One day is almost never enough time to resolve a longstanding problem. But sometimes, a sitcom half-hour—or that paltry 22-minute stretch we politely call a sitcom half-hour—has to be enough. In the case of tonight’s back-to-back episodes of New Girl, that’s two paltry 22-minute stretches to resolve some sticky issues. Unexpectedly, those minutes manage to suffice.
That’s especially surprising in the case of “Godparents,” which doesn’t really have a handle on how much time elapses within its twenty-ish minutes. In quick succession, Aly and Winston choose a godparent for their child-to-be, Jess crashes, burns, and rises again as that prospective godparent, Schmidt returns to Associated Strategies, gives a big presentation, and reconsiders his career plan, Cece signs up to be the stay-at-home parent for a week, Winston grapples with his father issues (and, it seems for a few minutes, with his long-absent father), and Nick lives up to Ruth’s opinion of him. That opinion, as Schmidt sums it up: “She views you as a dim-witted raccoon.”
(In Cece’s words: “Accurate.”)
It’s impossible to know whether this all takes place over a couple of days or more. In an episode where Schmidt arrives back at Ass. Strat., learns of its takeover, gives a big presentation, and decides to quit marketing, while Cece struggles to keep up with the demands of full-time parenting, the single strongest cue of time passing is that Jaipur-Aviv’s kitchen has run out of peanut butter.
Other than that haphazard grasp on time, “Godparents” is as clear and comprehensive as Schmidt’s Power Point presentation to Cece outlining the steps crucial to maintaining Ruth’s routine and preventing her from going “full armadillo” in protest. It lays out big, broad problems, then solves them with big—but slightly less broad—gestures. Just last week, New Girl touched on the lengths to which real friends will go to insure your happiness. This week, the show demonstrates how simply, and how almost believably, a script can justify those lengths. Jess doesn’t run out willy-nilly to track down Winston’s father. She does it only after he expresses a very clear, if hypothetical, wish that his father could “just magically show up.”
Like “Operation Bobcat,” also written by New Girl staff writer and story editor Lamar Woods, “Godparents” focuses on Winston’s submerged anxieties with admirable clarity. Lamorne Morris, who directs “Godparents,” captures Winston’s doubts and his hopes without sacrificing his gift for physical comedy—and by “physical comedy,” I mean “the ability to rip off a baby doll’s head and hackysack it into the air.”
“It was a journey,” Jess says to describe the single Google search by which she tracked down Van Bishop (JB Smoove). But Winston goes on a real emotional journey from “Don’t call me son!” to getting teary-eyed over their similarities. And that’s just in the minute or so before he meets the man he believes to be his estranged father.
Tonight’s second episode, “Mario,” shows New Girl through a lens that amps up all its colors to the point of farcical exaggeration. That wouldn’t necessarily be a complaint; New Girl can handle farce with aplomb. But “Mario” never quite commits to a structure. The cold open is playful, with rapid, comical intercutting that would be more at home on Archer, but the script immediately abandons this experiment. In the closing, Jess and Nick sum up the story of his proposal to her dad, suggesting the entire episode, distortions and all, could be the evening’s antics recounted, How I Met Your Mother-style. (“I don’t know why you spent so much of the story talking about that color-blind friend of yours, but I’m so happy!” Bob Day beams into his phone, disproving Winston’s would-be aphorism that “anything’s funny when you put an old man in it.” Rob Reiner, it’s not your fault the episode doesn’t give you anything to do but Be A Dad Guy.)
All that sounds modestly damning. And it could be.
It’s a critic’s job to examine a work and discuss which elements work, which don’t, and why. But I can’t shrug off the feeling that, at this stage, pointing out the weak spots in the final few episodes of a feel-good hangout comedy as routinely successful as New Girl has been is a lot like Jessica Day getting Nick Miller to shove pictures of cute dogs into her face until she finds something to dislike about each of them. It’s possible. It’s not even hard. But it’s kind of… beside the point?
Even as it lampoons the freewheeling fun that is the heart of New Girl’s appeal, “Mario” (written by Joe Wengert, who’s also credited with the slightly more winning “Single And Sufficient,” and directed by veteran New Girl director Jay Chandrasekhar) touches on some of the show’s history with gratifying subtlety. The restaurant where Nick has made reservations for his planned proposal is the same spot where he and Jess had their first date, and the characters mention that more than once. But the actual proposal happens at an open-air screening of “Dirty Dancing,” Jess’ favorite movie—and a movie that’s played a major role in New Girl’s sweet absurdity from the very beginning, when Nick, Coach, and Schmidt burst into song in a ritzy restaurant to cheer up their new roommate.
“Mario” isn’t perfect. But it gives us one last look at well-established traits of beloved characters and a hint of changes to come. It delves into Winston’s color-blindness one last time, and shows a new world of color offered up to his gaze. (“Wait a minute, baby. Candy is different colors?”) It shows Schmidt and Cece facing the difficulties of another possible pregnancy and looking forward to it with love and joy anyhow. It introduces Mario Day-Miller, the dog Jess and Nick adopt together. It shows Nick once again struggling to make everything perfect, and Jess once again reminding him that for them, imperfect is perfect. And it always has been.
A single day isn’t really enough time to resolve a longstanding anxiety, to reconstruct a career plan, to celebrate a new joy. Two back-to-back half-hour slots aren’t enough time to say goodbye to a television show that for some of us, me included, has become an old friend. But that’s what New Girl has to offer, this week and next week. It might not be perfect, but it will have to be enough. It always has been.
- Next week, we can expect another pair of back-to-back episodes as New Girl airs its series finale. Adjust your viewing plans/DVRs accordingly.
- “Godparents” sidesteps the issues of improbability and impracticality that too many sitcoms fall into, and not just when Winston’s lament gives Jess a plausible excuse to track down Van Bishop. Sometimes, it takes just a single line, like when Schmidt asks how Cece would feel about him staying home instead of quitting dramatically and then announcing it to her.
- Throughout “Godparents,” characters keep emphasizing the expected arrival of Winston and Aly’s son. That conspicuous emphasis, plus the episode’s use of “Brown-Eyed Girl,” suggests to me that there’s going to be a surprise in the finale. (And reminds me that New Girl is strangely orthodox about gender and sexuality.)
- “KIDS LOVE ME, I’m a famous author!”
- I want Nick’s grotesque ant-infested bear to show up before the series’ end. And I fear Nick’s grotesque ant-infested bear showing up before the series’ end.
- Shout-out to Lotus Plummer as the Triangles pre-schooler who delivers “A white man bwoke in today!” with an élan to rival Max Greenfield’s.
- Winston on his experimental university-supplied glasses: “If they don’t work, I get $25. If they do work, they’re going to take a bunch of my bone marrow.”