Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New Girl 3x12 "Basketsball" (You've Got a Friend in Me)

Original Airdate: January 14, 2014

Every Sunday morning, I teach fourth and fifth grade students at my church. They’re all quite adorable, but tend to become problematic when they lose focus (which happens a lot) and distract their friends (which happens a lot). One Sunday morning, I was playing Jenga with this little girl named Hailey who is a self-proclaimed tomboy. She hates anything girly or frilly and was complaining to me about how her mother was going to make her wear a dress and go to the symphony in a few weeks. Soon, another little girl – fresh from being dropped off by her parents – asked Hailey if she could play Jenga with her. The little girl agreed and then, out of the blue, the newcomer asked: “Do you like dragons?” Hailey’s eyes lit up and she excitedly said: “Yes! I love dragons!” And the two girls were inseparable for the remainder of the morning.

As I walked away from their exchange, I was struck with the notion that making friends as a child is as simple as asking someone if they like dragons. Boom! Friendship immediately forged. It delighted me that those two little girls didn’t bring their own baggage or expectations into a friendship. Their connection was so simple and, moreover, it was EASY. I thought a lot about friendships later that afternoon and how different it is when you make friends as adults. We don’t bring that same innocence and energy into our relationships. It’s a lot more difficult to befriend someone as an adult than it is to make friendships on the schoolyard.

“Basketsball” is an episode that is primarily dedicated to the idea that sometimes it IS really difficult to forge a friendship, especially if they only see you as their friend’s girlfriend. In our New Girl episode this week, we found out that Jess was struggling to make a connection with Coach, even though he moved into the loft months ago. Jess wants people to like her and I loved that “Basketsball” was a return to season one Jess (rightfully so, as it focuses on the fact that Jess wormed her way into friendships with Nick, Schmidt, and Winston as well over the years), who is well-meaning and endearing and slightly awkward. I love that the series has learned that it doesn’t have to lean on these qualities too hard, but that they’re also inseparable from Jess as an individual and often manifest themselves whenever she’s feeling particularly insecure. Nick and Jess spend the episode at odds in the actual best way possible, while Jess forges a fake bond with Coach over his favorite basketball team, the Detroit Pistons.

Elsewhere in the episode, Schmidt has been recruited to train a new (elderly) hire at work, and Winston shadows his friend in an attempt to decide what he wants his new career path to be. (Cece, meanwhile, is manning the bar in Nick’s absence which provides us with some non-awkward Schmidt/Cece scenes and some adorable Winston/Cece ones. I’m quite enjoying the way they’re choosing to integrate Cece into more central storylines with other members of the loft. It’s a nice way for the New Girl writers to ensure she’s a part of the ensemble, rather than an outlying piece of it.)

After Jess returns home from the convenience store with Coach, she asks the other guys for advice on how to become friends with their most recent addition to the loft. I love that this episode focused heavily on Coach/Jess because they’re probably the most unlikely friends. Coach is tough and doesn’t seem to be filled with as many quirks as Schmidt, Nick, and Winston are. (The pilot episode where he points at Jess and tells her to stop crying comes to mind frequently whenever I think about their relationship or lack thereof.) And Jess is ALWAYS going to want the people around her to like her. I understand and relate to that aspect of Jess’ personality, quite truthfully. I want to find ways to connect with people. But most importantly, I want them to like me for ME. Jess’ issue (I’m using the term loosely) with Coach is not that she believes he doesn’t like her. I think that she knows he likes her just fine. The problem is that he only sees her as Nick’s girlfriend and nothing more. That bothers her because she wants the merits of their friendship to be based on who SHE is as a person and not who she’s dating.

So Jess asks Nick for advice on how to get close to Coach – what are his likes? What are his dislikes? Nick insists that there is only one thing Jess needs to know about Coach: he’s obsessed with basketball, his team is the Pistons, and he’s wrong (because Nick’s team is the Chicago Bulls and he’s in a bitter rivalry with Coach over it). Jess believes basketball to be the solution to forging a friendship with her roommate… but Jess doesn’t know anything about basketball, so Nick discourages her idea right away.

Nick and Jess were at their absolute finest during “Basketsball.” This episode found the two lovebirds at odds with one another because of how passionately they felt regarding the topic of Jess’ befriending of Coach. But it was more than that, actually: this episode proved exactly how stubborn and determined they were to be right. There is and always will be a line in the sand, though. Notice that at the end of the episode, when Nick realizes Jess is likely hurt by Coach’s remarks, he rushes home and forfeits their bet. While these two are unafraid to go toe-to-toe in battle, they also always recognize when they need to take a step back from their arguments or bets and think about the emotional well-being of their partner. I think that, if anything, “Basketsball” proved to me that Nick and Jess don’t always have to be cutesy, affectionate, and romantic to be endearing – they are endearing when they disagree because it means that the writers have not placed the relationship above the fundamental natures of the characters. Say what you will about Nick and Jess as a romantic pairing, but the New Girl team has ensured that though Nick and Jess be involved in a romance, their individualities (including quirks and habits) remain intact.

