New Girl: The Best Episodes

Zooey Deschanel’s hit sitcom brought us unforgettable characters, cameos from Prince and Taylor Swift, and arguably the best kiss in TV history

New Girl
Photo: 20th Television

This article contains MAJOR spoilers for all seven seasons of New Girl

Let’s clear something up straight away: there are no bad episodes of New Girl

In fact, this list could easily have started with the pilot (where Jess becomes the boys’ new roommate after a messy breakup, and they try to cheer her up with a hysterical rendition of Dirty Dancing’s “The Time of My Life”) and moved right on through to the incredibly moving season seven finale. 

New Girl is one of those rare sitcoms you fall in love with from its first moments. The combination of unapologetically quirky, original writing, and the comic chemistry of the main cast – Max Greenfield as Schmidt, Jake Johnson as Nick, Hannah Simone as Cece, Lamorne Morris as Winston, Dayman Wayans Jr as Coach, and of course Zooey Deschanel as Jess – makes it a lovable and rewatchable hit.

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Here are what we believe – after much soul searching – are New Girl’s 20 best episodes (plus a few honorable mentions):

20. What About Fred?

Season 5 Episode 2

Three words: Henry flippin’ Winkler. Yep, we’re starting strong with this episode, where Jess begins dating Fred, who turns out to be infuriatingly terrible (or a “human pile of Saltine dust”, as Jess accurately calls him). But she can’t break up with him, because she’s fallen in love with his perfect parents: the adorable Flip (Winkler, aka The Fonz) and Nancy (Airplane!’s Julie Hagerty). 

Their lovable double act is reason enough to give this episode a spot in the top 20, but it gets major comedy bonus points thanks to Winston’s attempt to stall Fred by getting his cop girlfriend Aly (Nasim Pedrad, Saturday Night Live) to pull them over, giving her an opportunity to abuse her power by asking Fred to perform various dance-related challenges.

19. Wedding

Season 1 Episode 3

The real joy of New Girl is the friendship between the roommates, so it’s a testament to their on-screen chemistry that by episode three they’re already close enough to help each other through a problematic wedding. Nick’s ex-girlfriend Caroline will be there, so he brings Jess as a pretend date (classic sitcom foreshadowing), Winston takes his job as usher far too seriously but is thwarted by an adorable-but-fiendish child, and Schmidt bumps into his sex-enemy Gretchen, played by the incredibly funny Natasha Lyonne (Poker Face).

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The joyful chaos culminates in one of the early seasons’ most memorable moments: the slow-motion chicken dance. And if you hadn’t fallen in love with New Girl already, you will now.

18. Menzies

Season 2 Episode 7

You might not expect an essentially male-dominated sitcom to deal with a subject like PMS particularly sensitively, but “Menzies” is a joy. It starts out light-hearted – including some of the show’s most meme-able moments, like Jess explaining PMS as ‘I feel like I want to murder someone but I also want soft pretzels’ – but then examines both men and women dealing with irrational emotions with a refreshing warmth. 

But this episode really earns its Top 20 spot thanks to the introduction of Tran, Nick’s mysterious non-verbal guru, and the entertainingly surreal scene of Nick finding himself half-naked at a swimming baths, being held and gently rocked around the pool and called ‘a huge baby’, which somehow helps him process his anger issues.

17. Socalyalcon VI

Season 6 Episode 19

New Girl is incredibly quotable throughout, but it saves one of its funniest lines for near the end of season six. When Schmidt and Cece move to a new house, they discover there’ve been some recent burglaries in the neighbourhood, and moments later hear what sounds like someone breaking in. This leads to Schmidt’s terrified call of: ‘Are you the criminals?? From the statistics?!?!’ The mere thought of Max Greenfield’s iconic delivery of this line can elicit a genuine belly laugh to this day. 

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Elsewhere, the romantic tension between Nick and Jess ramps up again, and Aly reveals she was once obsessed with appearing on Japanese game shows, leading her and Winston to have some excellent fun with all the prizes she won. Not a dull moment.

