The last five minutes of New Girl are my new favorite TV show.
I shouldn’t be surprised by this: The show has handled its resolutions and tags with aplomb since last spring, and this second season has been all about training the viewer to anticipate something important—or at least something effective—in the final act of every episode. This isn’t a post-“Cooler” trend; “Tinfinity” had that excellent capper in the hot-air balloon basket, but there was precedence for such episode-ending excellence in the mush-mouthed “O Come All Ye Faithful” from “Santa” as well. And it’s this space that the show has used to push Nick and Jess closer and closer, even in the instances where they didn’t kiss.
It could become predictable, but the escalation in “Quick Hardening Caulk”’s final scene demonstrate that New Girl still has some surprises up its sleeve. It’ll be hard to top in terms of chaos, at least: A screwball shouting match turns into a rage-makeout that ultimately destroys Schmidt’s new—but empty—fish tank. Several exchanged barbs later, Nick and Jess storm off to their respective bedrooms, only to return to the hallway nanoseconds later to smash their injured faces together. It’s Moonlighting-esque, Sam-Malone’s-office-type stuff, but it’s so, so satisfying. If more contemporary shows were utilizing slammed doors as punchlines, I might change my tune. As it stands, I look forward to these types of moments more than anything else on the current television schedule.
A good ending like that can elide over a few flaws in an episode’s construction, too. It’s been nearly two months since “Cooler” aired, and while the episodes that followed made hay of Nick and Jess’ big kiss, “Quick Hardening Caulk” is the true sequel to that episode. Tonight’s episode finds Jess fully committed to returning Nick’s affections, but in order to do so, the script has to dispense with some clunky exposition and introduce a disposable obstacle to a second kiss: guest star Odette Annable. With Annable’s Shane positioned as the bar’s new manager, there’s an additional layer of risk to Jess reciprocating Nick’s feelings—if Nick dumps his boss for his roommate, what does that mean to the job he’s so suddenly passionate about?
In spite of this, Shane is an object in the show’s rearview mirror before she even delivers a line. Besides, isn’t there risk enough in Jess’ sudden-onset googly eyes being prompted by Nick’s newfound drive? Because knowing Nick, that could all dissipate if, say, Guys’ Night nacho profits take a nosedive. This is where the groundwork that’s been laid prior to “Quick Hardening Caulk” comes to the episodes’s aid, because we know ambition and success aren’t the only things Jess is seeking in a boyfriend. If that were the case, she’d still be with Fancy Man.
Jess’ interest in and connection to Nick goes deeper than that, thanks to all of the second season’s pre-kiss scenes where they lend an ear (or a shoulder to cry on) to one another. It’s in those scenes where the characters stopped looking like such a bad fit for one another, the fuel feeding the fire of Nick’s early-season-two kookiness. (I like David Sims’ take on that development: Nick was driving himself batty because he couldn’t own up to his feelings for Jess.) It’s Jess’ turn to be driven crazy by inexplicable emotions this week, and while that threatens to turn her back into her old, run-away-from-conflict self, that’s all patched up by the episode’s explosive finale. Having Jess divulge her true feelings while flying high over the rainbow on pain meds (“Read all about, I’m Judy Garland!”) is a something of a cop-out, but it puts her on equal footing with Nick, who let his guard down when he was inebriated, too. In further proof that it’s not how you play the game but how you win it, that scene concludes with the episode’s second slapstick injury—without which Schmidt’s fish tank would still have four intact sides.
And for all its structures that look a little wobbly, “Quick Hardening Caulk” at least gives a knowing wink to sitcom cliché through Schmidt and Winston’s plot. There’s no feigned ignorance about Schmidt’s pursuit of the endangered fish he describes in terms that more accurately describe his ex-girlfriend: The lionfish story is about Cece, it’s always about Cece, and Schmidt is the only character who doesn’t immediately acknowledge this. It’s a goofy premise, but one that’s prodded along by Max Greenfield’s performance, which begins at a baseline of crazy—he truly looks like a lab rat suckling on that bottle of melon liqueur—and heightens to a point that suggests unrequited-love fever is spreading through the loft like a contagion. That, and injuries to the face: Winston, perhaps due to his general level-headedness, is the only one who escapes “Quick Hardening Caulk” with an un-bruised mug.
For an episode that delves more deeply into one of New Girl’s most emotionally resonant moments, “Quick Hardening Caulk” is also one of the most comedically sound half-hours of the second season. It’s best gags are grounded in the notion that love makes people do (and say) reckless things; the destructive path cut by Jess and Nick’s romantic re-connection is a gut-busting physical-comedy rejoinder to their rom-com-perfect first kiss. Its last five minutes might be its best (let us not forget Schmidt doing GOB proud with his inability to send the lionfish home), but the first 17 minutes of “Quick Hardening Caulk” don’t slack off when it comes to laughs, either. (For further proof, see the stray observations.) It’s just that those laughs come hardest and quickest in the third act—the punchline to gags that feel so well-constructed (even if the episode as a whole isn’t the strongest) that it’s almost as if the writers wanted someone to type “come hardest and quickest” so close to “Quick Hardening Caulk.” You know, to, er, make it last longer. (Dammit.)
- In an episode that tends toward broad humor, there’s a nice, quiet joke in the aquarium guy gently replacing his stolen fish hat.
- Speaking of which—items on the shopping list that require Jess to remind herself that she once caught Nick “pleasuring himself to a mail-order steak catalog”: long-shafted drive gel, new nut wrench, quick-hardening caulk, and lube for drill shaft.
- Nick’s previous promotions at the bar weren’t as successful as Guys’ Night: “You once put out a sign that said, ‘Take a drink, leave a drink.’”
- Jess, with a sick burn on Schmidt’s fish tank: “When did you become a Bond villain who couldn’t afford not to live with roommates?”
- Nick has good reason to be suspicious of fish: “They breathe water.”
- Winston prevents Schmidt from flushing Cece (the fish, not the woman) down the toilet: “Schmidt, that don’t go to the ocean” “What are you, the city planner?”
- Come to think of it, this is a great night for Jess Day, insult comic: Exhibit A: “I’m really glad her name is Shane. Who’s next? Cody? Tex? The sheriff?” Exhibit B: “If I was a gold digger, do you think I would be interested in you? I’d be the worst gold digger in the world!” Exhibit C: “An aquarium the size of a sixth grader just broke, and you’re going to get paper towels?”