Credit: Patrick McElhenney/Fox
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Any doubts I had about Coach and/or Damon Wayans Jr. reassimilating into the show’s ecosystem? Gone. “Menus” was classic New Girl: Stupid, silly, glorious. If for nothing other than the “Work Bitch” workout montage (see below), this week’s episode wasn’t just a return to form. It was an elevation. It was also proof that this show is always, always better when it’s about the ensemble. Every person — even Winston! — had a specific, discrete part in the action, and I loved every second of it. So before I get to work (bitch), YOU get to work, Newbies:

Thanks to an excess of Chinese menus (and, thus, an excess of Chinese delivery), Nick’s ever-growing belly was the impetus of this week’s action. Jess was too self-satisfied by Nick calling her his “girlfriend” to mind his paunch, but Coach knew better. Also, he was still post-break-up and had nothing else to occupy him. So Coach took it upon himself to become Nick’s personal trainer, prodding him about gaining the “boyfriend 15” and pshawing at Nick’s claims that he had a bad back: “You gave me a piggyback ride two days ago, and you giggled the whole time.” Coach finally said firmly, “Either take this dumpling and be a dumpling guy or train with me and be a doing guy.” After being tantalized with the promise of one-day abs (Nick: “I thought God just didn’t give me those”), Turtle Face decided to be a doer.

Schmidt was not pleased about Coach’s success — he had tried to get Nick into the gym for years, after all. Of course, it didn’t help that Coach’s takeover of Schmidt’s room and his plan to shape up Nick began around the time Schmidt handed over his keys to the loft. And, just because the moment was awesome: Schmidt dropped his keys, claimed he wanted space (despite being just across the hall), then said faux-circumspectly, “Everywhere you go… there you are.” (Max Greenfield nailed this delivery once again, as ever.) As Schmidt left, Coach mocked his skinny jeans, and Nick snarked, “He looks like a little puppet — like something some Italian whittled.”

But Schmidt wasn’t alone. Winston was also feeling insecure. To impress Coach, he’d been working on his insult game (“I’ll tell you when the last time [Nick] worked out was — it was the time he battled his daddy’s other dumb sperm in order to make his way to his mama’s dumbass egg!”). But Winston’s scathing wit would never be enough for Coach, and he knew it. To save himself some embarrassment, Winston claimed he’d injured himself shooting hoops the day before (translation: he’d slipped on all the menus while eating a double-scoop ice cream cone). Alas, Coach saw through the ruse because Winston had used this dog-ate-my-homework-esque excuse more than a few times. (Coach: “Remember when you sat out of the game because you were sad?” Winston: “I was also cold.”) But! In a hilarious, didn’t-see-it-coming moment, when Winston insisted on joining the boys’ workout, he mimed a jump shot, slipped for real, and actually did hurt himself. Winnie the Bish, down!

Coach and Nick were the last men standing when it was time to get fit. Coach had developed an acronym: “PEANUTS… it stands for Physical… Education… Activity… NUTS!” More importantly, he had Britney Spears’ “Work Bitch.” As you saw above, this glorious segment started with Nick and Coach “sexy” dancing (unbeknownst to them, a jealous Schmidt joined from his apartment across the hall). The sequence also proved once more what a hilarious physical comedian Jake Johnson is — who else has done “push-ups” by just lifting their butts off the ground? Anyone but me? No? Okay…

The workout ended fairly abruptly when Cece arrived with a big ol’ bag o’ Chinese food for “Jess” — turns out Nick had duped her into bringing it, only to insult her by giving her a $4 tip. (Ha!) Coach made a horrific attempt at flirting, by which I mean he quoted “No Diggity” before seductively doing squats and spluttering out the last-ditch come-on “I’ll tip you good — I’ll tip you right over!” That failure on his shoulders, Coach tried again to get his soft-centered roommate Nick to find his inner doer — this included slapping dumplings out of Nick’s hands. But Nick didn’t want it. (Though it was hilarious when he took a bite of dumpling and realized it was made of vegetables: “I did all that for nothing?!”)

And! Lest I forget: In the midst of all this, Winston rolled out into the living room in a wheelchair he’d found “in a ditch” so he could join the workout. When Jess wheeled him out of the loft (click to the next page to see why), Schmidt couldn’t take it any more: “What’s next? Roberto Benigni coming through the halls, making everybody laugh?!” These people be cray. And I love it.