Jess explains to Nick that basketball is just a gateway with Coach – once they bond over sports, the door is open to a deeper relationship. Though Nick shoots down this idea by explaining that men watch sports so that they DON’T think about their childhoods or feelings and that there is no symbolic meaning to the game. Jess barely listens to her boyfriend’s advice and instead, confronts Coach in his room later on and explains that she is a Pistons fan, too.

Meanwhile, Winston is shadowing Schmidt at his job and Schmidt is looking forward to inspiring his friend. But Schmidt is recruited to showing around Ed, an elderly man who doesn’t seem to know anything about marketing, modern technology, or filtering his thoughts. As it turns out, a former employee named Gwen was fired after she turned 45 and then turned around to file a suit against the company for being ageist. Attempting to prove their former employee wrong, Schmidt’s company hires Ed and gives Schmidt the task of babysitting him. What is in it for Schmidt? Gwen’s old job, if he plays his cards right.

(And Schmidt deserves a win by now, don’t you think? So does Winston for that matter.)

So Schmidt agrees, intent on using his newest pupil as means by which to earn a better position. At the bar, the man is begrudgingly accepting the fact that he has to drag Ed around. Winston talks to Cece at the bar (they have scenes together this episode you guys!) and admits to her that he’s worried he’s just following “another bad lead” by shadowing Schmidt. He’s spent the entire day taking notes for his friend and he’s not even interested in marketing. When Cece reads the notes, Winston reveals that he’s actually been studying Ed, who is a lot more interesting than Schmidt believes. Here’s what I love about Winston and Schmidt in the episode: they’re both trying to figure their lives out, and both are following pretty bad leads in order to do it. Schmidt underestimates Ed (which backfires on him later on) because he’s self-centered and dismissive, in general. Winston is attempting to determine the trajectory for the rest of his life but instead of forging the path himself, he’s content (or not so content, as his conversation with Cece exemplifies) to follow in a friend’s shadow because it is easy and makes the most sense. By the end of the episode, of course, both realize how to remedy their errors but not before they struggle a bit throughout the episode.

Back at the loft, Jess is feebly attempting to bond with Coach during a Pistons game (it’s not going terribly, but it’s also not going great) when Nick enters and discovers that Jess is masquerading as a  Pistons fan to win over Coach. Nick grows more and more agitated as they mock the Bulls in front of him. Later, as Jess gets ready for bed, she climbs in with Nick… and he kicks her out because she’s wearing a Pistons shirt. Jess is incredulous and wonders aloud why her boyfriend is taking the basketball rivalry so personally.

The answer, of course, is because basketball IS personal and Nick’s claims earlier in the episode are lies. Nick uses basketball as a way to feel close to his home and his father. It’s a sport that is meaningful to him because it holds a lot of sentiment and weight attached to it and it pains him to see his girlfriend mocking it, even if she doesn’t understand the importance of the sport to him. But Jess has another solution: she’ll remain a Pistons fan until she breaks through with Coach and then she’ll switch to the Bulls. Nick makes a valid point, then, when he asks if she’s just going to pretend to like things that others like whenever she wants to make a new friend. I agree with Nick’s assessment because, however well-meaning (and I DO believe she was well-meaning), Nick recognized the flaw in Jess’ path to friendship. A friendship should not be based on a lie, no matter how insignificant. A friendship should always be based on getting to know an individual and accepting them for whatever they like.

So Nick then decides to play his boyfriend card (wrong move, dude) on Jess and tell her that he forbids her to be a Pistons fan. Jess is flabbergasted and insists that Nick cannot MAKE her do that, nor can he make her do anything. As his ultimatum, Nick insists that there will be no sex until she renounces her claim of being a Pistons fan. In an attempt to get her to cave, Nick begins trying to seduce his girlfriend (she rolls her eyes at all of his antics) and lure her away from the Pistons, which only causes Jess to grow more determined to win against Nick. Jess’ attempts to bond with Coach seem to be paying off, though, as he lets it slip during their viewing of a game that she is his “friend.” Nick then enters in a Bulls jersey and shorts (hilariously wonderful wardrobe choice for Jake Johnson) and get Jess to cave, but the woman is still not having any of her boyfriend’s shenanigans.

