When things get bleak, I watch New Girl. When things get as bleak as they have this year, I share my findings with all of you in hopes of making the world even an iota more cheerful than it was before. Every time I sped through past hits of the FOX series turned Netflix mainstay in 2020, one thought gnawed at the edges of my conscience: Are Nick Miller (Jake Johnson) and Jessica Day (Zooey Deschanel), the winning romantic leads of New Girl, really the best couple the loft produced over seven seasons?
Or, does that high honor actually belong to Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Cece Parekh (Hannah Simone)?
This nagging dilemma is there in holiday episodes like “Thanksgiving IV” (really ponder how quickly Cece rushes her hunky date out of Bangsgiving) and even Taylor Swift’s big day (Schmidt’s lovestruck face on Cece’s wedding day made me burst into tears). But, it never felt like the right time to raise this theory with you, New Girl pals, with so many other pressing concerns (see: the election). All of that changed in the wake of my New Girl Christmas episode marathon last week.
If you do not already believe Schmidt and Cece are New Girl’s very best pairing, the sitcom’s jolly holiday oeuvre is here to school you. Every Christmas, Schmidt and Cece make each other better, kinder people through the power of sitcom-y love — and that’s what New Girl is really about.
Nothing is simple in New Girl, a world where emotionally stunted 20- and 30-somethings desperately try to emote despite their crumbling communication “skills.” Secret mugs are the last remnants of a supposedly dead romance. A surprise cookie can break someone’s brain. Season 1’s “The 23rd,” New Girl’s first holiday episode and ninth-ever installment, is key to cementing this theme. At the beginning of the episode, Schmidt shows up to Cece’s modeling gig to give her “Cecilia No. 5,” the perfume he specially designed for her. Technically, the perfume should smell great — it’s cocoa, sea salt (“because it kinda sounds like Cece”), and sandalwood.
But, it’s terrible.
That twist could easily be the entire gag of the 2011 episode. But something much deeper is going on. A perfume bottle isn’t just a perfume bottle in this show — here, it’s a signal of softening emotions. The only reason we know about the stench of the perfume is because Cece actually tries it. Cece took Schmidt — and his attempt at romance — seriously enough to wear a scent he crafted, which is an intensely intimate act. This is particularly meaningful because Cece has a boyfriend who is so ruggedly handsome, he is played by Stephen Ammell, the man who would launch the CW’s entire DC superhero universe a year later. Cece subtly picks Schmidt anyway. When you take in their flirty, crooked smiles over the gravity of that decision, it’s difficult not to beam yourself. Four episodes later, Cece and Schmidt hook up for the first time.
The series reverses the stakes in 2012’s “Santa.” This time, it’s Cece giving Schmidt a gift so thoughtful it could be embarrassing for someone this painfully out of touch with their feelings. In the previous episode, Schmidt attempts to start a real relationship with Cece, finally admitting he is in love with her. Cece rebuffs him once he shows up to her apartment drunk from a meeting with his boss/former lover (Haunting’s Carla Gugino). Schmidt is clearly still smarting from the rejection, so Cece gives him a Tungsten carbide bracelet to show her appreciation for his feelings. “Because you said that was the most baller metal,” she tells Schmidt in the second half of the chapter. At this point in the episode, it looks like Schmidt coldly pawned the gift off on a random girl at a party in an act of revenge. “Love is stupid,” Schmidt tells Cece to explain his behavior.
Yet, in the last shot of “Santa,” Schmidt dramatically flashes his wrist at Cece, revealing he kept the bracelet all along. The pair shine the same sparkly eyes at each other as they did in “The 23rd” when Cece put on the perfume. “I didn’t really give it away, you know. I would never do that,” Schmidt admits. For Cece, the gift is her way of revealing just how much of Schmidt’s nonsense she actually listened to — and purposefully retained. For Schmidt, keeping the gift, despite his heartbreak, is how he shows he’ll never actually let go of Cece.
The remaining two New Girl Christmas episodes — season 4’s “LAXmas” and season 6’s “Christmas Eve Eve” — continue to count Schmidt and Cece’s ever evolving love story as their highlights. In the former, Schmidt rejects the comforts of a first-class airline lounge — the picture of luxury for a bridge-and-tunnel kid like him — once a stranger is rude to Cece. Still, Cece covertly steals a pillow from the hallowed lounge for Schmidt as a memento of his time there. At that moment, it seems like no two people in New Girl care about each other more or understand the other better. By “Christmas Eve Eve,” Schmidt realizes he can still learn new things about Cece, who is now his wife. Schmidt spends the episode fighting for his bride to receive the gift of her dreams… only to see that perfect present is a bean bag chair from Winston (Lamorne Morris).
As this quartet of merry episodes builds on Schmidt and Cece’s relationship over the years, they aren’t nearly as confident in Nick and Jess’. While one-half of the duo usually pulls off a big emotional gesture for the other — Nick forcing suburban Los Angelenos to turn on their Christmas lights in season 1 is a classic — every holiday chapter is actually grounded in one of their other relationships. In “The 23rd,” Jess’ breaks up with Paul Genzlinger (Justin Long) and, in “LAXmas,” commits to Rayn (Julian Morris) — all thanks to Nick. Jess returns the favor in “Santa” and “Christmas Eve Eve,” securing his rocky relationships with Angie (Olivia Munn) and Reagan (Megan Fox), respectively. Jess even buys Reagan a pricey Christmas plane ticket to ensure Nick could see his girlfriend for Secret Santa.
Come the holidays, New Girl was never quite sure Nick and Jess were soulmates. It never had that problem with Cece and Schmidt.