NEXT: I pity the Foo…

Elsewhere, Jess was planning an Ocean Conservation Day field trip to the beach — she had found ways to cover all costs besides transportation and even had a T-shirt that read “OCD Rules!” Despite pleading for her principal’s sympathy vis-à-vis a student-drawn picture of a shark with legs (apparently her students learned about ocean life from the Syfy channel), Jess was shot down faster than you can say “Save the wh–!” This left the dispirited teacher, who had told her kids anything was possible, to deliver a pitifully meant-to-be-inspirational monologue to a student wearing her hot dog-shaped “beach hat” that ended with her telling the young girl to “ride that hot dog all the way to the moon!” The girl went to give Jess a reassuring arm squeeze, and Jess croaked, “Oh, Crystal, you’re not legally allowed to touch me, but thanks.”

Jess returned to the loft, clearly upset. Instead of processing her anger, she displaced it on the Hop Foo menu pile-up, which she deemed an “ecodisaster.” And so she marched to the restaurant intending to rip the manager a new one. Instead, she found herself giggling with the handsome, charming, conservation-minded front man Brian (Twilight‘s Justin Chon). Jess skipped back to the loft, convinced she’d made a difference in the world… and then another menu slipped under the door. She went to investigate and discovered that Brian was the manager of the restaurant — and a liar.

Jess decided to hit Brian with the heavy artillery and brought in Winston as a lock-jawed “smoking gun” to show he’d been physically harmed by MSG, which the Hop Foo menu claimed the restaurant didn’t use. Brian was not convinced, so Jess vowed to return and rant at the customers every day until the menus stopped. In a drastic, ballsy move, Brian fired the hapless menu guy. Jess felt terrible.

And that’s where our stories tie together. You see, Coach was so forlorn over his inability to reform Nick (which had magnified his feeling of failure over his break-up with Malia) that he was drowning his sorrows in moo shu pork and “island beats.” He was joined by Jess, who figured there was no better time to “see what the enemy tastes like.” Meanwhile, Schmidt’s self-imposed isolation had made him so desperate he tried to slip an “alarm clock” (a.k.a. nanny cam) into the old loft; when that didn’t work, he consulted Outside Dave, who doled out some very sensible advice about growing up and moving on… which he illustrated with a caveman doll (“His name is Connor, and he went to SUNY-Binghamton”) before capping the whole chat off with the sentence: “I once lived with 40 birds, and they all flew away — and I moved on.” And, as previously stated, Winston was in a wheelchair from a ditch, suffering from MSG-induced lock jaw.

In a plot turnabout so crazy it had to work, it was up to Nick to pull his pathetic associates from their darkest hours. He first attempted to express how “dumpling-ers” needed doers like them. That didn’t work. Then he set about showering them with compliments. That picked up the pace a little. Once Winston rolled out of the bathroom, a trail of toilet paper behind him, the stream of consciousness between Nick’s desperation, Schmidt’s neediness, Winston’s newfound resourcefulness with transportation, and Jess’s ability to put it all together equaled one wackily brilliant, only-on-New-Girl plan. Cut to: Jess, the loftmates, and the kids were at the beach, courtesy of the Hop Foo delivery van. All the birds! One stone!

This simple field trip was like a balm on everyone’s soul. Jess’s pupil gave her the hot dog hat as a thank you and a symbol that she still believed anything was possible. Nick was so invigorated by making a difference that he invited Coach for a run (and, in addition to being “shaped like a beanbag chair,” boy did he need the training… let’s just say Nick is no gazelle). Winston found inspiration in an unlikely source, thrusting his fist in the air to proclaim, “I ain’t a quitter! Ironside!” I was laughing so hard at this, I almost missed it when, a few seconds later, Winston wheeled a few inches into a beach divot and fell out of his wheelchair — only to be buried in the sand by a horde of tween girls. And Jess gave Schmidt’s key back, assuring him, “We kind of like having you around.” Though Schmidt had plenty more copies tucked away (obviously), the gesture was not lost on him… even as he ran off to pile sand on Winston. That’s what friends are for!

What did you think, Newbies? I know many of you were already happy with Coach’s return last week, but did this episode show that the show can work as a fivesome? We’re now a third of the way through the season. Do you think New Girl is back on the upswing, hopefully avoiding a deadly case of junioritis? And, even if you miss Furguson, was a wheelchair what it took for Winston to get his groove back? Discuss…

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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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