Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner guest-starred as Jess’s long-divorced parents on New Girl’s ode to dysfunctional family Thanksgivings. Jess apparently has a long history of ensnaring her parents in “parent traps” in the name of reuniting the family, and this Thanksgiving was no exception when her carefully scheduled parental dinner sessions just so happened to overlap, forcing them to share a meal for the sake of politeness. Oopsie.
Schmidt’s meathead cousin, played by Rob Riggle of The Daily Show and SNL fame, also got in on the awful family awkwardness fun when he referred to himself as “Schmidt,” much to our Schmidt’s consternation. It’s like Highlander—there can be only one. Unhappy with the title of “Schmagle” that Big Schmidt so graciously bestowed upon him, Schmidt participated in a battle of manliness to determine which cousin had the right to the Schmidt title. Things definitely got a little weird—but such is the nature of Thanksgiving, right? I mean, I’ve been to dinners where the kids' table ends up drunker than the adult table, mostly because the “kids” in question are now in their twenties, but it’s still bizarre—especially when the adults continue to make you sit at one of those little plastic Fisher Price numbers.
Jess and Cece gave Momma Day a makeover and Jess encouraged Nick to flirt with her mom to pique her father’s interest. Nick wasn’t a huge fan of that idea because without twins, Jess’s parent trap wasn’t a true parent trap. He was also concerned that he would ruin it because, as he said, “I’ve got something bad inside me. I ruin things.” And of course, the icing on the cake, Nick and Papa Day actually got along quite well, what with both of them being miserable human beings who really just wanted to get through the day drunk and un-food-poisoned.
Except, of course, Nick eventually caved to Jess’s pleas and once the flirting started, it didn’t stop... until Jess’s dad took a shot of turkey drippings to the chest. Whisking her ex-husband to the bathroom to clean him up, a parental makeout session ensued, much to Jess’s delight. Unfortunately, a turkey-fueled makeout session does not a re-marriage make, and when the sad, brutal truth came out at dinner, Jess unceremoniously tried to jam the turkey into the garbage disposal as Big Schmidt and Schmagle entered round two of their feud: a more refined manhood. And Winston? Poor Winston just wanted to get his tryptophan coma on.
At the center of this festive New Girl was the age-old question of what actually makes a family a family. Sure, it’s been done a billion times over, with each holiday season stuffed to the brim with fables meant to remind us that we don’t have to have the Norman Rockwell turkey dinner—or a picture-perfect nuclear family, or the most obnoxious Christmas-light extravaganza on the block—to understand and appreciate the sentiment of the holiday season. Jess’s desire for her parents to get back together can be traced to its original childhood hurt, the initial break-up that was probably so jarring to her understanding of “family.” Jess has often been portrayed as the most “innocent” and naive of the four loftmates, and it would have been easy for the New Girl writers to base the entire parent trap joke on this single aspect of Jess’s character. It still would have been funny. Jess’s disappointment at her parents’ refusal to get back together would have smarted. But the characters we’ve grown attached to on New Girl are more intricately written than that; they're more than merely one-dimensional puppets.
Jess’s parent trap tradition may have been born out of childhood fears and wants, but over the years, as Jess has grown into an adult, her motivation also evolved. This Thanksgiving, it wasn’t about having the picture-perfect, two-parent family. With the revelation that her father’s longtime post-Momma Day partner had cheated on him, Jess worried that as her parents aged untethered to any significant others, that they would become sad and lonely old people. She saw the worst possible outcome to their situation and immediately applied it to her own life, which hasn’t been so awesome with the romance aspect either.
When finally confronted with the truth about her parents’ relationship and the problematic nature of her relentless quest to force them back together, Jess lamented that she only wanted a family. Her mother pointed out that she has a family—even divorced, her parents are still there for her. The Days are still a family, just a different kind of family. Jess also has Schmidt, Nick, Winston, and Cece. It’s the seasonally contrived sort of message every TV show seems to clamor for every holiday season, especially during Thanksgiving, which by its very nature is supposed to be all about looking at what you have and being content with it... and also football and food comas and, for the cynical among us, smallpox.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a story worth telling. Blah blah blah families come in all shapes and sizes and they don’t even necessarily have to share DNA to be valid. I’ve considered Jess, Cece, Nick, Winston, and Schmidt to be a TV family of their own breed since New Girl debuted. It was nice to see New Girl acknowledge that fact as well.
– One-liner of the night, from Cousin Schmidt: “I got the belts set up in the bedroom. Ready to see who blacks out first?” Awkward.
– “You’re gonna love my dad so much—he’s so unhappy.” The miserable relatives never fail to be the coolest relatives at the dinner table, yo.
– The boys’ disbelief that anyone could be perkier than Jess was great. OH THE HORROR.