‘New Girl’ Returns with a Tricky But Stellar Season Premiere

The first episode of New Girl‘s third season is so good, so funny and weird and frantic and heartfelt that it’s easy to forget what a tough episode it must have been to write. Last season the show finally moved beyond its original, not very enticing pitch in which Zooey Deschanel plays Zooey Deschanel in an impossibly lush loft. Season two of New Girl was, for me at least, the strongest sitcom of the year, but it ended with four of its five main characters embroiled in complex romantic situations.

The first episode takes place almost entirely outside that loft, that dreamlike industrial space of quirky furniture and huge iron-grid windows that’s somehow paid for by four not-very-successful 30-year-olds (one a bartender, one a production assistant on sports radio, one a teacher, and one a marketer, or something like that). Jess and Nick, the teacher and bartender, respectively, have decided to begin dating. Terrified by the prospect of living together while dating, they run… to Mexico. Four days later, Nick has torn the sleeves off his dress shirt — most likely his only dress shirt — and Jess has adopted some subtly tropical braids to match her dirty dress. They have gone “All In,” the title of the episode and also its theme. Also it’s a phrase the characters say repeatedly.

Schmidt, who, I just found out, does not seem to have been given a first name, has refused to go “all in.” At the end of last season, he was given an ultimatum: he must choose either Elizabeth (his first serious girlfriend, who knows him better than anyone) or Cece (his recent ex, who is a model but also likable). He should go “all in,” but he will not, telling both women he’s chosen them.

Winston is perpetually the odd man out; he’s the only minority roommate, for one thing, but he also hasn’t been given the character development of any of the other main cast members. In this episode, he’s given the C plot, but it’s by far the funniest. Winston goes “all in” on a puzzle. This is MUCH FUNNIER than it sounds! It turns out Winston is colorblind, leading to my favorite exchange of the episode, in which Winston, unable to tell the difference between green and brown, insists that Kermit the frog is brown. He also tries to solve the puzzle by inserting almonds into the gaps between pieces.

It’s a stellar episode; I was nervous, because the last time a second season was as strong as New Girl‘s, that was the American version of The Office — which quickly became, you know, fine, but nothing too special. But I laughed out loud a bunch of times during the premiere of New Girl, which I don’t usually. It was a madcap episode, full of setpieces and silliness (Winston wearing a hooded sweatshirt as pants was a highlight, especially since it went totally unremarked), but sneakily set up the season in a few ways. We know that the Nick and Jess relationship is going to continue, we know that Schmidt is going to (very quickly) get his comeuppance, and, well, we still don’t know anything about Winston. Maybe we should learn more about Winston.

That Jess and Nick live together is going to cause problems; we didn’t really see any in this episode, since they seemed pretty much in sync, sharing the same fears and impulses, but surely there are going to be issues. I’ve seen The Real World. It’s messy to date a roommate. But I’m really optimistic about the season, given how well this first episode was handled.

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