New Girl Season 5 Episodes 19 & 20 Review: “Dress”/”Return to Sender”

New Girl

There’s a lot to love about tonight’s episodes of New Girl. “Dress” and “Return to Sender” are two of the funniest installments that the FOX sitcom has delivered during Season 5, featuring some of the wackiest and weirdest Winston quirks we’ve seen yet (How amazing was everything having to do with the bird shirts in “Return to Sender”?) and a lot of quality Nick Miller moments (all of his burner phones, his thinking it was “out of the boo,” all the alcohol he keeps hidden in the loft). There’s also a lot of heart in both of tonight’s New Girl episodes, including Jess and Schmidt’s attempts to give Cece the perfect wedding, and Schmidt reconnecting with his dad (played by returning guest star Peter Gallagher).

However, there’s one major problem that New Girl still possesses, and it’s very much present in “Return to Sender.” I’m talking, of course, about the forced nature of the Jess/Sam relationship, and the efforts of the show’s writers to, yet again, try to make us feel like these two are something bigger and better than what they actually are. We’ve seen New Girl try to do this before in the underwhelming “300 Feet” (easily this season’s worst episode), and it’s on display yet again in tonight’s second half hour, as Jess claims to love Sam before he shows up at the loft in the episode’s final moments, choosing her over a possible future with his longtime friend Diane (played by Masters of Sex‘s Caitlin Fitzgerald).

What does work about the Jess/Sam storyline in “Return to Sender” is Jess’s actions. Unlike her over-the-top, cartoonish behavior in “300 Feet,” this romantic, selfless version of Jess is much more like the character we’ve gotten to know over the past four-plus seasons, and it also gives Zooey Deschanel better material, which she knocks out of the park. Jess isn’t the problem here; the issue is the extreme emphasis New Girl puts on her connection with Sam, despite there being no actual foundation for such a serious connection. It’s fine if Jess and Sam are attracted to each other, and it’s even okay if they get back together, but to try to retcon their relationship into this “great love” causes pretty much everything about their romance to fall flat.

Aside from New Girl‘s Jess/Sam problem, though, both “Dress” and “Return to Sender” are filled with wonderful moments and really fun character pairings. The first half hour centers on a thoroughly entertaining Jess/Schmidt story, as he attempts to help her fix Cece’s wedding dress, and she tries to help him keep his job. Meanwhile, Nick seeks Cece’s advice when he texts Reagan to ask her to come to the wedding with him, and Winston and Aly adjust to being a couple while still working together Although Winston and Aly is (obviously) a character pairing that we’ve seen quite often, it’s still an incredibly fun one, and while their plot is a little goofier and more lighthearted than what’s happening with Jess and Schmidt or Nick and Cece, the ridiculous aspects of all three stories blend together nicely.

Compared to “Dress,” “Return to Sender” is a little more emotionally grounded, although this also an episode where Winston’s main storyline involves him trying to get Sam to wear a bird shirt, so maybe I’m reaching a little bit. Still though, the second of tonight’s two New Girl episodes does a terrific job at bringing Peter Gallagher’s Gavin back into the fold and not only digging into his complicated relationship with Schmidt but how Nick has helped Schmidt deal with his dad constantly disappointing him in the past.

“Return to Sender” is another great Schmidt/Nick episode (when does New Girl ever fail to give us those?), as Nick does everything he can, including having a stern talk with Gavin, to ensure that Schmidt’s dad doesn’t continue to hurt him. Yet again we see how far Nick and Schmidt will go to help each other, but the real emotional gut punch comes near the end of the half hour, as the two friends try to stop themselves from crying at dinner. Gavin arrives late because he was trying to get Schmidt’s security deposit back from the slaughterhouse where he and Cece are going to get married, and he offers his vineyard as a location for their wedding instead, promising that he’s always going to be there for Schmidt going forward. That scene is played so beautifully by Max Greenfield and Peter Gallagher that it would work no matter what Gavin had to say; however, the fact that Schmidt’s father is not only saying he’s going to be there for his son but is actually doing something for the first time in their relationship is what really makes their exchange tug at the heartstrings.

Perhaps New Girl can focus more on Schmidt and Gavin’s relationship than Jess and Sam’s during next week’s final two episodes, but even if the show doesn’t do that, it will still be okay. New Girl has too many strengths to be dragged down by a weakness or two, and I can’t wait to see how the sitcom’s writers conclude what has been a fantastic fifth season next week.

Other thoughts:

  • I loved how Jess’s solution to making Cece’s wedding dress better was turning it inside out. A little too simple and convenient? Probably, but it worked for me. I also like that New Girl is making us wait to see the dress (like Schmidt) until the finale.
  • Jess goes for idea walks (“Your idea walks?” Schmidt says. “How did you become such an important part of my life?”). She also does a really good Cece impersonation and a passable Sinatra.
  • So from that text to Nick, do we think that Reagan isn’t actually coming back for the wedding? These new finale photos from TVLine may hold the answer.
  • Of course Daniels was a little psycho and tried to blackmail Aly and Winston. People can be nice, but no one is that nice.
  • What was the better moment at the precinct: Winston making Aly sing the “Squeeze You So Tight” song, or the sergeant’s attraction to him (“Winston is hot as hell”)?
  • I miss Peter Gallagher being on my TV every week. Can someone get him his own show, please?
  • There’s so many wonderful, small bits of comedy in “Return to Sender” like Nick and Schmidt’s conversation about Humpty Dumpty and Winston and Cece’s back-and-forth (“No, babe.” “Yeah, babe”).
  • “You wouldn’t make a dime as a French whore.” “I’d make millions.”
  • “Stuff? Define stuff.” “Things.” “Thank you.”
  • “If anyone’s getting sucked, it’s just me sucking myself in.”
  • “Penelope, have you seen a girl walking around? Looks like a drawing of a best friend an eight year old would make.”

What did everyone else think about this week’s episodes of New Girl? Do you agree with me about Jess and Sam, or am I being too hard on their relationship? Comment below and let me know. 

[Photo credit: John P. Fleenor/FOX]

New Girl Season 5 Episodes 19 & 20 Review: "Dress"/"Return to Sender"
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Schmidt struggles with planning for his wedding and connecting with his dad in two solid episodes of New Girl.

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