New Girl and Happy Endings fought for the same shrinking piece of the viewership pie last season—but overlapping fanbases, similar setups, and Damon Wayans Jr. aside, the two shows never felt like direct competitors. Happy Endings was a separate breed of sitcom from New Girl—a madcap, joke-generating machine that was never as good at crafting overarching narrative or episodic plots as it was at stacking laughs on laughs on laughs. And though both shows are essentially “pretty people on couches” sitcoms, their characters were in distinctly different places in their lives.
Just look at the guys played by Damon Wayans Jr.: On Happy Endings, Wayans was insanely successful in love and business—emphasis on the insane. (If forced to pick only one thing I miss about the show, I’d name the intense-bordering-on-dangerous connection between Wayans and Eliza Coupe.) On New Girl, however, Wayans is a man who cries in an strip club and drunkenly instigates a fight with a police officer. Jane Kerkovich-Williams would’ve kicked Coach to the curb so quickly he wouldn’t have time to contribute to the scene-buttoning pile of riffs.
To put it in the words of Wayans’ fellow New Girl guest, Taye Diggs: “Your bar for having it together’s set pretty low.” But that’s one of New Girl’s defining traits, the through-line that dips and dives with season three’s teeter-tottering early episodes: The characters make a ton of bad decisions and pull a lot of stupid moves—but they recognize when they’ve got a good thing going. The moment Jess and Nick share at the end of “Coach” displays a clarity of intent that cuts through the worst advice and the hoariest of sitcom contrivances. The connection between the pair is so honest, it can survive a Tuesday night at the strip club and a bed full of naked Taye Diggs. And that’s of all-around benefit to New Girl, because it gets the viewer closer to understanding why Schmidt, Coach, and Cece are so upset. They’ve known the kind of connection Jess and Nick have, but because they’re the supporting players whose swirling personal-life chaos maintains the balance of the show, they let go of their good thing.
But they can only keep fucking up for so long. They may only be in their 30s, but these characters are starting look at the mistakes and excesses of youth like Roger Murtaugh looks at police work: They’re getting too old for this shit. Failure is one of New Girl’s primary comedic engines—a character like Artie or a story thread like Coach’s breakup throws that fact into sharp relief. If the roommates’ standards for having it together ever resemble those of people in the real world, New Girl is doomed. But the characters can inch toward figuring their lives out—moving into their own place, for example, or dating someone who helps them be a better person—without shaking the foundation of the show.
That’s where Coach proves to be an ace in the hole for the show. Wayans’ return to New Girl has a pleasing push-pull effect: The gravity of the roommates’ collective shortcomings effortlessly brings him back to the fold, while the “old life” he represents still maintains an allure for the guys. Coach is an ambassador to a simpler time, a time before real jobs and serious girlfriends, where the booze flows like water and the native tongue is “Rock You Like A Hurricane.” But that’s not the time the characters live in anymore: Jess is waiting at home for Nick, Schmidt has a presentation in the morning (and he has to get in at 7:45 a.m. to lower all the chairs), and Winston can’t laugh off spending $2,000 on strip club vouchers. The tension between the good old days and the uncertain future ahead informs the most finest passages of season three: the hesitation at the end of “All In,” Schmidt’s meddling in “The Captain,” the storyline that gives “Keaton” its name. If that tension can fully take over, the rest of the season is on good footing.
And that’s what’s truly at the heart of Jess and Nick’s conflict tonight. Coming together in the way they did is an alien experience for both parties. The spark was so organic that they haven’t stopped to go through the motions of a young relationship: They haven’t discussed the “terminology” because being boyfriend and girlfriend is something they just feel, and the resolution to their “Coach” conflict arrives because of those feelings. Nick doesn’t think about whether or not Jess is his girlfriend—he just steps up to the challenge, tears away his pants (You mean you can wear stripper clothes when you’re not stripping?), and throws a right cross. “Coach” makes the characters dance some outmoded rom-com steps, but its conclusion is New Girl, pure and simple. This is Nick going with his gut, acting on the good thing. He can’t beat up a cop. He is powerless to resist a night out with Coach. But the one thing Nick Miller can affect is his relationship with Jessica Day. (And that’s a two-way street, which is why the “Put on pants?” discussion between Jess and Cece is so great.) In terms of maintaining New Girl’s momentum, “Coach” captures Jess and Nick at just the right time in their lives. And the emotional highs the episode portrays are the type that no amount of Bunny Money can buy.
- The week in New Girl pseudonyms: Via Coach, Winston picks up two new nicknames: The pre-existing “Shrimp Forks” and the newly coined “Bunny Money.” The cutaway that demonstrates the size of Winston’s supposedly tiny hands makes me want some Lamorne Morris input on the next version of Key & Peele’s “East/West College Bowl” sketch.
- New Girl airs outside the “family hour,” but I bet Taye Diggs showed just enough inner thigh in that bedroom scene to produce some hilarious complaints to the FCC.
- Schmidt seems to be developing a Barney Stinson-like misreading of blockbuster films from the 1980s and ’90s. First it was Titanic and the “Zaniacs”; this week, he mislabels Raiders Of The Lost Ark “Nazi propaganda.”
- Jake Johnson’s Emmy reel for season three should be a GIF of the face he makes after Nick tells Coach “I’m just telling her what kind of cake to bake me, son.”
- Lonely Coach wears a different kind of watch than the rest of us: “Look at the time—it’s butt o’clock.”
- There’s a weird horse motif in “Coach,” including the circle-stomp thing Artie does in bed, multiple uses of the word nag, and Jess’ alcoholic variation on the Shirley Temple: “I call it a Temple Grandin, because it makes me friendly and compassionate.”
- Winston Bishop, smooth talker: “Do you like strippers? And the deal of a lifetime?”
- I have no idea how Winston’s Velvet Rabbit shirt gets ripped, but it could be related to the hasty way he removes his outer V. Rabb layer: “Oh my goodness, this jacket smell like gasoline.”