Schmidt is about to present an idea to his co-workers at the office… but Ed beats him to the punch, having stole the idea from the young man after it was a topic of discussion the day prior. At the bar, Schmidt discusses the backstabbing Ed with Winston and Cece, the former of whom predicted the elderly man’s behavior. Winston has been observing Ed, of course, and noticed certain character and personality traits that Schmidt’s prejudice and ego overlooked. Winston insists that instead of giving up and letting Ed present the stolen idea to the board, Schmidt fight for himself and justice and figure out a way to regain the upper hand.

At the loft, Coach is downtrodden, with Jess looking on, as his Pistons lost. But a downtrodden Coach is not a defeated Coach and though he’s upset at the loss, he insists that he knows the reasoning for it and wants Jess to watch the game again with him (… plus the two overtimes). Jess is understandably horrified at the thought and returns to the hallway, pacing in front of Nick’s door and genuinely contemplating conceding the bet to him. The one thing that prevents Nick and Jess from apologizing to one another and making up is the one thing that ALWAYS stops them from doing so: their pride. Jess refuses to believe that she isn’t making headway in her friendship with Coach, and Nick refuses to admit that he was wrong about the relationship between deep, personal issues and sports. So the two are at an impasse once more when Jess ups the stakes of the bet and decides that she is now withholding sex until Nick becomes a Pistons fan. Nick, unfortunately, will never become a Pistons fan so this puts him in quite a bind.

At the breakfast table, Schmidt and Winston are strategizing about how best to take down Ed, when they realize that they need to find someone older and crankier than Schmidt’s pupil in order to understand his weaknesses. Enter, of course, Nick Miller who babbles on about how technology cannot be trusted and then says the two words that spark Schmidt’s plan for vengeance: “hard copy.”

Nick’s pride is beginning to crumble in light of the sex standoff, and Jess’ is beginning to crumble because she realizes how right Nick actually may be. So in order to prove to herself and to him that her new relationship with Coach is based on something more fundamental than basketball, she disconnects the satellite so that they cannot watch the game and insists that they just sit and talk instead. I haven’t talked much about Coach throughout this review because there hasn’t been a whole lot to clarify regarding his personality. He’s a man who loves sports and the fact that he refers to Jess as his “buddy’s girlfriend” is ONLY insulting to Jess. He’s not a bad guy, really, and he doesn’t treat Jess poorly. He actually AGREES to sit and chat with Jess (it’s momentary and very fleeting until he can’t help but think about the basketball game). I think that this part of the episode was so significant for me because it proves that Coach may be misguided. He doesn’t understand women or JESS. But that doesn’t mean he’s automatically a bad guy. He cares about Jess and agrees to sit and chat, even though he does it begrudgingly. He respects her, even if he doesn’t understand her personality entirely. I think that’s something pretty astounding, even before we get to the Nick/Coach heart-to-heart at the end of the episode. No one forced him to sit on the couch with Jess. He CHOSE to do so and that’s why I loved him in “Basketsball.”

Coach does agree to chat with Jess and then suggests that they have a conversation over food. … What the man fails to mention, of course, is that he wants to go to a sports bar where he can watch the game and, you know, NOT talk to Jess. It’s then that Jess becomes so frustrated at her failed attempt at friendship that she admits to Coach that she doesn’t even LIKE basketball. The man is bewildered that she would feign interest just to try and befriend him. And during the conversation, he refers to her – once more – as his “buddy’s girlfriend.” Jess isn’t disheartened when she leaves the bar because she lost the bet. She’s not upset because she’d have to tell Nick he was right. She’s upset because her feelings are hurt and her expectations dashed. And Coach simply does not understand Jess. He doesn’t understand WHY they need to be more than they are. He’s completely and totally okay with referring to Jess as his friend’s girlfriend. It makes sense to him. It also provides a way to distance himself without making any effort to grow close to her. There is no work involved in their “friendship” when she plops down next to him on the couch to watch a game.

And perhaps what Nick relayed to Jess rings true in that moment: the fact is that Coach attempts to turn everything in his mind off when he’s watching sports. He doesn’t want to think about what the game means or anything beyond the television. But Jess doesn’t want to watch basketball superficially and she doesn’t want to have friendships superficially, so she digs and she pulls and she tries and sadly SHE is the one to end up hurt.

At Schmidt’s office, Ed begins to present his ideas to the board and requests that Schmidt provide the members with hard copies of the presentation. It is then that Schmidt reveals his master plan by telling Ed that the printers at work are “on the fritz,” (he really broke all of the printers) but that he loaded the presentation onto a laptop for his pupil. When faced with the potential of giving a presentation where technology is utilized or not  giving it at all, Ed feigns a heart attack and decides not to give the presentation at all, conceding a win to Schmidt… for this round.

