Despite a big ol’ Schmidt cloud hanging over the proceedings, “The Captain” continues to hit it out of the park with Jess and Nick, showing restraint and grounded emotional arcs where many sitcoms would nose dive into broad relationship humor. Those kind of jokes certainly aren’t absent in this episode (in fact, there’s an entire montage dedicated to one), but when it’s time to put the cards down on the table in the final moments, New Girl continues to make smart decisions with the most important relationship on the show.
Nick’s always been a character who avoids his emotions – it’s a trend we’ve seen time and time again over the seasons, most obviously when dealing with the death of his father back in season two. But that’s not a reality when dating someone like Jess, who enjoys a good, casual discourse about feelings after sex or while watching TV in the loft’s living room. By way of Schmidt’s selfish, annoying antics, “The Captain” finally makes Nick deal with this constant internalization – and shows just how healthy it can be to finally let some of it out. It’s a simple little arc, really: but one that pushes a character to grow, adding layers to both himself and the new relationship he’s in.
As always, the Nick and Jess interactions continue to be fantastic – the dialogue rhythms and conversations they’re having as their relationship grows feel so much more natural than those on most sitcoms. Comedies are often too concerned with the funny parts of a relationship, catalyzing bitter arguments and fundamental differences between characters for the sake of humor. It undermines both the narrative and its characters, cheapening its humor with broad, surface jokes, often leading to the audience wondering why these two people would still be trying to date someone they clearly shouldn’t date (say, for the last seven seasons of a beloved American comedy about a group of friends?). New Girl has avoided this in the early going, injecting the broad “new relationship between friends” humor with a comfortable repoire, and moments of emotional honesty that don’t feel overwrought (Nick and Jess don’t have to confess their love for each other just because they’ve had the best month of their lives, for example).
Unfortunately, this entire plot comes at the machinations of a jealous Schmidt, who can’t get over the fact that he was a complete dick to two women. He’s in Winston Land in this episode, a character relegated to a single joke for 22 minutes. Except unlike Winston, who is willingly living vicariously through his new pal Ferguson (“I’m running a cat brothel; I can’t be the only normal one up in here”), there’s nothing funny about Schmidt’s immature ignorance of his own problems. As Jess points out near the end, he did a bad thing – and trying to sabotage his best friends’ new relationship together is only going to make things worse for himself. But Schmidt’s desperation isn’t funny when his punishment is so deserved – and trying to draw humor out of it doesn’t work as well as it might appear on paper, more pointing out how immature Schmidt still is, rather than a person who is hurt and looking for a way to learn and grow from his experience. I’m not saying this won’t happen, but the holding pattern he’s put in for this episode is not a flattering one, comedically or for his character.
There are a number of little touches that redeem the continuously poor Schmidt material, though: Nick becoming emotional about everything from the chello to Jess’s breasts, Winston providing the voice of sanity for the house, Riki Lindhome being on-screen for a few brief scenes – there’s plenty to enjoy in “The Captain”, which sacrifices its funniest character for the sake of emotional honesty. It’s not a perfect scenario, but one that works quite well in tonight’s episode, culminating in the best Jess/Nick scenes in the series.
– so how the f*ck are they going to keep CeCe in the loop here? She’s completely disconnected from the group at this point, except for Jess.
– “At least the sun managed to get up.” burn!
– “After he saw Titanic, he started a Billy Zane Fan Club… they’re called the Zaniacs.”
– Nick: “I like the cello!”