By Lanford Beard
Updated April 04, 2013 at 12:00 PM EDT
New Girl First Date
Credit: Adam Taylor/Fox

So it wasn’t exactly an ends-in-fireworks first date, was it Newbies? But were you really expecting that? Tonight’s episode of New Girl had a lot to say, not just about Jess and Nick’s relationship, but about the relationships of all the loftmates. It’s a fragile ecosystem — one that can be thrown off-kilter by a lusty gaze or a missing phone charger… which is exactly where the episode began. (For those who haven’t seen the episode yet, read no further: SPOILERS AHEAD!)

“First Date” opened with Nick, Jess, and Schmidt lying in wait to pounce on Winston for stealing the communal phone charger (a foolhardy roommate bonding tactic if there ever was one). In the subsequent scuffle, Winston went for Schmidt’s face, and Schmidt screamed: “Not my face! Hey! That’s the moneymaker!” Jess basically bounced around like the world’s worst sparring partner as Winston coolly walked around her, so Schmidt broke into a sprint after him while screaming, “You can’t outrun the Jewish!”

Their exit left Jess and Nick alone in the living room to mumble, laugh, and descend into awkward silence as their un-DTR’d feelings hung in the air. They wondered aloud, “What should we do?” and laughed “Definitely not make out!” Nick broke the tension by… creating more tension. Specifically, he grabbed Jess’s upper breast — and continued to hold it as they clumsily described their ever-shifting dynamic (from friends to making out to hating each other’s guts to grabbing each other’s boobs). With things as muddled as ever, Nick doubled down on his bad instincts and grabbed Jess’s other boob. She deemed this development “a little bit better, a little bit worse.” Annnnnd… scene.

To sort out this mess, Nick and Jess turned to their most trusted confidants. Jess visited Cece and placed her hand on her chest where Nick had. She asked, “Would you describe this as a sexual act?” Cece answered, amusingly, “I would describe that as the pledge of allegiance, which can be sexual.” Jess got worked up as she voiced her confusion over Nick’s inability to be clear about his feelings and/or deliver on her expectations. At which point Cece noted Jess was still clutching her own boob. Jess admitted it somehow calmed her. How far you want to read into that, ‘shippers… that’s on you.

Meanwhile, Nick’s Asian park bench pal Tran was back! Nick caught him up: “The sexual tension has been off-the-charts. It’s like the Wild West: No laws, whiskey for a nickel, whores caked in mud… I don’t know what to do!” A one-sided conversation with Nick’s silent mentor proved more enlightening — and certainly more entertaining — than Jess and Cece’s exchange as Nick mulled things over and admitted he needed to grow up; in Nick’s world that means doing things like “mow a lawn… in dark socks.” But the hands-down best line came when Nick asked, “What would you do?” Tran, of course, remained silent, but Nick still chuckled naughtily, “Of course you would, ya dirty dog!” (FYI, Newbies: I want that soundbite as my ringtone. Make it happen.)

Long story short, Nick realized only a date would end his relationship purgatory with Jess. While still with Tran, he rehearsed a legitimately lovely speech: “Jessica, you are a beautiful woman, and my life has not been the same since I met you. And it would mean the world to me if you would go on a date with me.” However, when he went a-knockin’, he found Jess in nothing but a towel and started to babble incoherently, calling her “Dirty J” and his “toilet sister” before concluding, “If so… food?” Regardless, she got the gist and accepted his dinner invitation.

Before the date could begin, though, Nick had to consult his boys. Schmidt handled fashion; Winston, Nick’s “neckscape.” Nick came through the makeover looking nothing short of dashing, and Schmidt declared, “Yes! That is how you wrap a son of a bitch in wool.” Indeed, Nick in a his new (borrowed) suit had nearly as much pep in his step as when he was wearing the lady trench coat (and we all know how that ended *wolf whistle*). The guys’ brotherly concern for Nick was truly adorable, particularly when Winston handed over the keys to his car (a Ford Escape he had nicknamed the “Foscapé”) and Schmidt advised, “Here some things you want to hide from tonight’s date: You’re cheap, you’re broke, you’re a heavy drinker, and that you have a problem with anger.” Speaking of which, they wondered, who was the lucky lady Nick would be bamboozling tonight? Nick stumbled, “Her name is, uh, obviously Yolanda. Uh… her last name is… Winston.” He walked briskly out of the room as Schmidt chuckled, “Those Latino girls!” But it didn’t take long for both of them to realize Nick was hiding something. From there, Schmidt ascertained Nick was going on a date with Jess — though Winston initially jumped to the conclusion that Nick had become a male escort. (Sorry, Winny, that’s another Fox show.)