Back at the sports bar, meanwhile, Nick enters wearing a Pistons jersey (he is officially caving in the sex standoff), looking for Jess. When he encounters a delighted Coach, Nick explains to his friend exactly what Jess has been after the entire time: genuine friendship. Moreover, he presents the key to Coach on how to make a friend for life in Jess. The key, Nick explains, is to discuss random, sweet, emotional thoughts that he has with Jess. Nick provides some examples, which I think are pretty fantastic (“If you comb a gorilla’s hair, would it like it?”), but the most intriguing element of this conversation is that this is how NICK became friends with Jess. The episode begins with Jess explaining that she wormed her way into the hearts of the loft guys, but friendship is a two-way street. During his conversation at the sports bar, Nick explains that he gained a friend for life in Jess by doing the exact opposite of what he claimed sports are meant to do. He forged an emotional connection with the woman by not being superficial and by just being HONEST and genuine and saying whatever came to his mind, whatever strange and wonderful and sweet thought he had.

I love that even before they started dating, NICK was the one to consciously make the effort to pursue a friendship with their roommate. He was the one who didn’t want her to move in, and yet he is now the one closest to her. For a curmudgeonly turtle-faced man who claims to hate discussing feelings and being emotional, he certainly made (and continues to make) an effort to be close to Jess by finding ways to connect and relate to her.

Nick returns to the loft in search of Jess, prepared to admit that he was wrong and forfeit their bet. When he opens the door to his room, he finds Jess wearing his Chicago Bulls jersey and I just utterly LOVE the fact that their bet began because they were both prideful and refused to admit their faults and it ends with not one but BOTH individuals willing to admit their faults and bridge the gap. They missed each other and weren’t willing to let something as stupid as a basketball game come in between what they have. And so they make up for their time apart rather quickly.

At the bar, Winston, Schmidt, and Cece toast to the success of Schmidt’s vengeance against Ed, and Schmidt offers his friend a job at his company. But Winston is hesitant, which I actually quite enjoyed. At the beginning of the episode, we found the man trailing Schmidt because he had no idea who he wanted to be or what he wanted to do. And it’s actually CECE who suggests that since Winston was so interested in profiling and learning what made Ed tick that he consider becoming a cop. I quite enjoy this career development for Winston and I love that Schmidt and Cece were so supportive of his potential career path.

Nick’s discussion with Coach at the bar clearly has an impact on the sports enthusiast as he not only knocks on Nick’s bedroom door to express his interest in becoming Jess’ friend (he even SINGS, how adorable is that?), but also explain that the Pistons mean so much to him because Detroit is the city he grew up in the longest as a kid. Jess is overjoyed at her progress in becoming friends with Coach (not knowing, of course, that it is really Nick’s progress that aided her). The episode ends with a promise – Coach will actually try to bridge the gap in his relationship with Jess. He’ll try to become more open and more vulnerable and actually share with Jess. And perhaps he’ll learn to apply those attributes to his other relationships as well.

For all their faults, one thing is certain: the loft roommates care an awful lot about one another and go out of their way consistently in order to ensure that everyone’s feelings are restored when they are hurt, that relationships are mended when they are bent or broken, and that support is given whenever difficult circumstances are encountered.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the definition of friendship to me.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
  • This episode was written by Rebecca Addelman who, unbeknownst to me until a few minutes ago, also wrote “Cooler” and “Parking Spot,” two of my favorite episodes in New Girl’s history. I enjoyed this episode initially, but enjoyed it a lot more upon re-watch so thank you, Rebecca!
  • “I’m in marketing, Winston. The backbone of capitalism. Without it, you’d be dead in two days.”
  • "You refer to it as 'basketsball'." "That's the technically-correct term, Nick. There are two baskets. I'm an English teacher!”
  • “You’re about to see life happen at the speed of business.”
  • “That’s the new guy? New compared to what… the moon?”
  • Coach and Jess’ butt bump is adorable.
  • “It’s most of my relationship with my dad… RIP, by the way.”
  • “I can channel all of my sexual energy into knitting. How do you think I made it through high school?”
  • “I’d hug you, but you smell like a public library.”
  • “There is too much going on in whatever metaphor you’re trying, okay? It’s too busy.”
  • Nick’s old, cranky ramblings were the ACTUAL BEST THINGS EVER.
  • “You’ve already got high cholesterol and weird people skills.”
Thank you all for reading this review! I’ll be back next week to review a New Girl episode packed with guest stars. It’s Jess’ birthday, after all! :)


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