Review: New Girl “Dice”

With Jess out trying to “crush butt” again, “Dice” initially appears to be an identical twin to the season premiere, with Jess repeatedly being awkward in her attempts to “get out there again” (translation: “get laid”). And though the episode is essentially 20 minutes of that, topped off with another pointless story line for the rest of the 4D crew, there are a few promising, if fleeting, moments in the third act of the episode.

Most of “Dice” is pretty typical New Girl Just Foolin’ Around material; Jess and Schmidt’s rapport is always an entertaining one, if one that often rests on Jess’s sexual naivete and Schmidt’s relentlessly unsettling sexual past. There’s nothing unusual or new to be found throughout most of their story, with Jess doing a trademark failed imitation of a type of person she clearly isn’t (from shot girl to sex buddy, she’s worn a lot of different hats during the show’s run) – and while it’s comedically satisfying, it feels empty. We know Jess isn’t the type of girl who can just walk around and pick up guys; this kind of thing was established in the show’s pilot, and “Dice” isn’t really attempting to display any growth on her character’s part, which ends up with the plot going nowhere (Jess ends up sitting through an unpleasant dinner with a guy she met on Dice) for either Jess or Schmidt.

However tepid the construction of their story is, there’s an interesting thread that loosely connects them to the rest of the group, who are eating pot brownies and being all high and stuff at a party with Winston’s cop buddies (“dawgs gotta bark… I want to see all y’all tails waggin’ out there!”, he tells them upon arrival). At the heart of “Dice” is the idea of identity, of presenting the group with a disconnect between how they view themselves and how they’re viewed by the world around them: Winston is struggling to fit in, CeCe is searching for direction in her life, and Jess is trying to put on Schmidt’s shoes to fill an emotional hole – and if you want to stretch things a little, Coach and Nick are both coming to terms with pieces of their own self-conception (Coach’s beats are quite similar to CeCe’s here, but manifest themselves in different ways that keep it from feeling carbon-copied).

It’s not something that’s touched upon often – a lot of the plot involves broad comedic performances from Jake Johnson and Hannah Simone acting super-high, turning Winston into a sideshow in his own story (an all-too-familiar turn of events for ol’ Toilet Bishop). But it’s there – and as “Dice” reaches its conclusion, begins to find its footing as it gains a better sense of purpose; Jess and Schmidt’s conversations in the second half of the episode are the strongest moments in the first two episodes of the season, scenes that not only reinforce what is secretly one of the best friendships on the show (these two are always pushing each other into new directions, even if it fails miserably all the time), but give voice to the internal conflicts both characters are facing this season. The way Schmidt’s loneliness comes to light is almost poetic, a lingering camera observing Schmidt’s face as he digests the news that he’s only Dice-ing to cover up how alone he is – it’s a really great moment, and a nice reminder that New Girl might be getting a little broader and simpler, but still has interesting stories to tell with its main characters.

The kinks are still getting worked out on the new New Girl; the shift into heavier improv is still having mixed results, a lot of bits feeling like they’d work a lot better with a little tighter editing (a lot of Schmidt’s diatribes, while hilarious, can carry on and get too random for their own good), and it certainly feels like the show’s aiming to be a little less ambitious narratively this season. But there’s still intriguing material to be found in “Dice”, between the bevy of one-night stand/pothead jokes in the episode – just enough to keep my interest piqued as to where this season is truly headed.

Grade: B-

Other thoughts/observations:

– Jess: “Dice and Tinder! I’ve been to those bars, they’re downtown!”

– Schmidt’s explanation for his Gotye ringtone is great: “I haven’t gotten anything but a text message in two years.”

– I’m really hoping this show can get a grasp on CeCe again (which it hasn’t really had since the beginning of season two); her search for a career beyond modeling (and bartending) is a promising start.

– Nick Miller high on pot brownies? Not as funny as you might think it is; he’s really kind of a buzz kill.

– Jess’s emotionless rejections are hilarious, but carry on a little too long.

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