New Girl: Season 3, Episode 10
Clavado En Un Bar
Often when discussing the success of a show, character “growth” is a bullet point critics consider. Usually growth is seen as how does the character change throughout the run of the series. How did he or she get from point A to point B. This can be evaluated from either a plot perspective (Walter White starts as a middle class chemistry teacher and ends up a multi-million dollar meth kingpin) or from a non-tangible thematic or personality change (Walter White feels beaten down by the world then his ego and drive for ‘success’ shapes him into a monster, telling us something about human nature). What links these two ideas are the decisions our characters make. Most of the time we see them on screen, but sometimes we start dealing with the repercussions of decisions made long ago.
So how does this work in New Girl’s “Clavado En Un Bar”? New Girl has always been a show about 30-something’s figuring out their path. Whether it was problems with their career or with relationships, the flatmates have never seemed too comfortable in their current place on that path. This week Jess is faced with a choice of leaving her job as a school teacher for a job at a children’s museum. The gang gathers to discuss the conundrum in the bar and we get an episodic structure showing us how everybody made a tough decision on their way to where they are now. Of course, none of their decisions are as clear cut as they once thought, and sometimes they may not have been their own conscious decisions at all.
Winston talks about how he “chose” to play basketball ever since he was a kid. This led him to achieving his dream of making the bench of a Latvian team. He slowly figures out that maybe he never had a choice in this. He was raised to play ball ever since he was a baby and he only ever left Latvia because he was told he could never play again due to injury. He never really had a choice. This sends him into a bit of a tailspin. He quickly opts to quit his job in a desperate attempt to gain ahold of his own life. While Winston has correctly been criticized as largely one-note (he’s kinda crazy), revealing a past where everything was lined up for him by some other power feels appropriate. Winston’s always seemed like someone barely holding on to control.
Schmidt talks about how he was once a candy striper, volunteering at the hospital. But he quickly learned that being a good guy wasn’t getting him what he wanted – those pretty nurses. He takes the advice of a skeezy guy who says to get into marketing. Schmidt became a Christmas tree salesman, and loved it. Of course, he again had a questionable mentor in an old man who valued money over all things. After all, you totally CAN take it with you when you die.
I’ve always found Schmidt to have the most interesting psychology of the whole gang. Schmidt, at his core, is a good person, but he gives in to past insecurities and societal expectations more than anyone. It’s part of the reason why I found his dating two women at once storyline so problematic. Most of Schmidt’s story had him grow – he recognized that finding love in a meaningful relationship with CeCe is something he would actually want and something worth fighting for. The flashbacks of Schmidt provided an interesting window into how he became the man we met at the beginning of the series. The tag of Schmidt at the end was funny, but also very resonant. The guy trying to get you into a Spruce tree today is truly happy. Maybe Schmidt can find that guy again soon. It certainly seems a bit of a ways off after the double dating fiasco.
Jess tells a story about helping out a young kid who was picked on at school by the other country club elites. To her, this is where her path really started; the passion was ignited. But like Walter White’s monster that lurked deep down, the teacher in Jess had been there long before. Weird, comparing Jess and Walter White, but stick with me. Jess’ decision may have moved her story along. She taught the kid, she became a teacher. As plot, that gives us some idea into her growth as a person. But it’s the moment CeCe brings up with Jess that provides even deeper growth. Jess is kind to a young struggling CeCe. She’s funny, patient and willing to help out. It’s a beautiful moment between friends and it gives further insight into the pair’s relationship.
Nick’s decision story is interesting in that he attended law school, passed the bar and still did not want to go through with it. He wanted something else for his life. He found that bartending made him really happy and he just stuck with that. While I often find Schmidt’s psychology more interesting, Nick is the most studied character on New Girl. So much so that his inability to move on from relationships (first season) or his inability to be a grown up (second season) were explored extensively. When he reveals to Jess that he could have been a lawyer, but chose a different rout, we see admiration in her eyes. There’s no disappointment he turned down the money. These two could make it, gosh darn it.
Coach’s story of how he decided to go down the path of changing his name from Ernie (!) to that of his profession felt less substantial than the other cutaways. Coach is intense and he screams. Earlier this season we’ve seen him as emotionally vulnerable. However I still think the show has a long way to go with developing Coach. We not only saw the “growth” from the other characters in their stories, but they also were able to add to the story of their journey thought their tales of big decisions. Winston needs to make decisions for himself, Schmidt was happiest as a salesman, but does he make his choices for the right reasons? Jess is a teacher at heart, it’s in her blood and while it may be difficult now, she hopes of climbing the ladder to the principal’s office where she could make an even bigger difference in kids‘ lives. Lastly, Nick’s story was that of a decisive young man who found something he enjoyed and pursued it. Coach’s felt a bit empty to the others by comparison.
So with the exception of Coach, the story-by-story structure of “Clavado En Un Bar” worked very well. Jess, like Nick, chooses teaching because it is her true passion, and a bit of extra money isn’t worth it. Schmidt of course is incredulous at the idea of turning down the bigger paycheck. Much is made of the short amount of time Jess has to make her choice. The episode is ostensibly in real time. But I think Jess made her decision a long time ago. Her apprehension comes from that general unease we all have on our paths – are we going the right way? It’s completely reasonable of Jess to wonder, but from what we knew coming in and what the writers told us in the short time we had at the bar, she chose what will likely make her happiest. And isn’t that what we all want?
-Solidly funny, yet not the top tier of what New Girl has to offer. Though I appreciate an episode that rewards fans who have been there from the beginning. This is a building block of an episode.
-Coach’s name is Ernie! OK, I guess.
We need some more Brian Posehn. Nice to know that even his TV characters have to be stoners.
-Winston wonders if we’re all just living inside the mind of a giant.
-“For a Jewish giant I had a knack for selling Christmas trees. Not only did my wide center of gravity make me freakishly strong, but I could also sell like the wind.” Schmidt recounting his days of glory.
-That kid Jess tutored? He goes by “Baby Madoff” now
-“My last job was for a phone sex ad, and I was the one calling.” – CeCe
-“The hard is what makes it good.”-Nick with some wise words
-I liked Nick and Jess’ flirting with the principal career thrown out there.