When Ryan, the charming British gentleman, was introduced as a sexy new teacher at New Girl Middle School—one whom Jess couldn’t date because she’s the Vice Principal or whatever—it seemed obvious where things were going. They can’t be together, but they want to be together, and then things will have to be kept secret, and eventually things will be found out. Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme. Well, this inevitable story took a couple of weeks off before finally returning in “Teachers.” It is making the expected progress, but while Ryan and Jess’ forbidden love is not necessarily inventive or interesting, it didn’t stop this from being the best episode of Season Four of New Girl thus far.
Since we last heard of Jess and her little predicament, she’s evidently taken to just throwing stuff down and running away whenever Ryan approaches her at work. Now, though, they are going to be together at a teachers conference. So, you know, big problem right there. Coach, who you may recall also teaches at the school now, will hopefully serve as Jess’ buffer. However, once he has an existential crisis wondering if he is capable of teaching Health, he runs off to the bar to hang out with Ned and the gang, leaving Jess alone with Ryan.
There’s not really any humor in their interaction. Ryan is great, he loves crafting and stuff, and then he saves Coach when he drunkenly falls into the pool—but not until after he’s also made Coach feel that he can, in fact, teach Health (which in this world is just sex education, or at least that’s the part they emphasize for humor). Jess professes her feelings and gets embarrassed, Coach vomits into an ice bucket, and then later Ryan tells Jess he’s into her too, and they kiss. Check off another box on this storyline.
If you care about Jess and her love life, then maybe you are into this stuff. However, for all of Zooey Deschanel’s charms and the humorous quirks of the character, her inner life is just not terribly interesting, and she’s not a likeable enough character to really care. If things aren’t going to be funny, it doesn’t really matter. Fortunately, they managed to give Jess just enough funny stuff to do in the margins, when she wasn’t making moony eyes with Ryan, such as her letter to herself. Plus, Coach was along to bring the laughs.
But the real powerhouse of this half-hour is the other story—the story of guy’s night. What begins as a change for Nick, Schmidt, and Winston to let their hair down and do masculine things (like ersatz version of the American Gladiators game joust) turns into a real night of learning and emotional togetherness. It turns out Schmidt doesn’t know how to do laundry, and Winston doesn’t know how to use a ruler. Thus, Nick takes it upon himself to teach them both, and so then we get to see Winston walking around with a ruler measuring all sorts of stuff. It is as delightfully bizarre as it sounds.
Then, Nick professes that he doesn’t know how to love, and it is obvious what comes next. Yes, three dudes sitting under a fake tent, drinking Sangria and singing along to “I Wanna Know What Love Is.” A real heart-to-heart ensues, but this one mixes actual funny stuff with the emotional beats. This whole storyline is hilarious and makes the best use of these three characters, who are also probably the three strongest, most developed characters on the show. The fact that none of them are the titular New Girl is probably a bit concerning, but that’s a story for another day.
“Teachers” manages to be a very good, very funny episode of television, despite the time spent on Jess and Ryan’s tale of love and lust, and spools of yarn. While Jess’ current storyline is another example of this series as a show that wants to be Friends when it works so much better as a Seinfeld, this is only a minor quibble; everybody else is getting to be really funny, and Deschanel is making the most of her small opportunities to be humorous in her own right. Eventually, things with Ryan will blow up, and maybe that will be funny, but New Girl is just better when you’re spending time with dudes in a makeshift tent singing Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello,” and dreaming of being a floating orange in a glass of Sangria.
Chris Morgan is an Internet gadabout who writes on a variety of topics and in a variety of mediums. If he had to select one thing to promote, however, it would be his ’90s blog/podcast, Existential Parachute Pants. (You can also follow him on Twitter.)