16. Valentine’s Day

Season 1 Episode 13

We can’t have a conversation about New Girl without mentioning another of Schmidt’s legendary lines: “YOUTHS!” It still lives rent-free in most fans’ heads thanks to this fantastic season one episode, where Jess finds herself single on Valentine’s Day and decides to have her first one-night stand, asking Schmidt to be her wingman. Unfortunately, her chosen beau lives in a sketchy neighbourhood, and Schmidt’s tires get “stolen by street youths”. 

We also see Cece and Schmidt finally hook up in a surprise twist at the end of the episode, beginning their long and often disastrous love affair.

15. A Chill Day In

Season 5 Episode 18)

The only thing better than a drunk episode is a high episode (“just say no, kids” etc. etc.), and Jess and Cece’s ill-fated bachelorette party is full of excellent shenanigans, most of which involve attempting to steal a floor model breadmaker from a department store after Cece receives one as a snarky wedding gift from Schmidt’s mother and beats it up with a stick. 

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The episode also becomes a perfect way to integrate Aly – Winston’s cop colleague and love interest – into the gang, making her a vital and welcome addition to the loft’s friendship group.

14. Injured

Season 1 Episode 15

One of New Girl’s best qualities is the heartwarming, original and often irreverent way it treats very real life problems, from fertility to infidelity, but ‘Injured’ is maybe the best example of them all.

When Nick hurts his back in a game of football, Jess discovers he doesn’t have medical insurance, so gets her doctor friend Sadie (Grace & Frankie’s June Diane Raphael) to examine him. But in doing so, Sadie discovers a potentially cancerous lump, and schedules him for an ultrasound the next day. A long night of tense waiting ensues, and Nick and the rest of the loft slowly descend into chaos, getting drunk, writing him a kind of bizarre musical eulogy, going skinny dipping and eventually sleeping on the beach. Their soul-searching is haphazard and silly but somehow also deeply relatable.

13. Thanksgiving IV

Season 4 Episode 9

The New Girl Thanksgiving episodes are so good it’s almost impossible to choose one (in fact, there’s another one later in this list) but the season four special is a doozy. Everyone is single, so Schmidt creates ‘Bangsgiving’, where they all have to bring a potential partner for each other, and it goes about as well as you’d expect. There’s gorgeous sexual tension between Jess and her teaching colleague Ryan (Pretty Little Liars’ Julian Morris), Nick makes Schmidt jealous by flirting with Cece, and Coach is terrified of the super strength of his date Pepper. It’s messy but ultimately uplifting, like every Thanksgiving should be.

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12. Landing Gear

Season 5 Episode 22

It’s a big one: the episode where Cece and Schmidt finally get married, and it lives up to every expectation. In one of his typical big romantic gestures, Schmidt flies to Portland to try to convince Cece’s estranged mother to attend their big day, but in predictable fashion everything goes wrong. 

He ends up spending the entire wedding stranded on a plane, participating via an iPad with the help of his fellow passengers, Nick does the worst Best Man speech of all time, and Winston’s attempt at a prank ends up with him accidentally flushing all his clothes down the toilet, but in true New Girl fashion there’s brilliant and infectious joy in spite of the many disasters. And the makeshift wedding at the end of the episode is genuinely, unfailingly moving every time you watch it.

11. Parents

Season 2 Episode 8

Bitter, warring divorced parents are nothing new in sitcom land, but in New Girl this trope is greatly improved by Jess’ mum and dad being the hilarious pairing of All In The Family’s Robert Reiner and Oscar winner Jamie Lee Curtis. Jess’ elaborate Parent Trap-style scheme to get them back together on Thanksgiving is full of great moments – Nick becoming accidentally attracted to Jess’ mum, Jess accidentally walking in on her parents’ bathroom sex, and a brilliant subplot where Schmidt and his cousin have to prove how manly they are by snogging the face off Winston. Happy Thanksgiving indeed.

10. Prince

Season 3 Episode 14

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It’s PRINCE, guys!! PRINCE!!! Need we say more?

Okay, fine: while this episode might not be the best plot-wise, the fact that the actual real-life Prince has a substantial and hilarious role in it (and even asked to be on the show!) is reason enough to put it in the top 20. He gives Jess a makeover, force-feeds her pancakes, beats her at ping pong and tames a butterfly to sit on his shoulder. It’s everything you could possibly dream of and more.

