Considering that Jessica Day is both a teacher and a vice principal, you’d think that she’d be better with children. Almost always, when New Girl attempts to put its stars—especially Jess—amongst kids, the show falters, as it did with such episodes as “Bells” and “Bully.” New Girl has become more comfortable with Ms. Day at school, but with “Dance,” we get back to problematic school days.
In “Dance,” Jess is planning a school dance with the unfortunately picked theme “Love Is Forever and Ever…(continue 10 more times),” that no one has any interest in going to or chaperoning. Minutes before the dance, Jess finds out that the gym has been sabotaged by a gym lock ensuring no one can get in and causing all of the chaperone teachers to abandon her. Thankfully all of Jess’ friends aren’t doing anything other than hanging out at the bar, arguing over whether Winston, Nick and Schmidt are boys or men, like Cece’s rarely seen twenty-year-old boyfriend, and all four come to Jess’ rescue.
The only chaperone to stick by Jess is Coach, who doles out responsibilities for all the guys. Winston has dance floor duty, yet with his inability to keep “the heat locked up” and his penchant for dancing to “Call Me Maybe,” he immediately gains a group young female followers. Schmidt is told to watch the snack table, which goes downhill once a mean kid calls him a “flamer,” bringing Schmidt back to his chubby days and leading him to challenge the kid to a foot race. Meanwhile on parking lot duty, Nick meets two kids who he convinces he’s not a ’rone, drinks suicide sodas with them and eventually gets pushed around in a shopping cart by them.
During all of this barely chaperoning, Jess and Cece are trying to find out who locked up the gym—which they eventually get open—then turned the lights off. They immediately assume its Brian Posehn’s teacher, since he didn’t want to chaperone the dance anyways and he is suspiciously eating a banana in the dark hallways. Yet it turns out to be the only student we saw Jess talking to about the dance she was hyping so hard. The little girl was worried about dancing with boys, and as the episode ends, with Schmidt, Winston and Nick—whose band name is “The Dumbest Boys in School”—freestyle rapping and the entire school bursting into dance, everyone finally gets around to having fun at the school dance.
The biggest problem with “Dance” is how it separates its cast into plots that don’t matter at all. In fact, all of “Dance” just feels too light considering the subject matter that’s come the weeks before it. There’s mentions of the breakup at the beginning of the episode, but it quickly diverts into its various subplots.
Jess’ students also never feel like anything more than one-dimensional characters. “Dance” has the bully, the shy girl and a gay stereotype. There’s nothing else to them, frankly, because we’ll probably never see any of them again. Occasionally, the writers try to make Jess’ job the focus of an episode, yet these school elements are poorly fleshed out and unfortunately create the weakest elements of maybe New Girl’s entire series.
“Dance” ends with sort of a mixed message. Jess tells her student that boys are dumb, but you have to keep trying. But as the music kicks in and the dance truly starts, Jess’ dance partner is Nick. Does she mean that she should keep trying with the same guy or that she should see what else is out there, which we’ve already seen before. With only one episode of New Girl left, it’ll be interesting to see if the show is adopting a more laid-back aesthetic, or if we’ll actually see some important relationship decisions being made before the fourth season.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.