“You get one story. Take it away, Nick.”

There’s a lot going on under the surface in “Tuesday Meeting.” Last week, New Girl’s seventh and final season opened with a heartening sense of achievement and expansion for this ever-widening group of friends: of a broader world they’re exploring, of careers thriving, and of a flourishing family life for each of them, in separate homes. But New Girl, despite the title’s focus on one character, has always been about the core friendships, about the roommates, about the loft. “Tuesday Meeting” takes those characters out of the loft, but it makes sure to put the loft back in the characters.

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Some of that familiar old feeling comes at the expense of the strong sense of accomplishment that characterizes “About Three Years Later.” Nick’s been riding high on the success of The Pepperwood Chronicles, but his new manuscript is a dud. So far, Jess’ new educational-initiative work under Russell is just “a lot of busywork.” Cece is as high-powered as the season’s first glimpse suggested—so successful that her self-owned agency was bought by another agency, and she’s no longer her own boss. Schmidt is chronically exhausted by his sleepless daughter. And Winston is, for some undiscussed reason, slipping around from couch to couch, anywhere but his own home.

This smallest, least explored reversal is the one that gives the most structure to the episode. Slipping back into the loft as if he still lives there, Winston brings a box set of Three Men And A Baby and Three Men And A Little Lady that he’s determined to watch on a friend’s couch. When Schmidt arrives with Ruth in tow, Winston’s delight at being reunited with his two old roommates fills him with that old familiar bonhomie, and the addition of Ruth leaves him eager to embrace the spirit of Danson, Selleck, and Guttenberg. “You can’t ‘do’ a movie,” Nick and Schmidt keep telling him, but Winston stands firm: “You can do any movie but a documentary because those already happened.” I have to admit, there’s an inexplicable logic to that patently illogical statement.

“Tuesday Meeting,” credited to New Girl story editor Sarah Tapscott, is full of elegantly constructed symbols, clever but unobtrusive parallels, and a reassuring return to a familiar form. Getting Winston and Schmidt back in the loft with Nick—and not just Nick, but the old Nick, in a frantic, whiskey-swilling anxiety spiral after unexpected news from his publisher—gives them a chance for old-school New Girl nonsense.

Nick’s odd, addictive brand of hard-boiled prose has given way to chapters of Julius Pepperwood and Jessica Night eating croissants in bed and chasing a feather down a cobblestone street, and his defense of this new, softer Pepperwood cuts no ice with his publisher. Nick leaves Merle’s office convinced that his career is going to be cut short just as he’s reached the peak of success. (Brian Huskey, whose performances are often broader, deserves praise for the way he always tempers Merle Streep’s manner, giving him just a shadow of comic edge without ever overwhelming the scene.)

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Rummaging through Nick’s idea notebooks looking for inspiration, Winston and Schmidt find only dead ends, literally. “Oh, never mind, that’s a maze. Yeah, you drew a maze. And couldn’t solve it. You went straight for the wall.”

Nick has gone straight for the wall. He keeps lamenting, “Pepperwood was all that I had, and now I’ve got nothing!” When his panic-driven scramble for ideas (“He’s tough. He’s controversial. He’s pro-choice. He’s Senator Porky-pine!”) doesn’t pay off immediately, he assumes he’s “done.” His garbled expression of helplessness— I feel like I’m a wood-maker who can’t make any, um…” “Wood?”—is a classic Nick Miller malapropism, a nonsensical non-existent thing that is nonetheless redolent of an old-fashioned image of masculinity. But it’s more than that. It’s a wink at his one-and-only protagonist’s name. And it’s a perfect, unthinking expression of his impotence.

Jake Johnson
Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX

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That might sound like a stretch, but look at it in context. Winston’s excitement over “doing” Three Men And A Little Lady is a constant thread through this episode, but Nick, who was so confident in the season premiere, doesn’t feel like a man. He feels like a child. Appealing to Schmidt for help, he wails, “You used to love fixing my life before [grunts at Ruth] came around!” But Schmidt tells him the hard truth: “It’s different times. I’ve got to wipe her butt, I’ve got to wipe my butt, I can’t wipe your butt, too.”

