When “New Girl” first premiered on Fox in 2011, it became an instant hit, reaching more than 10 million viewers with its pilot episode alone. But its commercial, and later critical, success didn’t stop the screwball comedy from growing and finding ingenious, if lovably preposterous, ways to bestow nuance onto its characters.
In fact, the Emmy-nominated series remained steadfast in its commitment to audiences and characters alike. Even amid its well-documented fumbles and lesser-favored plotlines, “New Girl” dedicated itself to stitching its pieces back together, relying on a finely crafted thread of self-awareness and evolution.
What started as a starring vehicle for titular new girl Zooey Deschanel transformed into a formidable ensemble piece thanks to the writing panache of creator Liz Meriwether and her team, as well as the bursting comedic talents of Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Hannah Simone and Lamorne Morris.
With its unique mixture of running quirks — take its fictional non-sequitur drinking game True American or the fact that every episode references bears in some capacity — “New Girl” holds its own alongside earlier sitcom heavyweights. While the series has been likened to a 21st century era “Friends,” it can be easy to see influences from such shows as “Seinfeld,” especially if you consider Nick’s deep cynicism and the group’s elaborate propensity for childish mischief.
But despite how riotous and cheerily incomprehensible the series can get, “New Girl’s” through line — above all else — is a rich empathy that never fails to instruct without moralizing, unburden without shaming and care without conditioning. It’s this deep tenderness that led the show to renewed popularity on Netflix amid the height of the pandemic.
So, whether you’re viewing “New Girl” for the first or 100th time, don’t be surprised to find yourself — as Meriwether felt when closing out the series in 2018 — unwilling to let these characters go. And for when you inevitably come across Loft 4D’s doorstep, make sure to pay a visit to its 25 best episodes, ranked by Variety for your (re)watching convenience.
(Season 6, Episode 21)
After six whole seasons, viewers are finally clued into an uncomfortable, outlandish truth — Schmidt’s (Greenfield) first name is Winston. As the two debate over who should take ownership of the name, the A story closes the chapter on Nick (Johnson) and Reagan (Megan Fox), making way for a superb, electric finale (later on this list). “San Diego” also sets up larger arcs later on, with Jess’ father (Rob Reiner) ultimately approving of Nick for his daughter. And, in a refreshing and rare dynamic that highlights Nasim Pedrad’s comic chops, the episode pairs Nick and Aly together; after spending a day inadvertently helping Nick through his communication problems, she earnestly delivers, “I feel like a single mom in a mop commercial.”
(Season 2, Episode 11)
“New Girl,” true to its rom-com roots, is partial to grand gestures, and “Santa” is chock-full of them. What can only be described as “hot chocolate in television” format, this holiday episode sees the gang stop by multiple Christmas parties, sowing nothing but chaos (and somehow merriment) in their wake: Nick and Angie (Olivia Munn) attempt to have sex in a sleigh, Jess keeps running into glass doors trying to avoid Sam (David Walton) and his attempts to win her back and Winston (Morris) can’t hear anything with a cranberry stuck in his ear. The episode also pokes fun at magical realism tropes in sitcoms, staging a run-in with “Black Santa,” which prompts Schmidt to hilariously respond that it’ll be his last “Christian Christmas.”
(Season 4, Episode 9)
Even as Season 4 struggled to find its footing as it navigated Nick and Jess post-breakup, “New Girl” successfully rekindled the spark between Cece (Simone) and Schmidt, effortlessly letting the pair’s relationship blossom and develop on a strong foundation of friendship. “Thanksgiving IV” — or “Bangsgiving,” if you will — sows the seeds of their reconnection, which ultimately culminates in the season’s final episode (see below). The episode also addresses Nick’s chain of self-loathing one night stands, introducing Tran’s granddaughter Kai (Greta Lee), and sees Jess willing to take a risk in finally pursuing Ryan (Julian Morris). In many ways, “Thanksgiving IV” hints at the small steps Nick and Jess are taking to heal and rid themselves of old patterns: While Nick continues on his self-love journey and looks to ground himself, Jess grows comfortable in living increasingly boldly.
