(For the next several days, some of our writers will be swapping duties on some of our most popular shows. Some of them will like what they see, but for different reasons. Some of them will have vastly different opinions from the regular reviewers. And some of them won’t be all that different. It’s Second Opinions Week at TV Club.)
A couple days before New Girl aired its incredible, master stroke, episode of the year, “Cooler,” I was talking to a friend about how the second season is going generally. I’ve been a big fan but she said that Nick’s characterization had gotten too broad—he was always a sad-sack curmudgeon, but she thought that was being cartoonishly emphasized this year. I disagreed (it’s really more a matter of a new show finding a character’s strengths and building on them) but what neither of us knew that there was an even grander plan at work here.
I can’t speak to the extent to which Elizabeth Meriwether and her writers have gamed things out on this show. But if you go back to earlier season-two episodes, there’s added enjoyment to watching them with the knowledge that Nick is realizing he’s developed serious feelings for Jess and that it’s driving him a little batty. That’s why I’ve been so impressed with how this plot twist is developing. It doesn’t just feel like a sweeps-week reveal tossed in to bolster New Girl water-cooler talk. It also doesn’t feel like some meta trick where the obvious will-they/won’t-they romance turns into an academic discussion on the very idea of will-they/won’t-they (Scrubs really had this problem).
“Parking Space” adds further shading to the Nick and Jess dynamic and, I’m guessing, acts as the final part of a loose Nick and Jess kissing trilogy. I’m sure the plot will continue to dominate as the season enters the home stretch, but, as with “Table 34,” this episode sees Nick and Jess still deep in the weeds, trying to figure out how to progress after Nick’s big move and subsequent confused jackassery. This is also the week where Schmidt finds out about everything, which means everyone’s in the know now.
This is largely a farcical, madcap episode and it’s very fun, with just two plots spinning: Jess, Nick, and Schmidt fight over a newly discovered parking space reserved for the loft, while Winston runs around town trying to find a condom so he and Daisy (Brenda Song in a welcome return) can get it on before some work-related time window closes.
Winston’s adventures are filled with solid laughs but it does emphasize how he’s always been little cut off from the gang when it comes to deeper, emotional material like this. The show has made progress on that front, but his connection with Jess in particular still seems a little thinner. Lamorne Morris also doesn’t quite have the crazy slapstick chops of Jake Johnson or Max Greenfield either, but he has some fine moments tonight. The best is his bursting in on Cece, attempting another arranged date with the sad Englishman Shivrang (Satya Bhabha, also previously seen in “Cooler”). I liked the return of Shivrang and watching him buckle under Winston’s questioning re: his condom possession—the poor guy is never going to make a good impression with the infinitely understanding Cece. I was a little bummed that we didn’t get to see Daisy again after her opening scene, but things tied in rather cutely—Winston returns home and gets the parking space out of sympathy for his sexless situation, only to find the space is utterly cramped and useless. More Brenda Song in the future though, please. She’s bringing something very fun and vulnerable out of Winston.
The main plot, meanwhile, sees the group dynamic shift again and again. First Jess and Schmidt appoint Nick the decider, and even though the episode begins with Jess acknowledging the awkwardness of the kiss and saying they should move past it, she’s quickly using her feminine wiles to win the space at any cost. Nick gifts it to her to try and be a gentleman, which pings on Schmidt’s spider-sense, and then we’re off to the races as the whole matter gets one more post-mortem.
The big new piece of information, which is played really well, is the “no-nail oath” that the three male roommates (the much-missed Coach, not Winston, gets a shout-out here) signed when Jess moved in. Jess is understandably horrified and grossed out, but many a sitcom would use this revelation as the opportunity for a big dumb blowout fight. What ensues here is a little more complicated. Schmidt’s being his douchey self, reacting to the kiss with cocky fury, but he’s right that the group’s entire dynamic is at risk (he takes things too far, as usual, by insisting Jess kiss him and instantly realizing his error).
Nick is quite the coward the whole episode—he gives the space to Jess to be a gentleman, but quickly worries that’s just a tit-for-tat and switches to Schmidt, yelling “the city can’t have another scandal!” When the situation devolves into the three of them sitting on the space waiting for someone to break, Nick whines that he just wants candy. He claims the kiss was a dumb mistake, something I feared the show would stick with, even though the whole premeditation of the thing undermines that argument.
But no, we finally get a real, goof-free conversation where Nick says the no-nail oath was his idea. “You thought I was just going to sleep with one of you, I just couldn't help it?” Jess asks. “It was me, Jess. I couldn’t help it.” He replies. She drops a box of fishsticks. They almost kiss, but a peeved Schmidt breaks them up. And with that, we’re out of the immediate aftermath and into a brave new world. Jess and Nick’s sexual tension has been addressed, but is still very volatile and ripe for further exploration. No major plot developments are happening just yet, but this show is nonetheless must-see TV from a serial perspective alone. And we mustn’t forget, it’s still very, very funny, full of laughs that largely connect because of how well-established its ensemble has become.
The whole ’shipping thing is a tricky tightrope to walk, and so far New Girl is doing it pretty perfectly. It’s nigh-impossible that it’s going to continue hitting every mark this well. But the balance of laughs to pathos to honestly gripping relationship tension in “Parking Space” is impeccable.
- The best sight gag(s) of the episode the character’s improvised parking spots: Schmidt is “middled” in a lot, Jess’ car has been colonized by cats, and, best of all, Nick’s ride is under some cardboard in the L.A. river culvert (he employs a group of kids to help him push it when it won’t start).
- Jess declares destiny a lady, but Schmidt cares not. “Destiny might be a lady, but victory has a penis. Direct quote, Scott Caan.”
- Among Winston’s suggestions for a replacement condom: a baseball cap that’s really small.
- Schmidt can’t believe Jess kissed Nick. “What do you think, mono is just some sort of joke?”