By Lanford Beard
January 08, 2014 at 05:30 AM EST
Adam Taylor/Fox
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It’s a new year, Newbies, and Jess & Co. had to look back in order to move forward on Tuesday night. Given this season’s unfortunate stasis thus far, it was only appropriate that “Clavado En Un Bar” (named after the song that closed out the ep) was predicated upon a scenario that could have been a total game-changer, at least in Jess’s mind, but it ultimately resulted in the gang mostly resisting any sort of forward movement.

Sure, the ep had its moments (“this crazy English muffin we call Winston’s life,” a recurring visual gag involving African-American newborns and basketballs, Nick’s habit of quoting sports movies like… A League of Their Own), but season 3 has yet to recapture last spring’s magic or sense of character development. That said, tonight’s installment opened and closed many doors for the characters, so maybe it will ultimately set up a bit of momentum so that New Girl can close out the season on better footing. Until then… read on to find out about Jess’s potentially life-changing opportunity. 

The set-up: Jess was offered a job at a children’s museum where she’d been volunteering, and she only had 21 minutes to decide whether to take it, which would not only change her entire career path but also untether her sense of identity from her job as a teacher. A substantially higher salary at the museum job was one of its biggest pros, especially in light of a recent “renovation hiccup” at her school that meant she was facing months, maybe years, of sharing a classroom with both the algebra and biology classes (the latter’s teacher was played by the ever-hilariously creepy Brian Posehn). But, again, so much of Jess’s identity was tied up in her career. What was a dork to do?

When $45 of Scotch from the guys’ tasting didn’t provide any clarity, Jess began to listen to the stories of her friends and roommates. Winston got the ball rolling when he flashed back to himself being handed a basketball as an hours-old infant. Winny was trying to emphasize the importance of making decisions, claiming he’d had to make some really tough ones in his day. Only problem? Through the course of telling his story, he realized he’d never made a decision in his damn life — well, except for some truly questionable style choices (a nose ring and Dennis Rodman-style blue-and-cheetah-dyed hair, for starters). Throughout his glory days as “the ninth man off the bench in the eighth-best team in Latvia,” which resulted in a transfer to a hillside team and a consequent career-ending injury, Winston had been a pawn of fate all along. Was he, as he wondered aloud, “just living inside the mind of a giant?” That quandary aside, Winston finally did make a decision — to quit his current job. Ensuring he’d have to make a real go of this new independence, he “burnt a lot of bridges today… stuff got weird, stuff got racial. [He] used a lot of swear words then got sexual.” Considering Winny the Bish couldn’t even decide on a consolation drink (Nick ended up pouring his usual double amaretto with extra cherries), his immediate future is dicey at best.

Like Jess, Schmidt had also been a volunteer once. Specifically, a candy striper. (“Sick people wanted me. Dying people wanted to be me,” he explained. Nick offered a different perspective: “[You were] like a 300-pound wall of peppermint bark.”) He took a right turn away from selflessness, though, when he developed a crush on an NILTH (“Nurse I’d Like to Hug”). After the guy she was dating, who happened to be in advertising, off-handedly advised Schmidt that he’d never get a girlfriend without a more lucrative occupation, Schmidt abandoned altruism for good. Unfortunately, Schmidt knew he was too rotund for a looks-conscious ad man position, so he joined Nick on a Christmas tree lot, helped by how his “wide center of gravity made [him] freakishly strong.” While Schmidt slimmed down and toned up through manual labor, he also worked on his sales pitches. Soon enough, his boss fell ill (to the tune of “Gangsta’s Paradise” because…?) and advised him that money was all that mattered in this world. He left the trees to the birds, dropped the pounds, and moved up in corporate America. And just in case you weren’t completely clear where Schmidt stood on Jess’s job conundrum, his exact words were, “Follow them ducats.” (All of this wasn’t to say Schmidt had totally hardened his heart to his humbler days; at the end of the episode, he stopped by a tree lot on his way home at the end of the ep — which I’m guessing was supposed to air in December? — and took part in a little nostalgic Christmastime capitalism.)

NEXT PAGE: Coach’s real name, Nick and Cece’s stories, and Jess’s decision

In news that absolutely won’t shock you, Coach‘s plotline was pretty scant. His defining character trait this week was that he likes to time things. If he starts double dating cats with Winston, we’ll know this show officially doesn’t know what to do with non-white people not named Cece (and, considering her weak plot line in this ep, the jury’s pretty firmly out on that, too). Also, his real name is apparently Ernie (at least I think that’s what Schmidt garbled in the middle of a gym full of screaming Latvian basketball fans; he could have just as well  been saying “Brony,” which would be awesome). Nick and Schmidt decided to dub him “Coach” because he bosses around athletes/anyone nearby at random (not to mention the timing tic and numerous “character-enriching” details that I’m sure are desperately being crafted in New Girl‘s writing room at this very moment).