A Chill Day In
(Season 5, Episode 18)
Who doesn’t love a good weed episode? While its earlier companion episode “Road Trip” focused on Schmidt’s off-roading Las Vegas desert bachelor party, “A Chill Day In” follows Cece and Jess as they have exactly the opposite of what the title implies. What’s initially supposed to be the “return of high Jess” (set to Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack,” of course) turns into a low-stakes mall heist set in a Sur La Table-esque store. Stoned Jess is simply a treat — “Oh my God, I just realized some day I’m gonna have to speak at my mother’s funeral,” she says before helping bash a breadmaker Schmidt’s mom gifted to Cece. The episode also succeeds in bringing Aly into the fold, making her addition to the loft group feel completely natural.
(Season 2, Episode 14)
“Pepperwood” makes it onto this list if only for its introduction to Nick’s alter-ego — later, the eventual inspiration for his novel. After reading an essay written by one of Jess’ students, Nick becomes convinced he’s a serial killer and that Jess is his next target. Appearing in Season 2 right before “Cooler,” the episode is bursting with absurdity and makes for a truly entertaining plot line where the curmudgeonly Nick once again tries to prove that Jess’ optimism in people is unfounded. But, if you look deeper, the episode also reveals the ridiculous lengths Nick will go to protect Jess. A running theme throughout the series even post-breakup, “Pepperwood” is one of the most explicit examples of Nick’s particular brand of devotion to Jess.
(Season 2, Episode 17)
Schmidt stumbles upon an empty parking spot reserved for Loft 4D, and a battle soon breaks out between him and Jess as they pander to Nick for his swing vote. With Winston away in desperate pursuit of a condom for himself and Daisy (Brenda Song), Jess shamelessly flirts with Nick while Schmidt appeals to his sense of bromance. Amid the tomfoolery and Nick’s indecision, Schmidt becomes aware of the two’s kiss, which leads to yet another expert line delivery from Greenfield. “Parking Spot,” following in sitcom tradition, hyper-fixates on the negligible as the trio face off to riotously funny proportions. Schmidt hits — taps, really — Nick with his car, for example. But, following in the “New Girl” tradition, the episode — despite its dealings in the seemingly unimportant — fully explores its central couple’s awkwardness with the care and tenderness one ought to bestow on budding relationships.
(Season 3, Episode 1)
“All In” not only jumpstarts Season 3 into supercharged high gear, but it also presents one of the zaniest adventures the gang goes on in the show. Picking up right after Nick and Jess decide to fully commit to each other (hence the episode’s title), the pair find themselves reluctant to return to their normal, problem-filled lives. Meanwhile, a subplot features Winston teeming with weird energy and intensity as he frantically tries to solve a puzzle only to be told he’s colorblind. Every scenario is amusing (like Schmidt’s extreme dependence on Nick), and every line is a hit. (While debating which stereotypical prison trope Nick would occupy, Jess says, “Nick is my bitch.”)
(Season 4, Episode 22)
Contrary to what’s suggested by the title, Season 4’s last episode presents anything but a clean break. Getting ready for his move to New York City with May (Meaghan Rath), Coach (Damon Wayans Jr.) encourages everyone to approach their lives minimalistically, cut their ties to the past and deem memories “nonessential.” “Clean Break” gives Coach a chance to break down his walls — aided by the only male voice of reason in the loft, Winston — putting on stark display the radical pathos that “New Girl” always exemplifies. And while both main couples reach a turning point in the series, the spotlight shines on Cece and Schmidt. Viewers get treated to a cheeky flashback to their first moment alone — and why Schmidt was prompted to put $5 in “the jar” — which culminates in a full-circle, jubilant engagement.
