Television writers of the world, hear my cry: Please, please, please cut it out with the will-they/won’t-they arcs. We know how they end: They will. They always will. I understand the allure: They’re easy and organic ways to develop romantic tension between two characters. They feed the hungry online masses who identify as “shippers” with a straight face. They worked great for Cheers. They formed a perfect capper for Friends. They gave people a reason to emotionally invest in the U.K. version of The Office, then played an even more important role in that series’ U.S. counterpart. (Here’s a counter-argument, though: Moonlighting.)
By all accounts, regular television viewers still love themselves some will-they/won’t-they. Just look at the unfortunate fate of NBC’s take on Free Agents, a series that dared to fly in the face of will-they/won’t-they convention and allow its leads to consummate their attraction in the pilot. And how long did NBC keep Free Agents on the air? Four weeks. Four episodes. And then it vanished. Because the shippers, the believers in Sam-Diane-esque-chemistry and Ross-Rachel-type destiny, and the other kinds of people who have a vested interest in the will-they/won’t-they question and are never disappointed by its outcome had nothing to go on. And so they forsook Free Agents—the opposite of what they’ve done to New Girl.
Of course, that last bit is just unfounded conjecture. But the enduring appeal and seemingly elastic premise of the will-they/won’t-they almost certainly has something to do with New Girl’s healthy ratings. And while I’m a fan of a lot of what the show has done so far, the way Jess and Nick are more or less set to collide in bed by the end of New Girl’s first season drives me nuts. Because it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a pretty good show about platonic friendships here, about how men and women can live together under the same roof and be cordial to one another without wanting to jump each other’s bones. But a show about platonic friends just doesn’t have enough sizzle for modern television (it’s probably due to the way “platonic” sounds), and so Nick and Jess need to have their eyes on each other’s prizes—this despite the fact that we’ve seen they’re both capable of finding romance in the world outside the apartment. But who cares about those people when you can just hermetically seal the four principals in the apartment set and let the sparks start flying?
New Girl’s rom-com roots start to show in “Cece Crashes,” a so-so episode that suffers from the same shapelessness of the series’ pilot and an unfortunate tendency to return characters to traits they’ve started to shed. (Further conjecture: I’m guessing this episode is airing out of order, if only for the way the roommates act when Cece arrives at the apartment—as if it’s a novelty to have her there.) The versions of Schmidt, Nick, and Winston presented here seem like first- or second-episode “getting to know you models” of the characters, as if we haven’t learned that much about them since their first appearances. Of course, we really haven’t learned that much about them yet, but nearly all of their interactions with Jess and Cece throughout “Cece Crashes” suggest people just starting to get used to one another. And with the relationship material threadbare, that leaves a sliver of a story—Schmidt and Winston want to sleep with Cece; Jess wants to know if Nick is interested in here—on which to hang some genuinely funny lines.
If there was ever a time for the “Douchebag Jar” to make its triumphant return, it’s “Cece Crashes,” where Schmidt—and probably Winston, too—would be required to plop down a full paycheck for the way they behave around their temporary roommate. Cece’s on the outs with what we’re told is the latest in a long line of terrible boyfriends, and her intrusion into the apartment is an excuse for Schmidt to regress into pilot-level terribleness. He parades around with no shirt, speaks in that smooth-talking lover-man voice of his, and undoes all the work Max Greenfield did over the previous three episodes to make Schmidt somewhat likeable. It’s disappointing, even if the storyline does build to the point where Schmidt is so dead set on “closing” with Cece that he’ll brave the building’s roof—and the terrifying cat that rules it.
Cece disrupts the normalcy of New Girl—which is always a good way to start off a story—but she also introduces a potentially toxic element into the New Girl ecosystem: the notion that men and women can’t be just friends. Here’s another tired plotpoint that ought to be ditched as well, as it was so definitively explored by When Harry Met Sally and Seinfeld. I can grant New Girl the general thematic territory covered by the male-female-relationship spectrum—running from “mortal enemies” to “soulmates,” with “friends” in the middle and the “fuck buddy” dynamic explored in Elizabeth Meritwether’s No Strings Attached marking the 3/4 point—but to debate the mutual exclusivity of the two dynamics is a one-way ticket to Triteville.
Of course, that conversation between Cece and Jess alerts Jess to the will-they/won’t-they scenario playing out under her roof, so I have additional qualms with it. (This is a problem with Cece in general: She’s less a character and more a dispenser of the worst romantic-comedy tropes.) Without it, we wouldn’t have Jess and Nick’s accidental ballet in the drug store—Cece tells Jess that a man points his feet at the woman in which he’s interested, which Jess interprets as “If you don’t want to sleep with Nick, treat him like he has rayguns in his feet”—but we also wouldn’t have the over-the-top sequence where she flees Nick’s car like a madwoman. To put it in terms that its titular character would appreciate, “Cece Crashes” sends a lot of mixed signals.
I’m marking “Cece Crashes” as an early-in-the-series anomaly, an episode pushed to the back of the shelf because it didn’t come out fully-formed and picked up some weird growths—the sudden appearance of the “Jess taking care of Nick conflict”; the way-too-long physical struggle between Jess and Cece—in the process. The episode will serve a greater purpose down the line, though: When we’re in the middle of the second season, and we’re all bored with Jess and Nick as a couple, we can blame it on “Cece Crashes.”
- Now that we’ve passed the September of guys taking off their shirts, it’s time for the November of abrupt apartment parkour: Schmidt shows off his efficiency and speed less than a week after his old roommate, Damon Wayans Jr., entered a Happy Endings scene in a similar fashion. Maybe the characters are trying to stay in touch across the television universe?
- Schmidt has horrifying plans for Cece’s cleavage: “I just want to get my arm stuck down there—127 Hours-style”
- Jess is caught avoiding Nick’s feet: “I’m just walking like a friend”
- The best item in Schmidt’s list of things he likes about India: “Anyone named Patel.”
- Cece defends from Jess’ physical attack with words: “My face is my job.”
- Jess offers Schmidt a reverse of his “Don’t be yourself” advice: “You’re a good guy if you ignore all the things you do on purpose and concentrate on all of the things you do by accident”