In its fourth season, “New Girl” has become a show about nothing. And believe it or not, that’s something very few comedies have successfully pulled off in a post-“Seinfeld” world. “Happy Endings” succeeded, but only after a season of trying to contrive a plot based on how friendships are altered by two friends breaking up. “Cougar Town,” too, quickly became a critical favorite when it dumped its initial conceit and blossomed into a show about forty-somethings stuck in a wine-induced arrested development.
“Teachers” was a misstep in a mostly promising fall for “New Girl.” It was never for a moment believable that Schmidt, the loft’s established neat freak, wouldn’t know how to do laundry. Then again, it paved the way for the return of Fat Schmidt, one of the show’s most reliable go-to gags, only second to Schmidt’s inability to pronounce certain words. Winston and his inability to read measurements on a ruler was even funnier.
The characterization of Nick and Jess was disrespected in their respective plots. Having Nick voice his inability to truly love someone totally neglects the fact that he was in a loving relationship with his roommate. It’s one thing for the writers to want to forget about last season, but they can’t expect their small, devoted fan base to do the same. Meanwhile, having Jess attend a teachers conference alongside Ryan was an equal disservice. It was understandable that she wanted to avoid complicating their work relationship, but all of her efforts felt a lot like they were coming from the dimwitted, sexually ambivalent version of Jessica Day that the writers have long since done away with since the largely forgettable Justin Long arc in season one.
Becoming a show about nothing after becoming too plot-oriented has mainly paid off, and given us episodes like “The Last Wedding” and “Landline.” More of that, and less of whatever this was, please. Writing standalone episodes shouldn’t come at the expense of following through on character development. Some shows can do without it, but not a long-running show that’s only now beginning to shake up its storytelling methods.