Elaine's Big Day
(Season 2, Episode 25)
The last episode of Season 2 is jam packed with equally heartwarming and humorous pivotal moments. “Elaine’s Big Day” more openly explores Nick’s long-standing streak of self-doubt, as well as his belief that he’s too much of a “mess” to be with Jess — all set against the backdrop of Cece’s arranged marriage with Shivrang (Satya Bhabha), which Winston and Schmidt are actively trying to sabotage. This episode truly has it all: a loose rabid badger, Rednex’s “Cotton Eye Joe” and a Taylor Swift cameo. Tune into the Season 2 finale for one of the first in a long line of Winston’s over-the-top pranks, but stay for the satisfying long-time-coming moment Nick flips the script and goes after what (mainly, who) he wants.
(Season 2, Episode 5)
At its core, “New Girl” is about the relationships its main characters build with one another; more importantly, it’s about the growth, transparency and strength that defines each friendship following honest conversation, sound advice and truly laughable low points (enter, Nick’s iconic “got you cookie” scene). The sitcom thrives most when it subtly subverts the socially constructed dynamics of its core group, and in “Models,” the series triages its two main relationships — between Cece and Jess and among Nick, Winston and Schmidt — to showcase the harm incurred by gender roles. In the former case, Jess confronts her internalized misogyny, and in the latter, the men of Loft 4D poignantly address toxic masculinity and self-love.
(Season 2, Episode 2)
Jess is “off the grid” and Nick gets paid a visit from his “future self.” This early Season 2 episode sees an unemployed Jess trying to branch out of her Type-A nature as she embodies the spontaneous Katie, an online dater who planned a rendezvous with Sam. “Katie” not only introduces Jess’ second-best love interest (and a solid stream of swoon-worthy make-out sessions), but also an eccentric, smitten Josh Gad as Bearclaw. What follows is the consequences of Katie’s “raw animal magnetism” — all culminating in a frenzied bathroom confrontation.
(Season 2, Episode 3)
The direct follow-up to “Katie,” “Fluffer” beats out its predecessor for the way it emotionally advances Nick and Jess’ relationship. A spiritual precursor to “Cooler,” the episode gets the couple in a date setting, thereby addressing the promising romance between them without totally letting its foot off of the gas pedal. “Fluffer” also finally verbalizes the pair’s growing attraction toward each other, while also establishing the fact that they rarely follow popular conventions and boundaries — mostly to strange, though always endearing, ends. There’s also a subplot where Schmidt pretends to be a Romney — a role Greenfield settles into with ease, proving yet again that he was robbed of his 2012 supporting actor Emmy.
(Season 1, Episode 12)
“The Landlord,” near the middle of the inaugural season, sees everyone slowly but surely settling into their personality types, all the while giving depth to and subverting them. Fed up with the crappy state of their apartment, Jess commits a loft taboo and enlists the help of reclusive, dubious landlord Remy (Jeff Kober). The episode steadily builds on Jess and Nick’s previously established chemistry through a proposed threesome, and sees the two engage in their trademark passionate exchanges where they try to prove each other wrong. As usual, the episode is marked by “New Girl’s” forte of one-liners. Case in point, from Schmidt’s unearthed 2007 New Year’s resolutions, “Find out where Winston gets his sparkle. And then steal it.”
(Season 2, Episode 12)
While the crux of “Cabin” is the A story following Nick, Angie, Jess and Sam on their ill-fated couples getaway trip, it’s the episode’s B plot that truly shines. Well-acknowledged by the “New Girl” creative team that Winston blossomed over time as writers figured out how to write him, this midseason episode is one of the first times Morris — and by extension his criminally underrated dynamic with Greenfield — holds a candle to later plot lines. Schmidt, fearing that he and the rest of the loft group aren’t allowing Winston to be his “Blackest self,” lets his white guilt propel him to harebrained extremes in one of the sitcom’s most revered narratives — where Winston pretends he misses the “sweet taste of crack in your lungs.” Wickedly funny, the episode also backs up the sitcom’s canny ability for nuanced social messages.
