Buoyed by sharp writing, unparalleled character chemistry and an endless assortment of wacky shenanigans, the third season of FOX’s “New Girl” has succeeded in masking many of its creative deficiencies.

But as they continue to gain in significance, those deficiencies, while not enough to negate the show’s charm, make it easier to discern between a good “New Girl” and a great one. They remove the difficulty in determining whether an episode is working because it is uniquely inspired or because the series is so inherently difficult to hate.

By not only minimizing those deficiencies but addressing one of the most notable ones head-on, Tuesday’s “Mars Landing” falls into the “great” category. It easily emerges as one of the season’s finest.

From the onset–a cold open showcasing the most uproarious, most reference-rich edition of “True American” to date–this week’s “New Girl” is one of the most assertive of the season. The energy is there. The urgency is there. Disinterested in handicaps provided by the show’s intrinsic likability, this is an episode designed to re-establish why “New Girl” is considered one of the best comedies on television.

It is no “Parking Spot,” but it, in a rarity for season three, would have been at home in the brilliant back half of the show’s second season.

Undoubtedly helpful in creating the senses of importance and energy is that the show absolutely does have a purpose. Beneath the facades of hangover-induced physical humor, guest appearances from Alexandra Daddario and Stevie Nelson and the show’s most naturally amusing banter is a meaningful crossroads for the Nick and Jess relationship.

A meta-commentary that avoids the self-congratulatory cutesiness typical to most meta-commentary, the episode honestly addresses the show’s stunted central romance in a way that feels faithful to the audience and organic to the characters.

Unable to resist succumbing to the former half of the “will they/won’t they” dynamic, “New Girl” scored with the early moments of the Nick-Jess relationship but then failed to craft an intriguing follow-up. Uncertain of the best progression for the dynamic, the third season of “New Girl” has crafted artificial hurdles to drive conflict between the show’s key male and female characters.

At best disappointingly insincere and at worst downright destructive to the superb dynamic and chemistry between Jake Johnson’s Nick and Zooey Deschanel’s Jess, the “distraction of the week” seemed to reflect a cowardice on the part of the writers. Unconvinced a happy, working version of the couple was compelling enough for television but afraid progressing the relationship beyond what is effectively a “friends with benefits” scenario would prove too constraining for the show, “New Girl” rested in what it viewed as a middle ground.

“Mars Landing” says enough is enough.

Organic in revealing why Nick and Jess are so lovingly compatible but candid in addressing the constant stream of obstacles their relationship invites, “Mars Landing” offers one of the most meaningful and compelling Nick-Jess plotlines of the season.

“What Nick’s about to do will change everything,” the promotional line for the episode, is accurate in suggesting the episode features a major development. Where it fails the episode, however, is in implicitly reducing this to a “hot-shot” or “stunt” episode. Faithful to the show as a whole, the development also comes naturally after an episode of the best exchanges of Nick-Jess drama and Nick-Jess comedy this season. It comes after immersing viewers in the chemistry that made the duo a “one true pair” worthy couple in the first place.

Though their antics lack the focus of the Nick-Jess storyline, the other key characters benefit from being structured into the best possible dynamics. Consumed with fear that her drunk, immature texts will scare off her much-younger new boyfriend Buster, Cece receives limited attention but sells her shame admirably.

Coach, Winston and Schmidt, meanwhile, find themselves entangled in romantic pursuit of their stunning new neighbors (played by guests Alexandra Daddario and Stevie Nelson).

Crushed by the weight of their hangovers but ever-confident in their prowess, Schmidt and Coach construct what they believe is an effective two-man scheme until Winston flips the script by introducing his own, more sensitive form of flirtation. They have no choice but to join the fray.

The subsequent revelation that only one of the girls is single forces Coach and Schmidt to recognize each other–not just Winston–as competition. The result is a feud that is literally passive aggressive; the guys are simply too hungover to be more calculated and effective and less sloppy and destructive in their pursuits.

The epitome of cliched–a cute single girl turning friends into rivals is certainly not original–the storyline works due to Lamorne Morris’ (Winston) flair for physical comedy and Damon Wayans, Jr’s (Coach) and Max Greenfield’s (Schmidt) shared success in delivering hilarious streams of creative, barely coherent dialogue.

Though game enough for the “New Girl” dynamic, Daddario and Nelson do not get much into which to sink their teeth. Their characters exist as mere launching pads to help Winston, Coach and Schmidt reach a heightened state of absurdity. One of the male characters devotes more on-screen conversation to Daddario’s “witch eyes” than he does her actual character.

And even if their roles were bigger, the two actresses had no chance of garnering spotlight in this episode. This is an episode that makes an honest exploration of the Nick-Jess dynamic its top priority and the uniquely humorous dynamic of the other male leads its secondary focus.

It serves to invite Daddario and Nelson into the strongest version of the “New Girl” environment; it is not constructed to showcase their involvement.

But as long as one is approaching this episode in search of the most entertaining half hour possible, why would he possibly resent that episodic composition?


“Mars Landing” airs on FOX at 9PM ET on Tuesday, March 25.

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