The first scene of the season 5 premiere of New Girl mirrors the last scene of the season 4 finale: Schmidt is down on one knee. But this time, the object of his undying affection is Nick, and Schmidt isn’t proposing marriage. Oh no, for Schmidt, it may even be bigger than that. To a half-disinterested Nick who is sloppily brushing his teeth, Schmidt utters with conviction, “Nicholas Miller, will you do me the honor of being my best man?”
Their tender best friend moment plays out exactly they way you would want and expect, in that perfectly faux dramatic way that leaves you happy the New Girl boys are back on your screen. After Nick him-haws over the gold ring engraved with the letters “BM” — for best man, naturally — Schmidt says he thinks Nick is ready to take on the task, “it just scares the hell out of [him].” Then cue Winston, who emerges from the shower to hand Nick a few bucks, implying that there was a behind the scenes bet going on to see just how long Nick could keep up his act.
Over on the girls’ side, we get much of the same dynamic we know and love. Jess is eyeing Cece down like she’s trying to use telepathy to communicate with her, hoping that Cece will spit her question out already. Cece slowly sips a cup of coffee before offering a relaxed, “Would you wanna be my maid of honor?” to which Jess responds in a total Jess way, with an over-excited, unbridled “YASS!” The guys meet up with the gals for a celebratory toast and Jess sing-songs her belief that the gang can take on anything. “It’s gonna be the year of us.” This pre-title-card bit pulls the audience right back into the quirky but heartfelt world of the loft and its tenants without missing a single beat.
A month passes between Jess’s domination declaration, and she has a less than pleasant but well-intentioned surprise planned for Cece. She has flown Cece’s mother — “Big Mama P” (Anna George) — into Los Angeles to attend Cece and Schmidt’s engagement party. Although she’s a former romantic and Bollywood dancer, Mrs. Parekh is one tough cookie and gaining her blessing will take a village. And if it’s successful, it will be a thing of miracles. Adding that kind of pressure into an already chaotic mix of emotions within the group creates a perfect storm for disaster. But, knowing our gang, they’ll ultimately prevail, even if it isn’t in the way they had initially hoped.
Season 5 makes its debut in a way that feels both like a reunion among long separated friends and their realization that times are a-changing. Though the pack of pals slips into old habits, it’s something in which I don’t entirely find fault but rather feel is a potential “control” to which development can be compared as well as a comedic choice given the stressful circumstances of the episode.
Such circumstances include Winston trying to shake the no-fun hero persona he’s gained after a good deed, Nick making a grave mistake on a best man task, Jess taking a hard and fast tumble and Schmidt perfecting his preliminary wedding vision board — one inspired in equal parts by Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy and the “Power Gays,” otherwise known as Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, and Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka. When you strip back the layers of this mass of jittery pandemonium, there’s a genuine and universal desire lying beneath: each character wants to grow into something more, something better than they once were.
“Big Mama P” shows promise for development, maturity and evolution of the characters and the show itself without losing the humor or the joie de vivre. It’s a solid season opener, and I have high hopes for a new, more grown-up feel for New Girl. It really will be the year of them.
Highlights: The Bollywood dance troupe “Mah-hot-moves Gandhi.” Schmidt telling Nick he’s simply picking Cece’s mom up from “the airport in a car, not outer space in a canoe.” The line, “Like Jay-Z, I have 99 problems. But unlike Jay-Z, I have zero caveats.”