By Lanford Beard
May 08, 2013 at 04:30 AM EDT
Jennifer Clasen/Fox
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This season’s penultimate episode really felt like a moment to breathe, didn’t it Newbies? With last week’s major gearshift in play and next week’s season finale in the wings, it was nice to have the chance to process. Even better, this moment was accompanied by some unexpected sweetness from Nick and a reminder that Jess is more than just an object to be desired — not to mention some independent romantic developments between Cece/Shivrang and Schmidt/Elizabeth that will make next week’s wedding-stravaganza more complicated and dynamic. It wasn’t the most high-octane episode, but I’d argue that’s for the best. And so…

We rejoined the roomfriends the morning after. Nick woke up with a goofy smile on his face, not even slightly freaked out as he leaned in to gently caress Jess’s back and give her a peck on the shoulder. Then, seeing that she was abnormally still, he started to freak out. Of course she was alive, but that didn’t stop him from reaching over to check her pulse. Ohhhh, Nick. They giggled cutely, only a little awkwardly, before he told her to stay in bed while he took care of something. As he departed, she found a giant soft pretzel under his pillow (random, but ha!). In the kitchen, Nick prepared his version of a romantic breakfast — ridiculously undercooked eggs, a mangled half grapefruit, a slice of pie (“dessert!”), a glass of orange juice, and a Heisler beer. (He considered putting a daisy in the beer bottle, then behind his ear, before abandoning it entirely.) Bless his heart, that Nick. He’s adorable but not exactly skilled at presentation.

Just as Nick began heading back into his bedroom, he ran into Jess’s dad Bob (Rob Reiner), who clearly didn’t remember Nick’s name. Bob mentioned he’d come to town for Cece’s wedding and that “Wilson” had let him in. He asked about the tray of “lady food” Nick was carrying, and Nick lied it was for “Wilson” on his birthday. Winston knew it was a lie but begrudgingly accepted because, well, what else was he getting?

A bit later, since Bob apparently hadn’t noticed that Jess had emerged from Nick’s room in Nick’s shirt (and nothing else). So Jess had gotten dressed and set about convincing Nick to keep his yap shut lest Bob freak out. Flash back to a bunch of Shriners-type guys riding miniature pick-up trucks in biker gang-style circles around a boy Jess had kissed in elementary school. Nick was down that plan, but things hit a hitch when Jess was called in for a last-minute substitute teaching gig that could turn into a full-time position. If she wanted to get back into teaching kids, it was now or never. So Jess headed off to her unexpected substituting gig — which was mostly wrangling Blackboard Jungle-style hooligans and a vaguely sexually harassing, baby goat-obsessed principal played by Curtis Armstrong (a.k.a. Booger from Revenge of the Nerds) — all while juggling Maid of Honor responsibilities for an exhausted Cece (more on that later).

Meanwhile, Nick was alone all day with Bob. Nick cracked basically after the first question about his love life and admitted there was a girl in his life. “She’s not quirky,” he lied. “She’s got no bangs. Tall, fat… really ugly eyes — small, tiny little beady eyes. Her name is, uh… Yolanda Winston.” (Yes!) Bob had many things to tell Nick about the ladies — also, sandwich making. So good was his advice, in fact, that Nick noted, “I don’t know how to get a podcast, but you should look into it.” In any case, when Bob told Nick that “any girl would be lucky to have a guy like you,” Nick took this as a greenlight to reveal that “Yolanda” was actually Jess. Let’s just say s— got real: Bob took chase after Nick, who let out a scream I heretofore believed only five-year-old girls could emit.

Jess knew Bob and Nick’s QT would most likely end badly, so she’d rushed home from work. But she was too late. On the upside, Nick had dropped the polo mallet, tiny baseball bat, and golden seashell ashtray he was using to protect his junk. Nonetheless, Jess arrived in time to hear Bob call Nick “a lazy, drunken cable thief.” Jess insisted Bob didn’t know anything about Nick or their relationship, but Bob said he knew exactly who Nick was because he used to be that guy, and his own aimlessness ultimately led to his divorce. This criticism hit home for Nick, and Jess couldn’t do anything about it, so she headed back to work. Cue the emotional breakdown in which she told the kids things like “I can’t date my dad” and how life “kicks your ass.” One of her students comforted her with a pack of cigarettes and an offer to drive her to the movies in his car. Did I mention he was about 12 years old?

Jess returned home later that night and found Bob blowing up an air mattress directly between her and Nick’s rooms. She insisted he didn’t have to worry about her, but he told her that was his job as her father. After Bob fell asleep, Jess got a text from Nick to meet on the roof. To make up for the day o’ disaster, he’d set the table with the breakfast he’d hoped to serve her before that morning. Though they didn’t get a chance to talk things over just yet, it was clear they’re both committed to figuring out their relationship and not brushing it under the rug. Next week, Newbies!

NEXT: Let Winston eat cake!

