Season premiere review: New Girl ‘All In’ – Puzzle Me This

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The second season finale of New Girl brought a lot of change to the show’s core dynamics, leaving us with a few cliffhangers (which is probably too strong of a word, in this situation) to contemplate over the summer. The first of these was “the big one” (Nick and Jess finally deciding to go for it), and the other was Schmidt’s decision between Elizabeth and Cece, which he conveniently ran away from at the end of season two. ‘All In’ focuses a lot more on the former than the latter – and in turn, is more effective with Nick and Jess than it is with Schmidt, where the writers find themselves willingly toeing the line between Schmidt being likable, and being a dirtbag.

For the most part, the Jess and Nick material is fantastic, taking the phrase ‘all in’ quite literally and putting Nick and Jess together for their first “vacation” together (an impromptu trip to Mexico). It immediately deals with one of the biggest problems looming for them back home: how can they be together with the friends they have? They manage to separate themselves from Schmidt and Winston’s needs for most of the episode, but their presence weighs heavy on Nick and Jess’s reluctance to get together, as it should. Dating someone you share an apartment is difficult enough: trying to date someone you really like when you also live with two other eccentric friends is a completely different ballgame.

Throughout ‘All In’, our four main characters all have to come face to face with this reality: Schmidt and Winston realizing Nick may not be around to help them anymore, and Nick and Jess realizing that dating with those two around won’t be easy. The four people are trapped in their idealized version of their world, a world where Winston can see colors and Schmidt can make his own dating decisions, leaving Nick and Jess to figure out their relationship together, without the stress of everyday life (and their roommates) creeping around every corner.

There’s a distinct reason Nick and Jess spend most of the episode in a different country (and not the obvious plot-related reason): it allows Elizabeth Meriwether to transport these two characters to a strange, foreign world free of the normal trappings of weekly New Girl episodes. Here, Nick and Jess can embrace a fantasy, even if it’s only for a few minutes, effectively showing to the audience both their attraction to each other, and how serious they’re taking the idea. It’s a refreshing take on the “will they” part of the will they/won’t they trope: their situation and slight awkwardness is never played for slapstick humor. It’s taken seriously and given real dramatic weight with Nick and Jess, as they consider the ideal and not-ideal situations for their relationship.

Back in the States, the Schmidt and Winston material kind of flounders when the plot isn’t connected to what they’re doing. Schmidt’s conondrum that looks to continue for a few weeks threatens to undermine his character in a big way: last season, he was committed to getting into a serious relationship, a welcome sign of growth for the guy who pays into a douchebag jar willingly. In ‘All In’, he’s regressed into the guy who lies to both the girls he is dating because he’s too much of a wimp to make a decision – a suit that Max Greenfield can wear well, but one that doesn’t really fit the character of Schmidt from season two.

By the same token, when Winston isn’t being pulled into the overarching concept of ‘family’ in the third act, he’s failing at doing a puzzle because he’s color blind. Funny? Yes. Disappointing? Hell yes: even if Winston once again doing something totally unrelated to anybody else (he’s doing a PUZZLE from the first moment he gets on-screen) is New Girl being tongue-in-cheek-meta, it’s a joke they’ve used before, and one I’d rather not see anymore. I had big hopes for Winston, and often found myself let down (remember his dating situations last season? easily the most mishandled subplots of the show through its first two seasons) – ‘All In’ doesn’t necessarily condemn him forever, but it’s not the most promising of signs.

Ultimately, ‘All In’ does a pretty good job coming together south of the border to save Nick from resort jail, rallying everyone around the idea that Nick and Jess have to make it work with Winston and Schmidt around, because they’re a family. Without their constant nagging – and their constant support – Nick and Jess don’t really have a chance, in a way giving them the fantasy situation for their relationship they dreamed about in Mexico. It’s not as romanticized as one might like, but it’s the opportunity they’re looking for, just with a little extra noise from the roommates. It’s a promising start to what one would expect to be a season-long plot line – and even though ‘All In’ stumbles when it visits its secondary characters, still marks a great return for FOX’s signature comedy.

Grade: B+

Other thoughts/observations:

– “what do you want to do now?” Nick: “I’m really fighting the urge for a lobster dinner.”

– how many seductions were there? 2.5, to be exact.

– Jess: “Nick is my bitch.”

– Schmidt, after hearing Nick and Jess on the other side of the apartment front door: “Sayonara, masturbation… for the rest of my life.”

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