In essence, there are two distinct purposes to any ‘flashback’ episode. First and foremost, they exist to flesh out the back stories of characters, enabling them to pay homage and poke fun at generations past. Doing this not only provides a venue for easy gimmick humor, but it also presents the viewer with a younger, less world-worn version of our adult protagonists, when their ideologies still were in that all-faithful stage before the loss of innocence. Secondly, it allows a show to sit back on its laurels, narratively: since they mostly dive into the past (and always involve numerous lengthy flashbacks), the success of these episodes is usually solely on what plays out in said flashbacks.
But the best of these ‘flashback’ episodes are the one that don’t rely too heavily on these gimmicks, episodes that utilize the past to move forward in the present. The gold standard for this is, of course, ‘The One with the Prom Video’ from Friends‘s second season (and ironically, the episode I’ll be talking about on Friday as part of my Second Look at season two), where Rachel and Ross finally come together after footage from a prom video gives definition to Ross’s decade-long crush on Rachel.
Is ‘Virgins’ as good as ‘The One with the Prom Video’? It’s obviously too early to say, the episode only having aired an hour ago, after all. But it’s damn close, an episode that has its fun with Schmidt’s fat costume and a number of hilarious wigs; but also gives meaning to each of their first sexual experiences, revealing a little piece of who they are – and ultimately, sparking Jess and Nick’s first sexual encounter together.
I won’t get into deep details with every story but the lessons of them are pretty obvious: Schmidt’s always tried to overcompensate for his lack of confidence, whether it’s a massive bottle of lube in college or his current sexual crutch, the battery-eating Archduke. Jess’s is in the same overt vein: she continuously missed opportunities to have sex by trying to plan it – until she just let herself get carried away by a fireman to be ravished, a bit of advice that strikes a chord with Nick, who is clearly struggling throughout the episode to try and contain his attraction to Jess.
There’s a number of little moments in the flashbacks that add a lot to their effectiveness: one of the problems Friends (and to a degree, Cougar Town‘s flashback episode earlier this year) eventually ran into with continuous flashbacks was their need to force connections between characters in the past, all while over-indulging in the surface jokes and physical gags, rendering it a pointless, mastubatory activity. There’s a little of that in ‘Virgins’ (Jess and CeCe go to the bar Nick now works at; Nick, Schmidt, and a corn-rowed Winston are drinking together at a table), but there’s more attention paid to the smaller moments, highlighted by Nick’s conversation with his now-deceased father (affectionately referred to as Winston as “Pop-Pop”), who warns him about over-thinking when it comes to women.
“I just want to make sure you don’t miss out on the things in life that happens when you’re not thinking,” he tells a metal-mouthed Nick, “because believe you me: those are the best things in life.”
It takes Nick hearing Jess’s story about the fireman for it to click, but he finally gets it: he’s been thinking so hard about what to do with Jess since they’ve first kissed, he’s done absolutely nothing at all. She’s about to meet an old flame (or at least, the guy who took her virginity) and it kickstarts Nick’s ‘DUH!’ hormone, realizing that the reason nothing’s happened is because he hasn’t just stopped thinking about it and done it.
‘Virgins’ is definitely one of my favorite episodes of the season – and easily one of the best ‘flashback’ episodes in recent memory, avoiding the easy pitfalls of relying too heavily on silly jokes like Nick in his fat costume, or Winston unknowingly sleeping with a hooker (“was her name even Mysterio?” he wonders after hearing the truth). It remained faithful to its characters (and the narrative of the season), and save for one or two lame jokes, ‘Virgins’ is New Girl firing on all cylinders for 22 minutes.
– Jess: “can I get an update here? It’s like a wind sock on a windless day.”
– Mysterio: “Aren’t you a virgin, too?” Winston: “Just my penis, baby. Just my penis.”
– Did we need the scene where CeCe gets uncomfortable about sleeping with her new husband? I’m not wavering in my confidence that this wedding does not go through in the finale. It just hasn’t been established as something meaningful for her character – just a distraction to keep her and Schmidt on the sidelines this season while Nick and Jess took center stage.
– Winston is still hooking up with Daisy? We haven’t seen or heard about her in awhile.
– the highlight of Nick’s virginity story? “I cried. She kept her bra on. It was nice.”
– Yes, Nick, a tuxedo is different than a suit.
– Schmidt’s ‘penis, vagina’ dance was hilarious.
– young Jess was a BIG fan of Lisa Loeb, apparently.