9. Pepperwood

Season 2 Episode 14

When one sitcom character is secretly in love with another, it can make them do some fairly daft things in the name of love, but Nick Miller is pretty daft to begin with so he takes things up a level. After becoming convinced that one of Jess’ creative writing students is a serial killer intent on murdering her, he goes “undercover” at her class, becoming “Julius Pepperwood – ex-cop, ex-marine,” and starts investigating. Needless to say, Nick is a terrible detective, and some good old-fashioned crossed wires ensue, leading to ineffective safe words, Pepperwood getting pepper-sprayed, and the truth finally being revealed (spoiler alert: Jess survives). It’s equal parts ludicrous but lovable, and ramps the romantic tension up between Nick and Jess nicely. 

As a bonus, it’s also the episode where the term “pogo” – meaning the one annoying trait you have that your housemates talk about behind your back – is introduced, driving Schmidt crazy with the need to find out what his own “pogo” is.

8. Quick Hardening Caulk

Season 2 Episode 19

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New Girl has a refreshingly unique way of dealing with romance – where characters generally look for healthy relationships – and this episode is the epitome of that. When Nick starts taking better care of his well-being, Jess realizes to her horror that it’s making her supremely attracted to him, leading to hilariously sexually frustrated reactions to him saying innocuous things like “I’m thinking about taking a vitamin today.” Her attempts to talk herself down include the incredible line: “Just remember, you caught him pleasuring himself to a mail-order steak catalogue.”

Meanwhile, Schmidt gets Winston to help him try and catch a lionfish, after he becomes obsessed with them as a way of dealing with Cece’s engagement to another man. The tenderness of his heartbreak is offset by the supreme sexual tension between Nick and Jess, ending in a very hot fight and a very smashed-up aquarium. 

7. Five Stars for Beezus

Season 6 Episode 22

New Girl season finales are typically full of romance and revelations, and despite this being finale number six, it’s still pleasingly good at ramping up the surprises to a brilliant climax. Winston finds his estranged father, Jess decides to move out to protect herself from her feelings for Nick, and then BOOM, we discover Cece is pregnant. 

Of course, in true New Girl fashion, everyone else accidentally finds out before she does, Schmidt buys an entire flower shop to celebrate, and then just when we think it’s all over, the episode ends with Nick and Jess revealing their feelings for each other in typically harum-scarum fashion. And it’s wonderful.

6. Clean Break

Season 4 Episode 22

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Another season finale, another big New Girl moment. It’s a bittersweet episode: yes, Schmidt and Cece finally admit their feelings for each other and get back together, but we also lose Coach, as he moves to New York with his girlfriend May. In a show so full of heart, losing one of the main loft residents is predictably emotional, so by the time Cece unexpectedly returns from her soul-searching trip up a mountain, allowing Schmidt to propose, we’re already snivelling wrecks. 

And oh, what a proposal it is. No big romantic gesture – just Schmidt and Cece, stood in the doorway to the loft, telling each other how they feel. And after some amusing foreshadowing earlier in the episode – involving Schmidt wimping out of donating a box of mementos from his and Cece’s relationship to charity (and a very funny cameo from 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer as the charity employee who won’t let him have his box back) – we get a callback to New Girl’s very first episode. Schmidt presents Cece with the dollar bill he put in the Douchebag Jar the night they met – after saying ‘Girl, I’mma marry you.’ And then Cece says yes! No, you’re crying.

5. Spiderhunt

Season 4 Episode 17

Aside from the general chaos of this episode – a very arachnophobic Schmidt is on the hunt for a spider, Nick is making a batch of his famous “sauce,” Winston and Cece are trying to hide the fact that she’s got feelings for Schmidt again, and Coach is trying and failing to send a sexy email to his prospective girlfriend May – this episode contains perhaps the funniest scene in all of New Girl.

It involves a classic sitcom miscommunication: Jess thinks she’s talking to Nick about him potentially getting together with Cece (a result of Winston pretending Cece has feelings for Nick to distract from the Schmidt situation), and Nick thinks he’s talking to Jess about Cece wanting a popcorn machine at the bar. Words simply can’t do it justice – just watch the clip above and thank us later.

