The first birthday as a couple can lead to all kinds of anxiety; in fact birthdays in general can lead to this state. For some the idea of a huge party is enough to cause nightmares, whereas some revel in this day of celebration and want the works. Jess falls into the latter camp and after years of disappointment – this is the first time New Girl has shown her birthday – she has a new routine of going to the movies by herself to temper these feelings. This year is going to be different because Nick has a whole surprise planned; except he forgot to plan anything for before the party and now he has a whole day to improvise.
This birthday party is a sign of Nick’s growth even if he still fucks up by forgetting the pre-party distractions and his stalling tactics include a free diabetes test and a really long uphill walk. Sex as a distraction doesn’t help either, as much to Nick’s chagrin it’s the quickest he’s ever been with her. Awkward. The no expectation thing takes a turn for the worse when they stumble upon a birthday party set up in the park and Jess is so taken aback by ‘her surprise’ that Nick just lets the horrorshow play out in front of him.
It’s a case of Jess underestimating Nick, she’s not doing this in a cruel manner and she totally appreciates everything he does for her (including picking up rubber bands for her ponytail, oh Nick), it’s just that she can’t help but run off and cry. She’s not chill and really the more someone repeats that they are, the less this is true. Jess mentions the cool girlfriend trope from movies, which is much like the MPDG and is completely unrealistic. Pretty sure this is a nod to the criticisms that have been leveled at both New Girl and Zooey Deschanel in the past. Regardless, this isn’t who Jess is as she does care about things and she spends a significant portion of this episode crying for one reason or another.
Jess’ sofa sobbing is particularly funny as New Girl enters farce territory with Winston and Coach hiding the crazy amount of decorations with Jess in the room. Coach’s superfluous cartwheel is a nice touch, as is his response to Jess’ baking question “Bakery downtown exploded. Don’t look into it, it’s not on the internet.” All while he has flour smudged on his face. This takes place as she is spilling her soul to them about how she’s disappointed in herself for being disappointed in Nick. Jess knows that she needs to temper her anticipation, if only she could see what was going on behind her in this scene as Winston clutches onto a bunch of surprise balloons.
Despite the rocky start to the day, Nick manages to pull it all together in the end (let’s not look too closely into the logistics) and it leads more tears from Jess. These are the happier kind as it’s the nicest thing that anyone has ever done for her and Jess apologizes for her earlier reaction. It’s a really heartwarming conclusion and circles back to the “real shit and some stupid shit” core of what New Girl is. The video testimonials feature who you would expect and some faces from the past (Tran! Sadie!), so happy to see both Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner popping up “When you were born I got a deli sandwich at the hospital cafeteria and then there was a baby.” It’s Nick’s message that sends me over the feelings cliff as he reveals he still carries the coin that was in his pocket the first time they kissed. Ol’ Nick Miller is definitely a romantic at heart. Oh and Schmidt blows up a car and runs away from dinosaurs in his message, because of course.
It’s an episode that is bookended with the ensemble and shows the writers have got a handle on the different pairings that make up the three individual stories. Jess and Nick are pretty solid at this point and while it doesn’t have the same intensity as this time last year, as a couple they are working for me. This is the first episode to feature prominent Cece and Schmidt interactions since their breakup and further adds to my theory that Nick and Cece are rather alike. Not the bartending skills as Cece is far from being a natural – her version of an old fashioned is gin in a mug with a peanut in it and she somehow set fire to soda water – but with the lack of self-belief. Strength and confidence are skills and Schmidt tells Cece that she should use them, she could also be a little meaner. The plan works and in return Cece refers to Schmidt as her friend; I’m not going to be too thrilled if the Cece/Schmidt romance starts up anytime soon, however this plot is a good reminder of how these characters can bounce off each other.
Ben Falcone is pretty great as Mike, another crotchety employee of this bar who isn’t too thrilled that Nick has traded shifts with Cece, more of him please.
The Coach/Winston rivalry is revisited first as decorations vs. cake (cake always wins) and then as cake vs. cake after Winston gets the wrong (and very scary looking) one from the bakery. It finally feels like all the pieces of New Girl’s third season are falling into place and this is probably the funniest of the three storylines in “Birthday” and one that takes an unexpectedly sweet turn with oven glove handshakes and hugs when the two cakes become one (cue Spice Girls). Coach invoking the word moist is both hilarious and horrifying, though nothing beats a moist sponge – let it be known that writing moist this much has given me a very icky feeling.
New Girl might be the name of the show, yet it’s been clear for a long time that it’s not one individual that holds everything together and this episode has a pay it forward way of showing this; Winston and Coach’s bake off results in one cake, Winston reminds Nick that everyone’s here to help and he can still pull off the birthday surprise, Schmidt gives Cece the boost she needs and Jess ends up with the best birthday surprise. It’s not about what one person can do and these ever changing dynamics reveal that no one person on this show is the level headed one and the guy who is terrible at organizing might just deliver the best present when least expected.