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watching season seven of New Girl

Writer/creator Elizabeth Meriwether’s brilliant, shockingly long-lasting sitcom New Girl started its seventh and final season April 10 on Fox, and if you want to see how far it’s come, look no further than Schmidt (Max Greenfield), its breakout character and the source of the Krameresque typecasting that will surely follow Greenfield for the rest of his career. In the show’s pilot, Schmidt was a self-assured, sexually aggressive bro/marketing executive whose idea of flirting was pleading the vapors and pulling off his V-neck t-shirt. Now, seven years later (ten in the show’s timeline), Schmidt is a fussy stay-at-home dad with a Super Troopers mustache, and the role of the hyperspecific, out-there weirdo has gradually fallen to his former roommate, Winston (the inimitable Lamorne Morris). Winston, initially the ostensible straight man of the central group of unlikely loftmates, started the series off playing Latvian basketball, then became a sports radio producer, and is now a color-blind cop obsessed with puzzles and his exotic shorthair cat, Furguson. If there’s a succinct way to endorse this show, it’s that all of the above feels totally earned.

The first two seasons of New Girl, notable at the time for Zooey Deschanel’s seemingly inexplicable decision to leave the movies to star as middle school teacher Jess Day (and launch the unfortunate adjective “adorkable”), were flawless hangout television—the humor wasn’t slapstick or situation-oriented like most of its network brethren. Instead, the laughs (and there have always been a great many laughs) were behavioral. Winston, left alone with Jess’s friend Cece (Hannah Simone), persisted in referring to their time together as a “Winston-Cece mess-around,” a moniker that inexplicably stuck. The loftmates feigned their disgust when “Takin’ Care of Business” came on a bar’s jukebox, only to slowly segue into an almost frighteningly enthusiastic group sing-along. Schmidt pronounced chutney “chut-a-ney.” It was in many ways the twenty-first century’s Seinfeld, more interested in social mores and foibles than hugging and learning, only set in Los Angeles, heavy on jokes about drinking games, and featuring 100 percent more guest appearances by Prince.

The only narrative that came to fruition in any of this was the prolonged will-they-won’t-they between Jess and oafish bartender turned hugely successful writer, Nick Miller (Jake Johnson). Thus the inevitable issues when it turned out that they would—after an almost painfully gradual transition from friendship, in season three, Nick and Jess became a couple, and the show lost creative steam fast and hard. Meriwether’s strengths as a writer have always been comedic tension and lack of resolution (note how the panicked Nick’s eyes widen, and stay that way, when faced with even the slightest social discomfort). No surprise, then, that Nick and Jess were quickly separated, and the show set about digging itself out of its hole over the following three seasons. New Girl, as a rule, isn’t the best at dealing with endings.

How then, to consider this seventh season, eight episodes squeezed into Fox’s schedule at Meriwether’s behest to wrap up the story? The story didn’t need wrapping up, not really—by the end of the workmanlike but effective sixth-season finale, written by Meriwether, Nick and Jess are safely in each other’s arms, Schmidt and Cece, now married, are expecting, and Winston is engaged to Aly (guest star Nasim Pedrad). There’s never really any doubt, in the seventh season’s first episodes, that Nick and Jess will end up engaged, too, though the show tries to convince us that it’s not a done deal. The end of the whole rigamarole has been relatively easy to predict for the past season and a half, which is probably the reason the really chokingly hilarious episodes of yesteryear have been relatively few and far between.  Everyone on the show is financially successful and in a happy, stable relationship. What’s funny about that?

New Girl seems to be back just because its audience wasn’t yet finished with the characters. In the second episode of the season, the show manages to work Winston, Nick and Schmidt back into the loft (only Nick and Jess still live there), and the environment seems to reinvigorate the characters and resurrect the digressive ping-pong dialogue that’s become the show’s trademark. (Nick, as to why he owns Mao’s Little Red Book: “You see a red book, you buy a red book.” Schmidt: “What do you do with blue books?” Nick: “Don’t buy.” Schmidt: “Yellow books?” Nick: “Wait on it.” Winston, who’s on the couch watching Three Men and a Baby, chimes in: “That’s true.”) If the contrivances that drive these interactions have become more noticeably sitcommy since the show’s inception, it’s largely forgivable. Story doesn’t matter—all it takes is these five characters in a room (especially the men, whose bizarre inner lives have always been better-developed), and the sparks inevitably fly.  

Finding the right way to end a series is a tricky thing, but New Girl may have stumbled on a solid solution in the ending of last Tuesday’s episode, six weeks before the real thing: As Schmidt and Cece, done in by their three-year-old, Ruth, collapse onto their bed in exhaustion, Jess sings a lullaby, Winston does barbershop backing vocals, and Nick tells sordid stories about his childhood in Chicago all at the same time, creating a beautiful cacophony of comic nonsense. To cap it off, Ruth marches into the bedroom, screams “I’m awake!” and smashes a pair of cymbals together. Just another day in L.A.