Garry Marshall’s Law of Sweeps—please, call it Garry’s Law of Sweeps—states that “you either have a wedding or you burn something down.” The characters of New Girl go to a lot of weddings, but “Oregon” is only the second such episode to debut during a time when Nielsen is paying extra close attention to ratings. (And I assume the show’s performance during this particular sweeps period will factor heavily into its renewal chances; after all, the season-four order came down in early March.) Even without a fire, the episode is something of a sweeps-period bonanza: Not only does “Oregon” center on a wedding, but it’s the wedding of Jess’ father and Julie Berkman’s older sister, so that requires the regulars to take a road trip to Jess and Cece’s hometown, where they’re reunited with Jamie Lee Curtis, Rob Reiner, and Kaitlin Olson. As far as New Girl nuptials go, the wedding of Bob Day and Ashley Berkman relies more on sitcom clichés than “The Last Wedding,” “Elaine’s Big Day,” or “Wedding,” but it also makes for a less-rushed, more satisfying homecoming than “Chicago.” While commemorating Bob and Ashley’s new life together, Jess and Cece reminisce about their old lives in the Pacific Northwest—and Jess privately mourns the life she won’t have with Ryan.
“Oregon” is wrapped up in inevitability. Just as sweeps periods are bound to boast big events, vacations, and guest stars, New Girl was bound to kick Ryan Geauxinue to the curb. And Cece was bound to admit her feelings for Schmidt to someone who isn’t Winston, and Joan was bound to struggle with her ex-husband’s remarriage—in the second and third cases, inevitability is not inherently negative criticism. Sometimes it’s nice to preview a plot development weeks in advance, as the show has been doing with with its latest round of Schmidt-Cece ’shipping, which faces its toughest test to date in “Oregon,” thanks to the tall order of volunteer firefighting and good hair that goes by the name Ryan Apex. There are new wrinkles to this season’s take on that old saga—the tables have turned, with single Cece pining after a spoken-for Schmidt—but the writers and Hannah Simone are putting in the work to make this story interesting beyond the novelty factor. There’s the welcome note of Cece deciding what she wants and going for it, which gives a real boost to the character and Simone’s performance alike. (I’m still laughing thinking about her “Chicken wings!” drunk voice from last week.)
It’s a thread that’s clearly leading to something, whereas other romances in season four—Nick and Kai, and now Jess and Ryan—wound up feeling like dead ends well before the breakup. Unless, that is, both paths were meant to bring Jess and Nick back together, which has an increased likelihood following the line about Jess needing “a guy who shows up, because anything else just isn’t real” in “Oregon.” Even a hopeless romantic like Jess could’ve seen New Girl’s most recent exes as the obstacles they were, no more three-dimensional than the Jared Leto poster tacked to the door of Jess’ childhood bedroom. (Wise words: “Otherwise, you’re dating a wall.”) Obstacles dealt with, she can refocus on finding the one person who supports her as well as her five best friends support her in tonight’s whirlwind tour of Portland.
Romantic arcs are the lifeblood of New Girl, but the show has truly succeeded with weekly material in its fourth year. Bob and Ashley’s wedding is payoff for an idea introduced in the third episode of the season, but it’s merely the grabby framing device for “Oregon.” Staring down second weddings and crappy weather, brave faces are the order of the day—leave it to an expert in denial like Nick Miller to declare that he’s not fine with the state of affairs in the Rose City. Despite his lumberjack-esque façade, Nick is not a Portland guy, and the episode shines whenever it pits man against city. Nick begins the episode declaring his distaste for the crunchier citizens of Portland, and things escalate from there, requiring him to halt the Days’ retreat into their metaphorical (and/or hallucinated) wombs. Portland has a bewitching effect on Jess, Cece, and Coach—though it’s explained that every new city he visits has a bewitching effect on Coach—but Nick slices through the illusion. And then he saves the wedding rings. He probably doesn’t realize it, but “Oregon” makes the strong case that Nick is the guy who shows up.
Misplaced wedding rings are the oldest trick in the sweeps-stunt book, but “Oregon” manages to blow some of the dust off of the trope, throwing Nick and Coach into a pool of ringed fingers and calling back to Jess’ Elvis-impersonating past with some wildly inappropriate stalling tactics. (Spectacular joke-by-editing: “And with that message from Beaker, all of the Muppets have wished Bob and Ashley a happy marriage.”) Despite the differences that drove them apart, they do make a great pair, one that sparks whether the topic of conversation is suitable suitors or the proper pluralization of Lilith Fair. Perhaps it’s inevitable that they’ll get back together; maybe “Oregon”’s moral is that they’re better off as friends and sounding walls. But there’s still one more sweeps period and seven more episodes left in this season—that’s plenty of time for Nick and Jess to set something on fire.
- “Group faces” are a welcome addition to the ensemble’s repertoire. Spend as much time together as these people have and you can’t help but adopt the same mannerisms.
- Kudos to the writers for crafting a Portland that’s knowingly funky, yet distinguishable from the exaggerated version of the city depicted in Portlandia. The closest “Oregon” gets to a Portlandia sketch is the a cappella trio doing “Sabotage”—though I suppose Joan’s LSD womb circle would be welcome at Women And Women First.
- Strong family resemblance: In order to not dwell on Bob’s wedding, Joan pours herself into welcoming Ryan with a wide variety of Union Jack memorabilia. It’s not unlike the way Jess plans a tour of “18 years in one morning” for the Portland trip, an exhaustive method of not acknowledging the distance growing between her and her boyfriend.
- File Jess’ AP Stat Jams next to Nick’s Sexy Mix on the shelf of embarrassing New Girl playlists.
- FergusonWatch 2015: If Winston blabs about Cece’s feelings for Schmidt, she threatens to clean up the blood with the long-absent Ferguson. Winston’s reply: “Good luck finding my cat—you know I haven’t seen him in weeks.”
- Great Moments in Enunciation with Schmidt: “At the Oh-lympics.”
- Jess and Nick have a healthy platonic relationship: “Friend to friend: Am I wearing pants?”
- Zooey Deschanel sends a shoutout to the mother of her recurring Simpsons character: “Hey Brandine, the tour’s canceled.”
- Watching My So-Called Life could’ve saved Nick some embarrassment in the face of Jess’ Jordan Catalano poster: “I didn’t know the boy had mental problems, otherwise I wouldn’t be teasing him.”
- Nick and Coach have a misunderstanding about how Crush Pond functions: “You have to say a lady’s name.” “Gladys.” “A lady you know.”