I can still hear the word echoing from Schmidt’s mouth, spat out like a vigorous, full-bodied exorcism to the absolute joy of “New Girl” fans everywhere. We know that when Schmidt exclaims, “Terrible!”, it creates the exact opposite feeling. What’s terrible is suddenly brilliant.
And it’s not so much when he says it — though Max Greenfield’s comedic timing is impeccable — or even how he says it, keeping in mind how impressed we are with his complete physical engagement. What makes the word so damn delightful when it springs from Schmidt’s lips is that you can feel how excited he is every single time it’s uttered — and that excitement is infectious, whether he’s justly burdened or not.
In “Wedding Eve,” the first part of Tuesday night’s Season 5 finale, Schmidt had due course to employ the catchphrase (catch-word?) many times over — and he did! After losing his vows the night before the wedding — yes, his wedding vows — Schmidt was sent into a panic over how to recreate the deeply personal message he painstakingly penned for Cece (Hannah Simone), his bride to be. Yet circumstances beyond his control (but are bound to happen when you live in a loft with four other spontaneous 30-somethings) kept Schmidt from sitting down and calmly thinking through his recreation. Cece used her “bride card” to start a game of True American. Coach (Damon Wayans Jr.) showed up a day early to surprise his former roommates. Winston needed help fixing a snafu with Aly (Nasim Pedrad), and everyone discovered Schmidt’s mom (Nora Dunn) and her best friend, Susan (Kim Wayans), were engaged to be married.
This kind of general mayhem is a showcase for what “New Girl” does very well. When forced to pack zingers into a space densely packed with people, Liz Meriwether’s Fox comedy springs to life. They’ve certainly had issues balancing the ever-shifting cast in the past, but somewhere in Season 4 (even when Coach was still a sixth wheel), things started to come together. Yet what really drives the train — what car has six wheels? — is the man who’s been less and less often relegated to the dining car (Winston is, and forever will be, the caboose).
In short, “New Girl” is Schmidt’s show, and everyone needs to stop pretending it belongs to Jess.
This is far from breaking news. Discussions about the series’ focus have been setting flames across the Internet since the beginning (and I hate taking the side that can be accurately condensed to, “Hey, we should focus on the straight, white man on this TV show instead of the quirky woman”). But what makes reexamining this debate pertinent now is that the writers’ devotion to Jess ruined the episode we’ve all been waiting for since Schmidt and Cece first held hands in the sixth episode of the first season. To make matters worse, we were teased with perfection in the first half-hour, making what followed immediately after all the more painful to behold.
The first half of the finale — or, more accurately, the penultimate episode in Season 5 — ran smoothly through its stellar set-up from top to bottom. With Schmidt’s lost vows serving as the A-story and Jess’ panic over a prospective proposal firmly set as the B-story, all the players were in place. After all, Season 5 has been gearing up for Schmidt and Cece’s wedding throughout, while Jess and the rest of the gang served as support (for the most part). Buoyed by what became perhaps the only excellent Winston storyline in show history (partnering up with Aly, slowly developing chemistry and then getting together in suitably ridiculous fashion), Season 5 was right on course for a killer climax. All it needed to do was let Schmidt and Cece get married without anyone stealing their thunder.
Well, guess what happened? Yup. That’s right. Even if you haven’t been watching “New Girl” this season, you probably could’ve guessed that Jess and Nick happened — again. We were willing to forgive Cece giving up the night before her wedding to Jess’ romantic delusions, as she generously sacrificed her sobriety and attention so Jess didn’t have to tell her boyfriend “no” when he asked her to marry him (which, of course, never happened). But allowing Jess to take over the episode that should be all about celebrating the one couple this show got right is simply terrible!
“Oh, but Mr. Sassypants, it wasn’t Jess’ fault Schmidt got stuck on the plane!” Yes, you’re right, Insane Defender of the Doe-Eyed. Examining the narrative of the finale lets Jess and Nick off the hook. But you’re looking in the wrong place.
By separating Cece and Schmidt on their wedding day, two terrible — yes, terrible! — things happen: First, the two somehow come to the objectively wrong decision of having the reception without Schmidt, providing a “unique” wedding that could serve as passable entertainment if we weren’t so deeply invested in giving this couple the day they deserve; and, more specifically, giving Schmidt the day he deserves. Schmidt was right to sacrifice his big day to keep his bride happy, but it’s within that newfound selflessness — given due homage by the sacramental breaking of the Douchebag Jar later on — that one can see why Schmidt deserved to get what he wanted this one time. Forcing Cece into a position where she can enjoy everything Schmidt worked so hard to create makes her look bad — it’s his Dad’s vineyard, his Dad’s wine and you two are partners, Cece; just wait — and the writers had no reason to put her in that position anyway.
What makes matters worse is realizing why this scenario came up at all. This haphazard construction is geared around shifting the focus back to Nick and Jess. By keeping the couple apart — thus relegating the actual wedding to a quick, simple montage later on, dispensing of all the buildup that typically goes into a major TV couple’s wedding — ample time was provided to let Jess talk to Cece and Reagan (Megan Fox, who didn’t do much here, but has converted this doubter to a believer already) about Nick, stare blankly in her confusion over how she feels for Nick and make a big, declarative statement at the end of the episode (“I’m tired of being the only person who can see how incredible you are!”). That amounted to nothing more than a tease for yet another season based around the will-they-or-won’t-they question that’s already been answered.
We know that they will because they just did. Schmidt and Cece are the A-couple of “New Girl.” Jess and Nick barely make the cut for B-level. No matter what Meriwether and her writers do in Season 6, that fact won’t change. We’ll still be watching, wanting to know the official ending in spite of our better judgment: that the real ending already happened, and it was…pretty bad.
Part 1 Grade: A
Part 2 Grade: C-
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