"Cruise" is an appropriate title for an episode that essentially "cruised" through the best and worst parts of New Girl's third season, docking lazily in the first available port and leaving us with an acceptable—if somewhat bland—outlook as we head into New Girl''s fourth season in the fall. I had high hopes for the finale in the same way that I had high hopes for the season itself, and I wouldn't exactly say that I'm disappointed with either one, but "Cruise" certainly skirted the boarder of underwhelming, which I guess is a close neighbor of disappointment. In short: I didn't hate "Cruise" and I didn't hate New Girl's third season, but compared to the endless parade of awesome that was Season 2, both the finale and the whole of Season 3 fell short.
In the beginning, the S.S. Nessy was seaworthy and the question was simply, "How long are Nick and Jess allowed to be happy and stable?" Happy and stable are boring, after all, and with no sign of cancellation looming just yet, New Girl needs to milk the drama surrounding it's endgame couple for at least another season or so. Quirky getting-to-know-you antics can only go so far; the truth is, Nick and Jess needed to break up at least once during the course of New Girl's lifespan.
However, sinking the ship didn't solve all of New Girl's WTF DO WE DO NOW? problems—it merely changed the picture by drawing new ones. Nick and Jess were no less aimless in the aftermath of their break-up, and instead, fell into the tiresome existence of being awkwardly separated: the pining and the lusting and the crying and the sharing friends and being weirdos about it. If New Girl couldn't figure out what to do with Jess and Nick, perhaps it would've been better to focus on some of the other characters for a little while. New Girl is, after all, an ensemble show at heart, and it's often at its best when everyone gets an equal amount of screen time.
Winston has grown exponentially this season, coming into his own as a fully realized character with actual motivations, a personality, and his own fair share of oddball traits that make him fit right in among his roommates. Winston's growth and Lamorne Morris's expanded role was one of—if not THE—strongest aspects of early Season 3. But then the show's focus tapered off. Ferguson came and went at odd times, and Winston's wacky-yet-delightful ladyfriend disappeared. And then Winston was finally admitted to the police academy, only for the show to hit pause on that story.
The Schmidt and Cece stuff was stretched waaaaay beyond its limit, and while Schmidt's maturation was apparent in his willingness to accept Cece as a friend rather than as a lover, at times it seemed sudden—especially during the conclusion of "Cruise," where he (literally) dropped his plan to win her back on the high seas. Also: Let's be honest, Cece and her child bride are so not going to last. Just look at how much non-attention New Girl has devoted to the dude. At least all of Jess's not-Nick boyfriends had some real screen time every now and then. Now, I don't know that an entire season or half-season dedicated to Schmece would have made things any better, but that goes back to the reality of where New Girl's strength lies: not in attention overdrive with the couples, but in a balanced ensemble approach.
Then there's Coach: Poor Coach. I wasn't so wild about his initial return to full-time roommate status, mostly because the show didn't seem to know what to do with him, but eventually he was better utilized and given the Winston Treatment: a personality of his own, stories of his own, motivations of his own. It was awesome... until it wasn't. Can we talk about how Coach was practically exiled in his stateroom for the entirety of "Cruise?" If that doesn't scream "we don't know what to do with this character," then I don't know what does. And that definitely doesn't bode well, given that New Girl just upped Damon Wayans Jr. to series regular status for Season 4.
"Cruise" itself wasn't without its highlights; Schmidt's rage against nautical puns and the gang's intervention and subsequent three-day tour of their teeny, tiny stateroom brought the lulz. But the latter only serves to emphasize that New Girl needs to retrain its focus on the group dynamics instead spending so much time on the relationship stuff if it truly wants to regain some of the favor it lost during this turbulent third season.
– "We did bad things to the tub" —Jess. Such a simple phrase to relay such horrors.
– I loved how everyone predicted that Nick and Jess would make the cruise weird and awkward.
– I get that New Girl probably doesn't have the budget to actually film on a cruise ship, but at no point could I even pretend that the setting ever left the port or actually moved.
– Thoughts on Season 3? What's on your Season 4 wishlist?