In “Birthday,” we learn that over time, Jess has had to lower her expectations and not put too much hope into others, especially when it comes to her birthday. In this third and highly divisive season of New Girl, many fans have believed that the show might have hit its peak too early with its fantastic second season, but “Birthday” is here to show that regardless of your expectations, New Girl is still the type of show that can take you completely by surprise.
About halfway through each season of New Girl comes an episode that is truly brilliant and showcases all the things that make New Girl one of TV’s best comedies. In the first season, it was “Injured,” which brought the group of friends together in a way that was stronger and more self-assured than the show had been prior. Last year, it was “Cooler,” the episode that concluded the “will-they-or-won’t-they” question with, “hell yeah they will, and it will be phenomenal.” “Birthday” might be the great episode of season three in that it combines the hilarious one-liners and seemingly improvised comedy with great character advancements for the entire cast, creating one of the funniest and most touching episodes of TV this year.
Jess has basically given up on an outstanding birthday, so she now spends her birthday alone at the movies. Wisely, the show lets us in on the secret that Nick has planned an amazing surprise party for her. However, Nick has forgotten that since the party starts that evening, he still has to entertain her for the entire day. When his last-minute plans of making an omelette for an hour and a half and taking a seven hour nap don’t work out, Jess has resigned herself that Nick just can’t surprise her, even if he does show he cares for her in other ways.
While Nick is stalling for time, he’s got the rest of the group working on the party in other ways. Cece is covering for Nick at the bar, where she is working with Mike (Ben Falcone), who won’t put up with Cece knowing nothing about bartending. So Schmidt heads over to the bar to help out, leading Cece to eventually call Schmidt her friend. It’s great to see Cece and Schmidt uniting once again, even if it is just as friends, and here’s hoping Mike the bartender ends up on the list of returning guests.
Meanwhile, Winston is on cake duty, yet fails when he brings home a cake that says “See You In Hell Boomer,” so the always competitive Coach challenges Winston to a bake off. Damon Wayans Jr. must have inherited some tips on winning from his Happy Endings wife Eliza Coupe, while Lamorne Morris is confused yet determined to beat Coach. I must admit, I didn’t expect the teaming up of Morris and Wayans Jr. to get quite as great as it is, but these two need to stick together, just like their cakes that end up baked together into one.
When Jess finally gives up on hoping that Nick will surprise her for her birthday, she heads to the movies with two heavily buttered popcorns to sulk. But when Nick turns up, and he’s brought all of her friends, Jess realizes that yes, he is much more than she expected. Nick has created an adorable video of her friends and family (and Bearclaw, Outside Dave and the always silent Tran) to show just how much Jess has meant to all of them. It’s a wonderful moment that is sweet, surprising and of course funny, and may rank amongst New Girl’s finest moments.
As a result, “Birthday” is one of New Girl’s greatest episodes and one of the best half-hours of TV so far this year.