4. Engram Pattersky

Season 7 Episode 8

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As final episodes go, this is supremely satisfying, giving us enough warm fuzzies without losing New Girl’s essential joyful playfulness as Jess and Nick get evicted from the loft and all the show’s loose ends are neatly tied up. Just when you think it’s over – and there’s a moving flash-forward of them all playing True American with their future kids, in a scene that some might argue is too happily-ever-after to end on – we’re brought back down to reality by discovering the entire reason Jess and Nick moved out was just Winston playing a ridiculously oversized prank. And so we can watch them drive off into the LA sunset safe in the knowledge that New Girl is just as ridiculous as ever.

3. Background Check

Season 4 Episode 6

This episode has a simple but perfect premise: Winston announces an inspector is on the way over to do a background check as part of his police application, and then Jess confesses to the other roommates that she has a huge bag of meth hidden in her closet. The utter bedlam that ensues as they try to get rid of the meth without the inspector finding out is as close to the perfect sitcom episode as it gets: joke after joke, and increasingly elaborate and farcical situations that come to a glorious climax. A true example of a sitcom at its beautiful, comedic peak.

2. Elaine’s Big Day

Season 2 Episode 25

This episode is so good that the cameo from ACTUAL REAL-LIFE Taylor Swift isn’t even close to being the best thing about it (although it is very entertaining). All of the drama from New Girl’s supremely good second season comes to a head in this finale episode: Cece is marrying the wrong man, Schmidt is trying to sabotage the wedding, Jess and Nick still haven’t processed their increasingly obvious feelings for each other, and Winston? Well, Winston gets bitten by a very angry badger called Bucky. The scenes of the roommates navigating the air vents with a badger are pure comedy perfection, and the episode ends with Nick and Jess finally starting a relationship in their textbook haphazard fashion: driving off into the night together arguing. And still we ship them.

1. Cooler

Season 2 Episode 15

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Choosing New Girl’s best episode was the easiest part of compiling this list. There’s an instance of the loft’s legendary drinking game, True American, during which we see Winston’s hilarious attempt at flirting (“You’re a swell-kinda gal…. HEY GIRL WHAT YOUR NAME IS?!”), and Nick refuses to stop wearing a woman’s coat that he found. 

Then, as part of the game, he and Jess get locked in a room until they’ve kissed, with the other players drunkenly egging them on through the door, and Jess and Nick failing to hide their feelings for each other and pretend they’re not bothered by kissing. That is, until Jess frustratedly yells “God, Miller, just kiss me already!” and Nick blurts out “No! Not like this!” 

It’s the pivotal moment we’ve all been waiting for, but we don’t get to see them finally kiss straight away. Instead, we’re led to believe it won’t happen after all, and everyone says goodnight and retires to bed. And then, just as Nick and Jess part ways, he turns, grabs her, and they have possibly the best kiss in TV history. Ross and Rachel, Daphne and Niles, they’ve got nothing on this: it’s passionate, it’s frenzied, it’s forbidden, and it’s the ultimate romantic payoff. Bravo, New Girl. Bravo.

Honorable Mentions

Fluffer (Season 2, Episode 3) – excellent romantic buildup between Jess and Nick, and Schmidt pretending to be Mitt Romney’s lesser-known son.

The Landlord (Season 1, Episode 12) – featuring a hilarious game of chicken involving Jess, Nick and a perverted landlord.

Bad In Bed (Season 1, Episode 8) – featuring the stupidest sex scene of all time, involving a Jimmy Stewart impression, an ‘erotic rope course’ and the line ‘now why don’t you let me see your little caboose?’

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Eggs (Season 2, Episode 9) – one of the show’s more grownup episodes, where Cece and Jess find out how many eggs they have left, and address their fertility issues.

Chicago (Season 2, Episode 20) – Nick’s Dad dies, and Jess finds herself doing an Elvis impression at his funeral.

Models (Season 2, Episode 5) – the show examines misogyny and toxic masculinity in a refreshingly different way, including Nick’s famous “GAVE ME COOKIE GOT YOU COOKIE!” mini-breakdown.

Homecoming (Season 6, Episode 4) – the excellent Brooklyn 99 crossover episode, where the king and queen of chaos – Jess and Jake Peralta – finally meet.

New Girl is available to stream now on Hulu and Peacock in the U.S., and on Disney+ in the UK.