The realization that Jess-and-Nick was become a real prospect sent Schmidt and Winston into a tailspin. They admitted Nick was the guys’ glue, and we flashed back to a college nonversation between Winston and Schmidt that was supremely awkward — and not just because of Winston’s R.-Kelly-circa-1995 cornrows. Schmidt and Winstoned decided they had to put the brakes on Nick’s attempt to woo Jess. While Winston went there, suggesting they murder Jess with a knife, Schmidt proposed a wiser option of sabotaging the date. And so they began to brainstorm some truly ridiculous sabotage schemes. Schmidt thought sending over tropical drinks might trigger Nick’s inner grump and summon a bitter response along the lines of “Grampa didn’t get a face full of Japanese bullets just so you could drink a melted popsicle!” Winston had a grander plan in mind — steal a bear from the zoo, shoot it up with hep C, and release it in the restaurant. Ummmmm… yeah…

NEXT: Outside Dave isn’t house trained

While the hamster wheels turned in their roommates’ heads, Jess and Nick met for dinner. Dappered up in his three-piece suit, Nick had spared no expense in the name of romance, picking Eva Longoria’s restaurant Beso as their destination. Of course, Jess — who was wearing a baseball T and jeans — assumed the address Nick had given her was for the hot dog stand across the street. When it wasn’t, she was befuddled. This is Nick Miller we’re talking about. He tried to avoid the discussion away from his usual cheap schlubbery and stepped into the street to get her moving toward the restaurant. As bad luck would have it, there was a policeman champing at the bit to meet his jaywalking ticket quota for the month, so Nick found his wallet instantly $340 lighter.

Nick pushed down his rage over the ticket, partially by making “tiny fists with [his] toes” as Jess suggested. He hoped a steady flow of champagne would quell the awkwardness, but Jess point-blank asked Nick if they were on a date. (Apparently her giant eyes aren’t so good for seeing things right in front of her.) Nick was immediately drained of all his suit- and neckscape-based confidence. He lied that it wasn’t a date and basically did a verbal panic-moonwalk away from the conversation. Jess made stifled small talk about the fancy menu items: “Oh, they have Brussels sprouts with pancetta. That’s a fancy word for bacon. Hold the Brussels sprouts, right?” Nick shut her down: “Everybody loves bacon, Jess. New topic!” Oof.

Back at the loft, Operation: Suppress the Jess (part 2) was going nowhere as Schmidt announced, “I think we’re doing too much brainstormin’ and not enough good, old-fashioned rememberin’.” He asked Winston to describe his worst date. But words can’t really do justice to the flashback of a particularly soulful fat, undulating, American Idol-audition-round-worthy homeless dude who one serenaded Winny and his lady with George Michael’s “Father Figure” (and, at the end of the show, Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)”). Because there was clearly no better idea forthcoming, the boys had a plan! They made a beeline for Outside Dave (Steve Agee) and asked his fee for taking part in their sabotagery. He demanded $4 million US and a trip to wine country. Winston counter-offered 25 minutes of TV time and two home-cooked sandwiches. They compromised at 25 minutes of TV time and one home-cooked sandwich.

A testament to this half-cocked plan, the minute the guys welcomed Dave into the loft, he started rippin’ stuff up and quickly locked himself in the bathroom — inconveniently, where Schmidt had left the communal charger. At hearing the exclamation “Hair sauce!” Schmidt threatened, “If he even looks at my pomade caddy, I will turn every hobo in this city against him. I will poison every pie on every windowsill!” As the guys’ phones died, Schmidt became even more frantic because buzzing emanating from the bathroom sounded like Dave had discovered a fifth use for Schmidt’s 4-in-1 groomer. He went to the “ruff” and began to lower himself through the skylight. And so was born the groomer’s sixth use: shaving Schmidt’s legs (Dave: “It’s shorts weather!”). Dave trimmed away as Schmidt, still hanging from the ceiling, shrieked, “You’re going against the grain, you animal!”

Hearing his roommate’s yelps, Winston busted in. He was holding a sandwich that distracted Dave long enough for Schmidt to drop down. Schmidt was immeasurably grateful that Winston had saved his life — or at least most of his leg hair. And, in the end, this forced solidarity against Dave made them realize they didn’t need Nick to hold them together. They didn’t pull off their plot to ruin his first date with Jess, but they realized they had more in common than they’d previously thought — including a virulent opposition to sharing their home with a crazy, leg-shearin’ bum. Sometimes it’s the small things that bring us together.

NEXT: Let’s try this again…

Back at the restaurant, Jess and Nick’s totally-not-a-date hit yet another snag when Jess’s Fancyman ex Russell (Dermot Mulroney) turned up at the restaurant. Jess anxiously awaited the inevitable moment when he’d spot them, while Nick waxed nostalgic about “The only man we both loved.” Russell came over with his date Brandy (of course) in tow and joked to her and Nick, “So’s this why you dumped me?” He added seriously, graciously, “I’m glad to see this is finally happening. Enjoy my lucky table!” Unfortunately, his blessing was effectively a curse, and things got even more awkward. Jess suggested they abandon the swanky restaurant and get a drink at their local. Nick: “Drinkin’ to forget? It’s my sweet spot.” They told Russell he could have his lucky table back and headed to the car so Nick could change into something more comfortable (in a non-sexy way). Alas, they were dinged again as the cop popped up again to write up another jaywalking ticket. Nick finally unleashed his rage, then they hightailed it back into the bar and slugged overpriced cocktails as they confessed the surprising things about each other that turned them on — for Nick, it was Jess’s “ridiculously hot” habit of asking for his help opening jars and restarting the Internet; for Jess, it was Nick gargling beer. If those kind of mundane-to-the-point-of-irritating things are what get them in the mood for each other, maybe they really do belong together?

