It’s not easy for a sitcom to still manage to feel fresh, exciting, and fun after six seasons. Due to the format and genre itself, most times sitcoms are robbed of character development, depth, or constant humor after so many episodes, when the things that made it pop in first place are often the same reasons it starts to fall apart near the end.
The same can’t be said for “New Girl” though, a series which despite a few rough seasons a while back has managed to deliver two consistently funny and memorable seasons back-to-back so far. With last night’s “James Wonder,” the series gave us an episode filled with all of the series’ most reliable old standards, including Cece and Schmidt getting “all cranked up” about Nick, who goes on yet another nervous, drunk tirade — and Jess fumbling to try and achieve what she thinks are well-intentioned dreams.
And of course there’s Winston, who — thanks in large part to Lamorne Morris’s performance — has emerged as one of the show’s strongest players — and last night, he gave us one of his most memorable sub-characters to date in James Wonder, an undercover character he’s created by combining the names of his two favorite singers.
Unlike last week’s “Last Thanksgiving,” this episode didn’t quite manage to thread all of its storylines together under one theme or narrative, but the separation also allowed characters like Winston and Nick to shine. Like when Nick started reflexively shouting, “But I didn’t do anything! I didn’t do anything!” after Jess joked about sending him to detention, reminding us how often, in this strange show, the zanier these characters get, the more realistic and true they somehow feel.
Following Jess’s attempts to convince the Parents Council at her new school to elect her president, the A-plot sees Jess once again fumbling to relate or win over the support of those she needs to. Meanwhile, Winston swoops in as James Wonder, his undercover identity that happens to also be an expert landscaper and widower (his wife got… squished), who instantly becomes a hero among the other parents.
In another show, some of the jokes might have felt inorganic or formulaic, but here they got the best laughs of the night. Like when Winston assumed a mob boss persona out of nowhere, making Jess beg for James Wonder’s help. The only thing the scene was missing was Winston’s cat Ferguson for him to idly stroke — but then, the ubiquitous Ferguson seems far funnier when we never see him at all.
Of course, everything falls apart the second Genevieve (Lucy Punch) starts putting the moves on Winston, and when asked who exactly James Wonder is by the other parents, he sheepishly responds with, “I’m a combination of my two favorite singers.” Even through it all, Jess still manages to get what she wants — but only after agreeing to throw away her Demathalon (“math-decathlon,” an idea she copied from another, South Korean schoolteacher), which she decided wasn’t worth it. She won’t be a Principle for the Parents, she says, but a Principle for the Kids.
The other main plot of the night followed Nick as he struggled to pick out a wedding present for Schmidt and Cece, even after already buying the blender Schmidt wants more than anything else from his gift registry. Nick doesn’t want to gift a gift that’s been specifically asked for, he says — referring to the registry as “a list made by robots” — and when freed from its constraints, predictably fumbles his choice: A tattoo of Cece and Schmidt, posing as Julia Roberts and Richard Gere from “Pretty Woman.”
There are a few things consistently funnier on “New Girl” than when Max Greenfield’s Schmidt gets all worked up, and the growing frustration his character feels towards Nick fulfills on every laugh it shoots for.
That’s the great thing about New Girl too — the dedication the characters are given by both the creative team and the actors playing them. Even through all of their quirks and frustrating mishaps, the bonds they’ve created never test believability. If Cece and Schmidt can come to terms with their faces being on Nick’s leg forever, after all, what can’t they learn to live with? Hopefully, “New Girl” will never actually show us — but in “James Wonder,” they reminded us why we fell in love with this group of weirdos in the first place.
“New Girl” airs Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.