Elsewhere, Schmidt and Elizabeth were basking in the afterglow of their first time back together when he asked how his new body compared to the old one. She said she liked his body “before [he] knew what to do with it.” Cut to a flashback of them at a college party dancing like maniacs — including but not limited to the Ashlee Simpson hoedown, running man, air guitar, and Max Greenfield doing a herkie into a half split that A.) must be seen to be believed and B.) made me wonder how long it took him to get up again underneath that unwieldy fat suit. What I’m saying is, it may have been the best non-lubricated Fat Schmidt scene yet.

Back to the present, Elizabeth showed up early to Schmidt’s office for lunch. She was wearing the same shirt from the first time they met 12 years. Instead of appreciating the gesture, Schmidt was embarrassed by her slouchy appearance and pretended not to know her in front of a sexy, judgy colleague. She got, rightly, angry and stormed off. He chased her to the elevator bank, where she said she was going to accept another guy’s date invitation for that night. As the doors closed, all he had to say was, “Without validation, the parking rates are absurd!”

Long story short, of course Schmidt crashed Elizabeth’s date — not that it was a particularly good one. He was wearing a “Frogedaboudit” shirt she’d bought him in college as he insisted her he wanted to be with her publicly. With his resolution not to care so much about what people thought, they rocked out in front of everyone at the restaurant.

And as for poor Winston, his birthday was like Sixteen Candles, only outfitted in a Michael Jackson-circa-1983 red leather suit. An outfit made even more sad/hilarious when he showed up to Cece’s apartment ready for his “surprise party.” In her frenzy to get everything done, Jess asked him to pick up Cece’s sari and drop it off there. Naturally Winston thought this was a ruse. Only, instead of a party, the surprise he encountered was that Cece’s hand henna had been imprinted on her face during a nap (that Jess urged her to take).

Cece called Jess and let out a shriek unlike anything we’ve heard since Cece found out Jess and Nick had kissed. Jess showed up, and Cece stressed, “I’m getting married tomorrow, and I look like Mike Tyson!” Jess assured her they’d be able to sort out everything with a bit of olive oil and some cotton balls. No surprise, the “solution” only created a bigger problem when the smudge made Cece look like she’d drawn on a Halloween hobo beard. Jess covered the lower half of her face with a washrag and asked hopefully, “Burkas isn’t you guys is it?” Since Cece was not a conservative Muslim, Jess called the henna artist and was told there was no way to remove the henna. Unable to fix the problem and seeing that Cece was in no mood to talk about the recent Nick news, she took off and called Shivrang over (warning him to “watch out for the girl who looked like Mandy Patinkin”). In an optimistic development, Shivrang sweetly told Cece that, if this was their biggest problem, they had no problems.

While this all went down, Winston had given up and bought his own cake, which he brought back to the loft and started to enjoy. Pooping that party, Bob snarked, “You sure you want to be eating so much cake — with a body like that?” Winston was so insulted, he threw down his cake and his fork. But! Thanks to all the roommates’ coincidental desire to head to the roof at the same time (Schmidt and Elizabeth had joined Nick and Jess), Winston stumbled upon them all together and thought this was the surprise party he’d been expecting all day. What Winston doesn’t know won’t hurt him…

NEXT: Hopefully, the first and last time I ever have to type the phrase “pubic topiary”

Notable Dotables…

Schmidt: Well… are the reviews in?

Elizabeth: The reviews for what?

Schmidt: My new body — its pitch, its yaw, my new perfectly sculpted pubic topiary.

Schmidt: You never cared what people thought — even last night with the window open and the wolf howls.

Neighbor through the wall: It was very uncomfortable!

Elizabeth [pounds on the wall]: Stop threatening to move, Bernie, and just move!

Elizabeth: It’s still impressive. But did you lose weight down…

Schmidt: It’s slightly smaller. Doctors? No explanation.

Bernie: That’s not normal!

Jess: I have the chance to teach kids again!

Bob: You gotta go!

Jess: Dad, you should come with me.

Nick: Yeah, you should go with your daughter.

Bob: What am I gonna do? Sit in your car and get mugged? I didn’t gay my way out of Vietnam just to be killed by some punk. No, no. I’ll stay with him.

Nick: Oh no, that’s a bad idea. That doesn’t work for me. I’ve got stuff I’ve gotta do.

Bob: Stuff? You don’t have any stuff. Name one stuff.

Nick: Documents?

Schmidt’s Coworker: Schmidt, you have moment?

Schmidt: I have unlimited moments.

Coworker [stage-whispering about Elizabeth]: Custodial keeps sending us these spooky Eastern European girls.

Elizabeth: You want to see spooky? Call me “spooky” again. I’ll spook the ass fat right out of your lips.

Schmidt [to Nick and Jess]: Ohhhh, look who took the romance spot. We were just going to match up constellations with the mole patterns on my back.

Elizabeth: Then we’re gonna get drunk and try to find people doin’ it.

Jess: First come, first served. Scram!

Schmidt: Oh, is that how it is now? You just own the roof [pronounced “ruff”]?

Winston: What’s everybody doin– You guys remembered? This whole time I thought everybody just forgot [my birthday]! [To Schmidt] Is that a golden telescope? You know how much I love to explore space and time, man!

Everybody: Happy birthday!

Read more:

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‘New Girl’: Jake Johnson, Liz Meriwether talk Jess and Nick [SPOILER], reveal ‘Virgins’ alternate ending

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