With the tension broken and a little liquid courage in their bellies, they decided to hit restart on their date. So it was back to the car, where Nick put back on his date duds and… boom! The cop circled around to sign off on another jaywalking ticket. Thus began (continued?) the most expensive date of Nick Miller’s life. Unfazed, they rushed back inside and reclaimed the table from Russell — and maybe some of the food on it, if Russell and Brandy didn’t mind. A hilarious bit of role reversal followed, wherein Jess bought the girly drinks (probably because Nick had no more money), and Nick suggestively joked, “Look, if you keep buying the drinks, I’ll put out no matter what you say. I guess the good ones aren’t all married or gay.” Jake Johnson and Zooey Deschanel blew the roof off this bit of banter. Even though it was obvious that Nick and Jess would never have a fairytale first date, this quick return to such easy chemistry after all the night’s hiccups showed that a viable second date isn’t off the (lucky) table.

Unfortunately, that’s when Jess got a little cocky. She shouted across the room at Russell, who was leaving, how well her date was going. Russell double back and stopped to issue Nick a condescending pat on the back and tell them, “You two are… really something.” As passive-aggressive boner killers go, it was effective. Nick and Jess sipped their drinks contentiously for several moments before chasing Russell down. He was outside waiting for his car (Nick: “Did you valet? God, that’s classy”), and it him a mere three sentences to deconstruct their nascent courtship: “You live together and you had three dates tonight. What’s that? I think you guy don’t really know what you are to each other.” He suggested they address this ambiguity by writing down their feelings (he’d even provide the pens!). “Is this a relationship, a one-night stand, above-the-waist only?” he asked, adding, “No wrong answers.” So they wrote, and it turned out there was a wrong answer. When Russell read their written confessions, he mumbled that it had a been a bad idea and urged Brandy to move as quickly as possible. The only thing that held him up? The fourth jaywalking ticket of the night.

Jess and Nick were left sitting on the curb, pondering their status. They promised to simultaneously say their expectations out loud but both chickened out. Though Nick gave Jess a sexy lingering look, she backed down and proclaimed their relationship would follow “middle school dance rules: three feet on the floor, no body hugs.” Nick agreed to this, obviously reluctantly, then reflexively grabbed her boob. He cupped his face in his hands, admitting, “They’ve got a great squish to ’em.” Jess couldn’t argue with that.

Later that night, Jess and Nick reconvened in the kitchen (since they hadn’t actually ever eaten dinner). She struggled to open a jar, which Nick found it irresistible. He helped her open it, which she found irresistible. After he opened the jar, they stared at each other for a moment. He took a sip of beer and playfully gargled it as she big-eye begged, “Don’t!” Clearly hot and bothered, she breathlessly said she was going to her room. He said in a sexy low register, “I’ll walk with you.” They treaded in tandem down the hall and stopped, looking longingly at each other before Jess whispered, “Goodnight, Miller.” Nick quietly, loadedly replied, “Goodnight, Day.” They stepped into their separate rooms and closed the doors, practically panting from desire.

Honestly, I’ve never been so happy a new couple didn’t seal the deal. This first step toward coupling was far from perfect by objective standards — perhaps the 180-degree opposite of perfect, actually — but it was just right for them. And better, for sure, than if a relationship had suddenly fallen in their lap with no obstacles. These two need tension, and boy do they have it. I have no doubt the dating game will be a rocky for Nick and Jess. And I, for one, can’t wait to be there for every bump and detour along the way.

Notable Dotables…

Jess: So you’re an upper boob guy?

Nick: That’s the most underrated part of the boob. It’s what I’ve always said.

Nick: Schmidt, I have a favor. It’s about my clothes–

Schmidt: Burn them! Burn them all!

Nick: No, no, no, no, no. I have a date tonight and, you know, there are a lot of women who sleep with you, and I can’t figure out why, so maybe it’s about clothes and maybe…?

Schmidt: Are you asking me if I’ll help you pick out clothing so you can seduce women?

Nick: I was.

Schmidt: I don’t know. It’s only all I’ve been wanting for the past 10 years, Nick!

Outside Dave: How long have the two of you been the best of friends?

Schmidt: Longer than we ever knew.

Winston: I will say, it’s hard to have a moment with you when there’s a homeless man dropping a deuce in our urinal.

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New Girl

Zooey Deschanel plays lovable Jess, who is plodding through life with a good group of friends.

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