I have to admit, I just spent more than a few full minutes staring at that headline, wondering if I could or should come up with something even slightly less lazy. Except this season of New Girl has been exceptionally lazy. It has, repeatedly, given us the least possible effort. And that includes last night’s episode, which also happened to be the show’s 100th, not that it gave any indication of being any sort of milestone. Everything about this season has been a half-formed afterthought. Although I suppose a few of those thoughts, at least, have been at least partially worthy of attention.
I’m not sure when New Girl crossed the line away from no longer being about the ‘girl.’ The first few seasons may have developed Jess’ roommates as being the fan favorite or even best quality elements of the show, but it was still about her. Now, though, it’s not just the occasional episode that focuses primarily on the male characters; it’s what the show is about. OBVIOUSLY, it’s not a negative qualifier to say that a show is centered around male characters, but it consistently feels like New Girl has moved away from being a show about Jess, without ever fully embracing either a male character as its lead, or figuring out how to do a true ensemble show. (As an example of how well that rare possibility can be done, let’s just whisper everyone’s favorite words, Happy Endings, shall we?) New Girl no longer has a lead, but it also doesn’t have a crew. Rather, it has a collection of neuroses, and oh god, how has that survived 100 episodes?
This laziness and confusion has dominated this season, to the point where the last episode actually felt like it was worthy of our time. For the record, it was not. But the show has so lowered our expectations that it really did feel like something great. Or good. Or fine. Or not a thing that made us hate ourselves for once again wasting 22 minutes on it.
In last night’s “Goosebumps Walkaway,” we once again did not have a clear A plot. Ostensibly, the episode was about Nick trying to cope with the end of Reagan’s (Megan Fox) arc. If this were an episode in the first three or five or any favorite decent number of seasons, maybe this episode would have been about Reagan leaving. Or about Jess returning. But both Reagan’s feelings about Nick, and Jess’ feelings about Reagan, along with Jess’ wholly superfluous feelings about a fellow mysterious juror, were secondary or tertiary (or maybe even equal, but equal in an episode where nothing was given enough weight to feel important or impactful) to Nick’s desire to give Reagan a titular Goosebumps Walkaway: “The line that the guy says to the girl in the movie that gives her goosebumps—and then he walks away forever.” Still, for all the episodes this season that have seemed to have been centered around Nick, they do not seem to be willing to fully commit to his Lloyd Dobler trajectory. This show has no lead, and only the weakest of ensemble connections. So what is it?
If this episode— the 100th in a series that began as one about a woman starting over and discovering that she is stronger and deeper than she ever imagined herself to be— did one thing right, it is that it avoided the one obvious pitfall that it set in its own way. Because at the very least, they didn’t go the route of pitting Jess and Reagan against each other. And they could have! They had to share a bedroom, and they had to navigate a shared history with one man. And no, they didn’t need to give Jess an underwhelming ‘out’ in that mystery juror she spent all of 4 minutes (ish) of the episode tracking down. There was a surprisingly beautiful moment when she acknowledged that Nick is special to her, that he “sneaks up on you,” and that he is the only person she may ever go into a duct for. But instead of having this realization and then deciding she wants Nick for herself, it was simple and tender, and then it passed. And Reagan had a halfway satisfying farewell, without dipping into rivalry territory. The show may not have a clear lead, let alone a female lead, and the female friendships that once made this show so beautiful are barely even a long-forgotten part of distant New Girl rumored lore, but at least the show took one small stand and refused to hit the very obvious rock bottom lying directly in front of it. It’s been a while since New Girl saw a cliche it didn’t go for. Good for it that this was the one it decided to sidestep.