Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New Girl 3.11: "Clavado et un Bar"

“It wasn’t long before I caught the attention of Old Man McCue. The Christmas Tree King of Syracuse. Inverter of Triple Netting.”

The winter premiere of “New Girl” was by far the strongest episode of the season thus far. It was a bottle episode, taking place almost entirely in the bar where Nick works. Jess has a big decision to make, and all the other characters tell stories to help her make that decision. The episode was successful because it really focused in on the characters and what makes them unique. The characters are what made me love “New Girl” in the first place, so it was a welcome creative choice. There’s also a bit of a holiday thread running through the episode (Schmidt’s story involves selling Christmas trees), which makes me think that this episode must have been originally scheduled to air before the holiday. That being said, the holiday-ness of it wasn’t so intrusive as to seem out-of-place in early January. I still feel a bit Christmass-y myself, really.

The set-up to the episode is that Jess has a big career decision to make. She’s been volunteering at a children’s museum (she doesn’t get enough of kids at work during the week?) and the director of the museum has offered her a permanent paid fundraising position. Jess needs to decide whether she wants to keep following her dream of being a teacher, or if she wants to leave her dysfunctional school for a higher paying job that isn’t teaching. Jess is especially frustrated with management at her school at the moment. Due to budget constraints, her class has been combined with a science class, and the science teacher and his frog dissection kits are just gross. It’s a big life decision, but she only has twenty minutes to give her decision to the museum director. The whole gang ends up at the bar, and they all start telling stories about career changes and such to try and help Jess make her decision.

Winston tells his story of how he had to stop playing basketball. Like Jess and teaching, Winston knew he wanted to be a basketball player for as long as he can remember. He kept at it, even when it meant moving to Latvia and even when it meant being switched from the indoor to the outdoor league in Latvia. He would have kept on playing, too, if he hadn’t blown out his knee. Jess says that Winston’s story doesn’t count for the purposes of helping her make a decision, because his doctor said he couldn’t play. This makes Winston realize that he hasn’t really made big decisions in his life. The decisions have always been made for him. Which I suppose is an interesting commentary on the character of Winston himself, who has always seemed like less of a fully-drawn character compared to the rest of the roomies.

Speaking of characters who aren’t especially fully-drawn, Coach doesn’t really have much to do in this episode other than provide the (ticking) clock. Apparently he likes to time things, and he always carries a stopwatch to make that happen. He sets the stopwatch for exactly twenty minutes. I remember Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse saying once (maybe in commentary on a DVD episode of “Lost”?) that a good quick way to raise the stakes in storytelling is to add a ticking clock. I guess this was the “New Girl” creative team’s attempt to do that. Anyway, we also (sort of) learn how Coach got his nickname. It’s nothing earthshattering, really. Nick and Schmidt thought the name fit because of how Coach likes to boss around anybody he can.

Back to more endearing aspects of this episode, we learn that while in college, Schmidt had to make a career choice between candy striping at the local hospital or selling Christmas trees. I had completely forgotten that Nick and Schmidt went to Syracuse. I have worked and currently work with a disproportionate amount of Syracuse grads (for living in Maryland), so I found this entertaining. Especially because Syracuse v. University of Maryland is a pretty regular topic of conversation in my office. Anyway, Schmidt has a massive crush on a nurse at the hospital where he’s volunteering, but she’s got a smarmy advertiser boyfriend. The boyfriend tells Schmidt that he’s never going to get a girlfriend unless he’s rich, so Schmidt decides to try selling Christmas trees. He excels at it, and when the owner of the Christmas tree stand falls ill, he tells Schmidt that money is really the most important thing in life. So Schmidt started working out and working on his marketing skills, and I suppose that’s how he became the guy he is today.

Throughout the episode, Nick tries to tell his story in fits and starts. He was doing reasonably well in law school, but over time, he realized he didn’t want to be the person he saw his classmates becoming. As somebody who got out of the practice of law after a measly one year, I totally get where he’s coming from. On my first day of law school, I got to class twenty minutes early, thinking that was a reasonable time to get used to the new building and get settled. I was one of the very last people there and got a seat way in the back corner of the room. Just saying. Even though he dropped out of law school, Nick still took the bar exam, just to prove to himself he could do it. And what do you know, he passed. But he’d really, truly rather be a bartender. Interesting character, that Nick. His lack of ambition would drive me bonkers, but he’s never boring, for sure.

Cece doesn’t really have a story about her own career change, although as a thirty-one-year-old model, she realized that the career change is going to have to happen soon. Jess tells a story about the first place she taught, which was a super-preppy private school in Oregon, and it doesn’t seem like that uplifting first teaching job story. She also finds out that her prize student from that job is now wanted by the FBI. Cece doesn’t want Jess to be discouraged though, so she reminds Jess that she, Cece, was Jess’ first student. They became friends when they met in the library and Jess helped Cece with some school work. It’s a pretty sweet story, and it convinces Jess to keep her teaching job. She makes the best of the combined classroom situation, and handling that difficulty convinces Jess that she could manage a school as well or better than her principal. Her new goal is to become a principal herself. Go Jess!

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