(Season 7, Episode 8)
Like us all, Jess is in denial over leaving the loft. While every other member of Loft 4D has made their peace, Nick encourages them to play along as Jess takes them on a trip down memory lane, complete with key mementos from the past like the “swuit,” Schmidt’s penis cast and the garbage disposal wand, to name a few. What starts off as a ploy to indulge Jess and rush the packing process quickly turns into an delightful, picture-perfect finish to the beloved series. Even as “Engram Pattersky” brings everything full circle — Nick finally tells Schmidt he loves him, the gang plays one last round of True American and Jess exits the place that kicked off this entire adventure — it pauses to take a look around, noting what these lifelong friends have built and will continue to build.
(Season 2, Episode 20)
Rounding out the Top 10 is none other than “Chicago.” While this late Season 2 episode bears the brunt of the most serious storylines in the sitcom’s entire run, it never fails to elicit laugh after laugh. From Schmidt’s debilitating fear of dead bodies to the (somehow borderline racist) distrust Nick’s mom (Margo Martindale) has toward Jess, “Chicago” is chock-full of absurd moments of levity, highlighting the ridiculousness of dealing with family (hello, impeccably chaotic guest stars Nick Kroll and Bill Burr), moving on and being there for your loved ones. “Chicago” also deftly strips away the heated tension that’s been propelling Nick and Jess’ interactions up until this point, leaving in its wake an undeniably empathetic and deeply loving bond.
(Season 1, Episode 24)
Nick — continually in crisis — freaks out over his decision to move in with Caroline (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) and decides to channel “Dune” by hiding out in the desert. As shenanigan-ous as shenanigans get, the Season 1 finale offers a perfect mixture of witty dialogue and heartfelt reflection. A couple people throw keys down multiple mountains. Winston fears his “thick thighs” and “fat ass” will turn him into a three-course werewolf meal. Jess and Nick face off against a coyote. Schmidt feels he must “White Fang” Cece. And a hilarious, unnerving Thomas Lennon guest stars. What more could you ask for?
(Season 5, Episode 22)
Schmidt’s last-ditch effort to get Cece’s mom (Anna George) to come to their wedding goes expectedly awry as he gets stuck on an airplane, and the delay in festivities forces Nick to direct all of his energy into pulling off a convincing enough lie for the bride: “Schmidt’s asleep” he says over and over again in varying, odd intonations before nailing a monotone delivery. Meanwhile, Jess comes to terms with Sam’s revelation that Nick is the one for her — just as Reagan returns to L.A. to surprise him. Equal parts emotional and painfully funny, the Season 5 finale is an encapsulation of what the show does so well. Whether it’s Schmidt smashing the Douchebag Jar as he kisses Cece, or Jess demanding Nick accept his “incredible” qualities, “Landing Gear” is sure to elicit some bittersweet, yet welcome, pangs along with its laughs.
Five Stars for Beezus
(Season 6, Episode 22)
“New Girl” loves its motifs and symbols, though there’s none it treasures more than Nick and Jess making sweeping romantic gestures in elevators. Jess returns from her hide-out in Portland to confess her love for Nick, only to back out as she misconstrues something he says at his book reading. Schmidt, serving as an audience stand-in who can no longer tolerate the couple’s idiocy, verbalizes Jess’ feelings and movingly tells Nick to not be afraid. In equally affecting subplots, Cece is revealed to be pregnant and Winston musters up the courage to reach out to his estranged father. Not complete without “New Girl’s” own special quirks, the episode also unveils the previous occupant of Jess’ room: Steve the night screamer, who also happened to be in love with Nick. Imbued with so much heart, “Five Stars For Beezus” lays bare the show’s masterful formula — that loving fearlessly is always worth it.