Nick tried several times throughout the night to share his story, but the guys shot that down repeatedly. Eventually, we were reminded that Nick once had terrible, terrible white guy dreads. He took those dreads to law school and wasn’t immediately ostracized. Even slicked-back Warner Huntington III tresses and a Schmidt-approved preppy scarf couldn’t jam Nick’s square peg into the legal world’s round hole. So where did Nick fit in? At the bar, of course! The year was 1997, and Nick took up studying for the bar at the gang’s eventual watering hole. There he saw a put-together, classy-looking chap at the other end of the mahogany and realized he was home! Never mind that now, in 2014, Nick had to play a pint-glasses shell game with the keys of the very same guy — now many years older, nicknamed “Kevin ’97,” and much worse for the wear — so that he wouldn’t drive home drunk. Never mind that! When the bartender over-served himself one day in 1997, Nick jumped behind the bar and found that this bar was the only place he truly liked himself. Sure, it wasn’t a glamorous life, but it was the one Nick chose for himself (even after he passed the bar, Jess learned with considerable surprise).

We saw nothing of Cece‘s professional past, but it was abundantly clear her present was less than ideal. As a 31-year-old model, she’d been relegated to gigs for a phone sex line (“and I was the one calling”) and as “day-old curry” in an antacid commercial. Just as Schmidt could sell anyone a Christmas tree, Nick was the best pitchman for bartending. After hearing his tale and learning that “you can tend bar ’til you’re 90!”, Cece decided to fling drinks, too. And I mean that literally because man was she bad at it. Another career option? Career counselor. After Nick suggested Jess look back at her own first day teaching, she remembered her first job at a super-ritzy private school where she encountered a timid tween named Clifton. She’d tutored him in math to build his confidence after he’d been beaten up by the school’s token “ethnic gay bully” Eddie Viscucci, which was pretty life-affirming in hindsight… until Nick did a quick Internet search and found out the FBI wanted Clifton “Baby Madoff” Collins for embezzlement. (Coach: “Sounds like the math took!”) Cece jumped in and corrected Jess: Cece had, in fact, been Jess’s first student. In a flashback of the girls’ first meeting as tweens themselves, Jess gave Cece reading tips and a spunky, if not entirely apropos, attitude toward tormentors: “They can drive it or milk it as far I’m concerned.” (My own slapdash Internet searching tells me this is a phrase used by Midwestern dads, though that’s pretty much all I can say.)

Circling back, what did Jess decide? Thanks to Cece, she decided not to give up on her calling as a molder of young minds. She turned down the museum job and returned to school, where she made educational lemons out of lemons. Naturally, her boss took all the credit, prompting Jess’s coworker to suggest she take his job. And so Jess had a new trajectory: She would put the “pal” in “Principal”! She would also do what made her happy — and, non-professionally-speaking, that was hanging out with these rudderless goofballs for as long as possible. Because, as they say, “All work and no play makes Jess a dull girl.”

What did you think, Newbies? Were you happy with Tuesday’s return, or did it feel a little too focused on the past and set-up-heavy? Did Jess make the right decision? And is there any way the show can rally in time for May finales?

NEXT: Scotchy Scotchy Scotch-Scotch

Notable Dotables…

Nick: Nothing brightens up a rainy day like a Scotch tasting, guys.

Winston: It’s not raining today. It hasn’t rained in months.

Nick: Shhhhh, don’t ruin the moment.

Winston: There’s actually a huge forest fire. Dude, you should turn on the news.

Nick: This is a 15-year-old French-oak reserve.

Schmidt: A note of cedar, vanilla, tabacky…

Winston: Boozy!

Schmidt: …hunting, fishing, shooting, fatherhood, bonding, sadness… [looks down wistfully, whispers] please don’t leave me!

A Nick joke you sporty folk probably get…

“This moment is so chill and absent of drama, I want to call it Tim Duncan.”

A joke (entertainment) journalists definitely get…

Jess: Anti-future? Who’s anti-future?!

Biology Teacher: I don’t know… the Amish, the dying, the television industry, print media, the record industry, the railroad industry, karaoke machine owners…

Jess takes a typically rosy view of Boogie Nights

“They’re pornographers… but they’re also a family.”

Jess: Don’t be hard on Nick. He has a non-traditional career.

Nick: Or maybe it’s the most traditional. I may be thinking of prostitution.

Snippets from Schmidt’s Tree-Sellin’ Days

Philosophy: “When you’re buying Christmas trees, you’re really buying sex.”

Pitch: “Have you always been short? I’ve always been fat. But who cares how God made you? Don’t let him put you in a skin box. At the end of the day, I’m just a fat guy standing here in front of a short guy telling him that [meaningful pause] I think we’ve found his tree.”

Schmidt: In the words of the late, great Sir Billy Joel–

Jess: Billy Joel is definitely alive, and he’s definitely not a knight.

Schmidt: –“The good, they do die young.”

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