No one balks at this infantilizing reply, and with good reason. Seeing Ruth fall asleep on the toilet earlier that day, Schmidt was nostalgic for the old days with Nick. The second they’re alone, Winston muses, “I used to think Nick was the Guttenberg, but it turns out he may be the little lady.” One-on-one with Ruth, Nick begrudges her even the dress Daddy bought her, telling her, “Before you, I was his baby girl.”

JAke Johnson, Max Greenfield
Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX

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“Tuesday Meeting” gracefully resolves the tension between Schmidt’s best friend and Schmidt’s daughter by making Ruth’s tireless demands for stories the key to unlocking Nick’s imagination. Ruth is an adorable little plot device, not a fully explored character, which seems reasonable for a 3-year-old two episodes into the season, and Danielle and Rhiannon Rockoff imbue her with a winning confidence that seems natural for the child of Schmidt and Cece.

Especially the Cece of season seven. In the past three years, Cece has evolved into a powerful player in the business world, someone who’s raring to confront the idiocies hemming her in, whether that means double-pumping at a conference table to the dismay of the cringing men who refused to shift the meeting time, or charging into Jess’ new workplace on a Chardonnay-and-coffee high and blasting the opening chorus of “Work Hard, Play Hard” to challenge the boys’ club they think is assembled there.

Hannah Simone, Zooey Deschanel
Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX

New Girl’s physical comedy has always been strong, and in “Tuesday Meeting” it’s a series of smart, subtle echoes. Cece sliding to the floor of Russell’s office at Jess’ command could undermine their too-boisterous entrance, just as Jess being disastrously wrong about whether she “belongs in this meeting” could undermine her righteous anger at being excluded from the real work she was hired to perform. Instead, Cece’s slide down to the floor (which mirrors Jess’ repeated crouching and crawling to exit the photographer’s shot in the cold open) gives her a chance to rise triumphantly into the frame, again blaring “Work hard, play hard/Work hard, play hard.”

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The scene’s beats follow the cues of that bit of staging: A forceful entry, a sudden collapse, and then an unexpected rise. Instead of forcing Jess to apologize (except over Cece barfing in a drawer), “Tuesday Meeting” shows her accepting Russell’s apology for withholding the meaningful work she was hired to perform. And still, Jess keeps pressing, righteously, for more: “Also, while we’re here talking, we need some tampons in the bathroom.”

“Tuesday Meeting” is New Girl writing at its deftest, if not its absolute comic best. It explores the sometimes banal frustrations under the apparent successes of the three-year time jump, and it brings New Girl back to what it’s always done best. Like the tween fans following Pepperwood’s every move, New Girl viewers aren’t showing up just for the story. In the best hang-out comedies, the story—in the pilot, every week, every season—is an excuse to spend a little more time with these goofballs.

Lamorne Morris, Max Greenfield, Danielle/Rhiannon Rockoff, Jake Johnson
Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX

“You get one story,” Jess tells Schmidt and Cece as the exhausted pair finally bed down for the night. “Take it away, Nick.” But like New Girl, Nick has more than one story in him. Because when the storyteller is this good, it’s never about just the story, anyway.

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Stray observation

  • Lamorne Morris can make anything or nothing look substantial and funny, but Winston Bishop has been underserved by season seven’s first two episodes. Here’s hoping this means there’s something brewing for Winston in future episodes, and not mere sidelining of a core character.
  • Cece gave Winston a key to Jaipur-Aviv for emergencies. “What’s the emergency?” “If they don’t get the little lady back from England, they may never see her again.”
  • The glimpse of Ted Danson as Three Men And A… franchise’s Jack Holden manages to be a nod both to the probable inspiration for Nick Miller and to a previous New Girl story. “These three goofballs just hid heroin in their baby’s diaper disposal! What a ride!”
  • #keepyourknifedry

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