Quick Hardening Caulk
(Season 2, Episode 19)
If the title of the episode doesn’t already give it away, “Quick Hardening Caulk” sees the tension that Jess and Nick have desperately tried to dilute, ignore and move past reach an absolute fever pitch. While Nick believes his window of opportunity has closed, Jess’ attraction only balloons in direct correlation to the former pulling himself together. What can be considered a sophomore counterpart to “Cooler,” the episode features one of the love interests’ most iconic screaming matches (and definitely Top 5 make-outs), where Nick accuses Jess of being a gold digger. The episode’s subplot also explores a lovesick Schmidt’s hysterical attempts at illegally acquiring a lionfish.
(Season 1, Episode 1)
It can be incredibly difficult to fully flesh out character dynamics in the first episode of a half-hour comedy, but “New Girl” deftly accomplishes this near-impossible task with ease. Viewers are seamlessly introduced to Loft 4D, the notorious Douchebag Jar and everyone’s hallmark traits (although Wayans Jr. departs the show thereafter and Winston is introduced in the second episode). Hilarious moments (namely, of Nick post-Caroline) are masterfully juxtaposed with tender moments, such as when Jess is serenaded by the guys’ off-key, near-bizarre rendition of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” after being stood up. Simply put, this pilot is a bona fide classic.
(Season 1, Episode 15)
At its best, “New Girl” thrives in the gray area between humor and vulnerability, comedy and tragedy. Predating “Chicago,” the group comes together for Nick during a fraught moment — perhaps prematurely after a possibly cancerous growth is discovered in his thyroid. In a particularly moving exchange, Nick owns up to how his uncertainty gets in the way of living freely, and Jess pushes him to spontaneity as the gang heads to the beach for a night swim. As dusk wanes and everyone falls asleep by the shore, a brighter day dawns. Featuring a wildly “dethpicable” Daffy Duck impression and Schimdt’s perpetual Fredo kissing, “Injured” is Nick’s laugh-filled swan song of sorts — and not just because of his iconic “Nick Miller Rap (Sad Song).”
(Season 3, Episode 14)
Of course the late Prince guest starring and performing a duet with Deschanel in an eponymous “New Girl” episode had to crack the Top 3! As an apology for almost running them over with a car, Cece and Jess are invited to Prince’s house party by his assistant. Not only does the music legend (and self-identified fan of the series) easily find his groove within the show’s rhythm, he’s an essential part of helping Jess figure out her response to Nick’s admission of love. At once stripped-down and at full-blast, “Prince” feels like the series’ best holiday episodes wrapped up in one: caring, grand and, most of all, the warmest place to be.
(Season 4, Episode 6)
“Background Check” takes the cake for the most laughs, showcasing the series’ offbeat comedy chops unlike any other episode. When Jess admits she’s secretly been stashing a larger-than-life bag of meth in her closet, everyone must work together to dispose of it prior to Winston’s in-house police academy background check. As each person goes to unhinged lengths to keep Winston — and more importantly the sergeant (Cleo King) sanctioning his final graduation requirement — in the dark, the group’s lies snowball to extreme (in Nick’s case, sweaty) proportions. To characterize this episode as chaotic would simply be the understatement of a lifetime.
(Season 2, Episode 15)
Without contention, this is the best episode of “New Girl” — if not the best sitcom episode to ever air on TV. Miraculously, in just over 20 minutes, “Cooler” expertly builds, teases away and ultimately releases the sexual tension between Jess and Nick that has been building for the past season and a half. After being banished to the loft for being a “cooler” for Nick, Jess thinks she hears someone trying to break in. When Nick begrudgingly rushes to her rescue — despite hitting it off with a woman who is “sexually aroused by other people’s misery” — he inadvertently finds himself behind the “True American” iron curtain being pressured to kiss her. This episode truly has it all, from hilarious antics (enter, Nick’s stolen woman’s coat) to an otherworldly make-out session that’s sure to make anyone with a soul weak in the knees.