shuffle—but doesn’t hang together as a memorable piece of television. It’s a sign a show has legs when you can enjoy your time with its characters even if you don’t like the way you spend that time, and “Bachelorette Party” is such an episode of New Girl. It feels every bit the late-season installment it is, one where the momentum of a big midseason event has subsided, and the push toward the finale has yet to take hold.
There’s plenty of energy to “Bachelorette Party,” but it lacks a certain storytelling verve. Perhaps that stems from exhaustion: There’s a lot to hash out in this episode, which results in some abbreviation of the Schmidt storyline. (And yet the full title sequence is used for the first time in recent memory; there’s not much elbow room within the episode, but it still apparently came up short.) As a result, the story and character beats are shorthanded by hashtag-ready punchlines (#deaddad) and GIF-able visual gags, which leaves “Bachelorette Party” feeling a bit wan. It’s not the meatiest episode of New Girl, but it doesn’t pretend to be, either: This is the show in good-time, cut-loose mode, the appropriate froth to go with penis-shaped balloons and Nick’s “homeless pencil” tracksuit.
So why does that feel like a let down? As stated up top, enjoyment abounds in “Bachelorette Party”: Personally, the shouting match between Jess and Cece in this episode is the first example of that recurring gag that’s made me laugh out loud. Cece’s killing blow—a sarcastic impression of Jess that ends in “I WEAR PAJAMA SETS”—demonstrates a hilarious specificity, juxtaposed well by the arrival of Alfredo, the easily upset male stripper. “Who wants to cool down with a double scoop… of Alfredo?” is a great, wrong-headed double entendre. With that name, shouldn’t he ditch the Good Humor Man getup for some sort of Italian chef guise?
Yet it’s lack of specificity that I think is keeping me from fully embracing this episode. A stodgy relative intruding on a wild bachelorette party is something any “six people on a couch” sitcom could pull off; Cece’s anxiety about what Shivrang’s packing puts only the slightest New Girl spin on the bit. And even when keeping the fiancé away from the party devolves into taking a photo of Shivrang’s wang (if it’s pronounced “Shiv-rahng,” then I suppose its “Shiv-rahng’s wahng”), those hijinks are only dragged out of generic territory by Winston’s dangerous level of investment. (“I’m gonna beat your ass with an athletic stick, boy!”)
Or maybe this is the insane, minutiae-attuned process of reviewing a TV show episode by episode turning back on me. The larger, longer story New Girl is telling will be dictated by the details of “Bachelorette Party” that work: Cece bringing to light the immature way Jess and Nick are handling their feelings for each other, or the humbling Schmidt receives on Elizabeth’s porch. The season-two highlight reel even has enough room for the bold move of sticking Jake Johnson in that nightmare of baggy sherbet-colored fabric for the entire episode. “Bachelorette Party” won’t be the shiniest prize in season two’s trophy case; it’s more of a bright-orange participant ribbon, the marker of a valiant effort that doesn’t make a huge impact, but still helps the season across the finish line.
- “Who’s that girl?” This week in New Girl pseudonyms: In a fit of sarcastic pique near the beginning of the episode, Schmidt claims to be Gérard Depardieu. Elsewhere, the return of Nadia means the return of the model’s blunt, unknowingly offensive greetings: Sadie gets a “Hi, Lesbian,” while her “Hello, Jew” to Schmidt prompts quite the awkward cut to commercial.
- Important, minutiae-based question No. 1: Did wardrobe purposely put Hannah Simone and Max Greenfield in almost-matching tank tops during that scene in Cece’s apartment?
- Important, minutiae-based question No. 2: Was Nick’s “How did you know we were here?” line pitched on set in order to fill the plot hole through which Schmidt jumps to the bar?
- Schmidt’s disgusted reaction to one of his prospective girlfriends’ shopping bag sets the character up for his greasy comeuppance: “Cream cheese in bulk?” After that and the “comedy pie” line that precedes it, he should’ve expected that Elizabeth would only let him back into her good graces if he ate a bunch of pizza.
- Shivrang sums up a fundamental stopping point in U.S./U.K. relations: “Your country’s refusal to embrace Robbie Williams will forever baffle me.”
- “You question my pajamas; you make me question our entire relationship.” Such are the subtleties of a friendship with Jessica Day.