As the beginning of the arc that will carry New Girl into the end of its first season, it’s difficult to know what to make of “Tomatoes” at first blush. There’s an instinct to applaud the episode for not feeling the pressure to cap all of its storylines by the end of the half-hour; however, there’s also the impression that doing so weakens “Tomatoes” as a standalone episode. The payoff for what’s started here is obviously on the horizon, so there’s no faulting the writers for refusing to clear up, say, if Jess’ argument with Nick typifies the type of fiery, passionate relationship she didn’t have with Russell. Yet it’s also difficult to derive any satisfaction from the episode’s three main plots: Jess’ decision to end things with Fancyman feels foolish; there’s a falseness to Winston’s happiness with Shelby that wrecks Nick’s “I used to be your Shelby” rant (the motivation for that exchange more so than the joke); the roommate Cece tries to use as a romantic barricade between herself and Schmidt is good for a few laughs, but a few more lines about body odor and kinky sex and she’d qualify for a job at the 2 Broke Girls diner.
There’s also the matter of Schmidt’s busted member.
Look, I’m no prude: A good dick joke, deployed properly, is as good as the wittiest bon mot, the sharpest one-liner, or the most surprising sight gag. But alluding to Nadia’s sexual aggressiveness, plopping an ice pack in Max Greenfield’s lap, and allowing Schmidt to say the words “I broke my penis” don’t add up to a good dick joke. The reveal of the ice pack is nearly a good dick joke, but it’s too expected to count for much: As soon as it’s revealed that Nadia put Schmidt in the hospital, it’s all but confirmed that the affliction is in his pants.
It’s in that moment that “Tomatoes” passes the point of no return. This isn’t the New Girl that’s been backing up claims of “but it’s gotten really, really good” in offices, bars, and Internet comment threads across our great nation. This is more like New Girl when the show was still trying to find its legs, when it didn’t know any of its characters beyond Jess, and a little Zooey Deschanel soft-shoe counted as the pinnacle of its comedic abilities. Like my other least favorite episode of the first season’s second half, “Bully,” tonight’s episode gives up on the show’s most enjoyable aspect—its characters—and goes for broke in making with the wacky.
Coincidentally, the most outwardly wacky part of the episode also serves as a symbol for what’s so frustrating about this approach. In an attempt to distract himself from his romantic woes, Nick announces to his happily spoken-for roommates (and their happily spoken-for significant others) that he’s taking up rooftop gardening. But Nick’s new hobby is to “Tomatoes” as a whole what it is to the character: a distraction, merely subplot busywork that frees up the character to talk around his problems, rather than confront them head on. That theme of diversion wraps its tendrils around each of the principals this week, be it Jess’ preoccupation with the blowout she witnesses between Russell and Ouli or Schmidt attempting to take his mind off of Cece by going on a date with Nadia—and, conversely, Cece using Nadia to run interference on Schmidt while she gets a handle on her feelings for the guy. And while this is mostly speculation, given how little we see of Kali Hawk in “Tomatoes,” I suspect Winston’s ongoing “Shelby is wonderful!” monologue could be a smokescreen obscuring the true state of his relationship. (Lending credence to this crackpot hunch: Winston took pictures of himself with Shelby’s cat, not pictures of himself, Shelby, and the cat. Sure, Shelby could’ve taken the pictures, but I’m building a conspiracy theory here…)
There’s no problem in building an episode around a simple thematic core—the disappointments of “Tomatoes” lie in what that core requires. Like Nick and the tomatoes, the distracting elements in the other character’s stories require Nick’s roommates to fix their sights on targets that are way, way off in the distance. For instance, Jess and Ouli’s conversation at the gym isn’t about the characters having the conversation or how being in such close proximity to one another could be harmful—it’s about Russell, and about their respective relationships with him. Having your characters talk about a character who isn’t present is a good way to draw focus away from the scene at hand, and as such, it’s easy to miss that Jess is plying Ouli for potentially beneficial information. It’s also easy to miss an excellent line reading from Zooey Deschanel on Jess’ dejected “Russell, put away the passion and show me a moderately good time.”
That scene is the opposite of the noisy fights that bookend “Tomatoes,” arguments that, for all their exaggerated emotions and absurd imagery, are still about the people having the arguments. I’m not eager to see New Girl hinting at an eventual Jess-Nick pairing again, but I’m more receptive to that pairing in the wake of the Sam-and-Diane fireworks Jess and Nick shoot off after the former finds the latter shacking up with his ex-girlfriend, Caroline. There’s a raw, funny honesty in that scene that “Tomatoes” could use more of. At the very least, it promises there’s more to come in the next two episodes. But, until then: Schmidt had his dong dinged by a Russian torture waif! (Naw, it could still use some work… )
- Nadia is more character than caricature—and a troublesome, “aren’t foreigners hilarious?” caricature—but the list of the things she likes about America contains a couple of the episode’s biggest laughs. Here’s Schmidt’s reaction to the fact that she only gets to “freedom of speech” after Despicable Me and Tosh.0 are out of the way.
- Nick wants Winston to remember their bad times together, like when they split an online-dating profile: “The ladies did not care for ‘Ninston Biller.’”
- Jess and Nick’s argument reaches an impasse: “Stop making that face at me, I hate that face!” “This is my only face! I don’t have a lot of faces!”