As Erik Adams has consistently pointed out, New Girl is one of those rare casts where the whole is really more than the sum of its parts. All of this season’s exemplary episodes have been ones in which the entire cast interacts, spotlighting their awesome chemistry: “Landline,” “Spiderhunt,” “The Crawl,” “Background Check. ” I’m sure it can’t be easy to keep coming up with ways to keep all six members of the main cast together, mainly in the loft (hunting for spiders?). But “Par 5” shows the danger of diluting that kind of momentum.
After a fun first scene, basically due to Fawn’s performance review of Schmidt “as a lover and a man,” the cast gets sliced up, with Fawn and Jess at the golf course, Schmidt and Cece and glittery bronzer, and Winston, Coach, and Nick in a B-plot that has the possibility for being more interesting than it actually turns out to be. (When a character says he’s about to say something profound, but instead has to go eat, that’s not funny, just disappointing.)
Mostly “Par 5” offers retreads of earlier, funnier episodes. At least it builds off of a key aspect of “Jess & Julia” by putting Fawn (Zoe Lister Jones) in the Jess-opposite role. Her “You’re more of a follow-a-butterfly-around-for-a-day kind of gal” smacks right back to Nick’s old girlfriend who got mad at Jess for dragging her into a court case involving a bird. As awesome as Lizzie Caplan is, her Julia was not much more than a not-Jess. But Fawn has so much moxie of her own, she instead tries to help Jess out with her networking efforts. She also has many of the best smackdown Jess lines, calling her networking efforts ”a cruise-ship disaster,” saying her handshake is “gross,” and offering: “You have the confidence of a child that was raised in a basement.” She also is quick to Moscato up a photo op, declaring that “education will bring water back to this city and will rebuild the middle class!”
Fawn is basically saying what many of us watching are thinking: At this point in season four, I am over Jessica Day acting like an insane person who scares people. She is a vice-principal who did not get her job by networking. Making crazy jokes about her visor and swinging her golf club at strangers are not only predictable efforts, but tired and unfunny.
In contrast to the less-than-stellar A-plot, the B-plot offers possibilities that are unfulfilled. It’s interesting that this episode was co-written by Lamorne Morris, whose character is a black man who recently graduated from the police academy. When Winston is interested in a girl who’s attending a rally protesting the police, he lies about what he does. Again, idiocy, because if he really likes the girl, how long can he possibly pull off that he’s a stripper? But we all know that Winston is not the smoothest, and this far-fetched stripper scenario offers at least one good line: “We’ve lost a lot of good men to soup.”
Winston’s pursuit of KC does lead us to what is, other than Fawn, the best, most resonating part of the episode: Winston’s conversation with Nick. They grew up together. They went to the same schools, watched the same shows, listened to the same music. But Nick will never know what it’s like to run away from police cars out of habit. I wish there had been so much more to that scene, like how Winston’s upbringing played into his decision to become a cop in the first place. Or the differences between black and white humor (Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor versus Seinfeld’s standup). Or KC’s comment about a 14-year-old getting picked up just because he fit a description: What would Winston’s response be to that as a policeman? And what insights would Coach have offered? The episode opened the door to a valuable conversation, then left us wanting more.
As much as it could, New Girl has always appeared to be color-blind. Previous attempts to spotlight racial differences have been played for comic effect, like when Schmidt wanted to encourage Winston to be his “blackest self,” and Winston fools him to thinking that they’re going out to get crack. Here Winston makes a vague reference to the multitude of violent acts of police against black men as he reveals to Nick why he doesn’t tell KC he’s a cop: “With everything that’s been going on, I feel like she wouldn’t respect me.” It’s a heavy comment for a sitcom, and deserves more followup than it got.
Contrast this conversation with the scenes that involve Schmidt bronzing his body, and describing getting scolded by Fawn for having the “teeth of an immigrant.” Speaking of plot setbacks, we’ve also seen Schmidt fight back against being just a photo op for Fawn as recently as “The Crawl.” This episode we see him again in the exact same boat, although he and Fawn appear to be on more equal footing at the end.
Jess being the rule-follower she is, she ridiculously plays her horrible golf game all the way out, even as she’s passed by a player from the Korean Women’s League who’s “100 years old, and not a young 100” (Thanks Fawn!). Ubiquitous guest star Artemis Pebdani also gets in some good lines as she chimes in that “Par was five!”, compared to Jess’ score of 172. But Jess succeeds, as she always does, as does Winston with his willingness to strip himself of his uniform for KC. But all we’re left with is too much of the same, and not enough of some valuable new New Girl conversations.
- Schmidt and Cece: Meh. I’m tired of their teeter-totter affections in the effort to drag this all out as much as possible. Although Cece and Fawn play off each other well in their barely veiled hatred.
- Jess’s line “like an honest person” sounded like definite Schmidt delivery.
- Speaking of Schmidt delivery: “I feel like I’m trying to get into an 18-and-under club in Tucson.”
- Many thanks to Erik Adams for letting me sit in on one of my favorite shows. I’ve actually been loving this season, and am considering this episode a rare slow spot. Erik will be back next week.
- “Yay, America!”