Friday, November 8, 2013

New Girl 3x07 "Coach" (Never Grow Up)

Original Airdate: November 5, 2013

In a few months, I will turn 25 years old. I guess this is a pretty big deal in the eyes of our society because it means important things – like being able to rent a car – will be within my reach. I know a lot of people in their mid-twenties. They’re my comrades and cohorts. They’re people I went to high school with and those who I’ve seen grow up over the years. I know a lot of people in their mid-twenties and some of them, quite frankly, act as though they’re in their late teens or early twenties on their best days. I watch these people post about their drunken debacles on Facebook and see their passive-aggressive status updates and hear stories about something they did that was immature.

But as I’ve grown up and as I approach my mid-twenties, I’ve also seen something else noteworthy: a lot of these people are finally growing up. Those girls in high school who were in the popular clique? Some of them are married. Some of them have children. My theatre friends have moved to New York and Los Angeles. A vast majority of my closest friends have moved to other states to pursue graduate degrees and I’ve come to the staggering realization that the people I knew in high school – those silly, giggly, crazy people – aren’t necessarily the same people I see today. It’s difficult, sometimes, to reconcile the memory that you had of someone’s youth with the reality of who they’ve grown up to be.

The truth is that some people will never really grow up or out of their wild phases, but most of us WILL. But what happens when we reconnect with the people who refuse to acknowledge their real-world problems and use the escapist tactic of reverting to wild and crazy behavior? Well, for the answer to that question, I’ll direct you to the latest New Girl episode titled “Coach.”

Before I begin this review, let me inform you of a little secret: my favorite thing about “Coach” as an episode was that every single character was wrong at some point in the episode. And I don’t mean to find joy in these characters acting wayward but… I kind of do. I thoroughly enjoy shows that provide the audience with flawed characters. Those, in my opinion, are the only shows worth watching. And yet, there is always a character within these shows that seems to be “less wrong” than others. That’s not bad, by any means, but usually comedies especially often have characters who more or less tend to be the voice of reason in any given episode.

Arguably, no one in “Coach” was right: Cece wasn’t right to tell Jess to go after Artie; Coach and Schmidt weren’t right to belittle Nick’s relationship; Winston wasn’t right about much, quite frankly, and Jess wasn’t right to try and get back at Nick for his behavior. Each of these characters acted selfishly throughout the episode. But – and this is a BIG caveat – each of the characters recognized how wrong their behavior actually was by the episode’s end and made the necessary amendments to correct their actions moving forward. That’s truly what I admired about the episode as a whole. It would have been easy for Jess or Nick or Cece to remain the faultless and sage character – to spout off wisdom and wrap the episode up with the New Girl version of a “Winger Speech.” But what the episode chooses to do makes the lesson all that more powerful: by allowing each character to be at fault, the writers allow EVERY character to grow and learn from their mistakes. Because while these characters may have their lives in disarray, the point is not that they are messed up and flawed individuals. The point is, of course, that they don’t have to STAY that way.

(Kudos to Dave Finkel and Brett Baer, who I believe wrote the episode, for providing us all with such awesome representations of flawed but growing characters.)

But before we get to that, let’s discuss “Coach” in its entirety. The episode is aptly titled as it focuses on the return of Coach, the former loft roommate, into the lives of Nick and Schmidt. Flashbacks show Coach, Nick, Schmidt, and Winston having drunken adventures together. Bear in mind, of course, that these are men who are in their 30s, still acting as though they are in their 20s. As an aside, I enjoy this portrayal of Nick, Coach, Schmidt, and Winston because I feel like it’s intensely realistic. I know mature, great guys who are in their mid-to-late twenties. They’re my friends and co-workers and a majority of them have wives or girlfriends. But there is something noticeable that occurs whenever men are placed together by themselves: their collective mental age decreases rapidly. They lost all sense of maturity and act, often, like rowdy and petulant children. Why? I think that the answer is pretty simple and applies to us all, regardless of age or gender: we feel comfortable with those who we know best and those in whose presence we feel most free. Nick doesn’t have to think about anything when he’s with his close male friends. He has no worries or pressures… except that he does, and therein lies his dilemma throughout the early part of the episode.

When Coach arrives, you see, he’s ready to party. He wants to revert back to a place where he, too, doesn’t have to think about much – where he doesn’t have to emotionally process the break-up he just endured that lead him to the loft. Coach needs to turn off his emotions and he expects that his friends will do the same. After all, that’s what they have ALWAYS done.

Truthfully, the most popular method of operation is to bury your feelings down deep within you – to pile whatever distractions are necessary in order to forget something or someone that may have caused you pain – and ignore them. I had this conversation recently with some friends, actually, and we all agreed: coping mechanisms are a necessity in our lives in dealing with pain and stressors. Some cope by completely shutting down; others cope by eating or exercising or shopping. But problems occur when you DON’T cope at all – when you allow your emotions to simmer just below the surface of your heart. That, of course, is what Coach is doing at the beginning of the episode. He brushes off the notion that his break-up is painful and copes by drinking and dragging his friends out to a strip club.

Schmidt is coping, too, throughout the episode. After moving out in the previous episode, one would presume that Schmidt is happy in his new environment. It was, after all, something that he had wanted and something that he did of his own will and volition. But, as we learn later in the episode, this isn’t necessarily true. Meanwhile, Cece spends the episode transferring her pain and frustration regarding men onto Jess and her relationship with Nick. (But we’ll get to that momentarily.)

Coach, meanwhile, decides to pick up right where he left off two years ago (apparently when he gets a girlfriend he disappears off the social radar of his friends which… is understandable. I’ve known friends like that, truthfully), and that includes taking his guys out to a strip club on a Tuesday night. Two years prior, however, Nick Miller was single and now he has a girlfriend who vocalizes her concern to him in private.

And, in private, Nick understands her concerns and sympathizes with her. But when Coach enters the room, Nick is – quite literally – caught between his girlfriend and his friend. I’ve read Tumblr posts recently in which fans and viewers (and staunch Nick Miller defenders) chastised the way that Nick was written in the episode. They claim that he acted immaturely and should have been more supportive and loyal to the wishes of his girlfriend. And to that, I will only say this: Nick Miller is flawed. And while the characters on New Girl do exhibit growth, it’s extremely important to remember that these characters have default settings. Nick’s default setting has always been to look out for himself and his interests, not because he’s an inherently selfish character but because – as an adult – HIS life is the only one he has had to care for and about. As a child, Nick was forced into the role of son and brother and father, and I do believe that childhood took a toll on him as an adult. So, the natural response for Nick is to act in a manner that protects and caters to his own wishes. Plus, he wants to be cool in front of Coach. He wants to live both in the present (by maintaining a good relationship with Jess) and in the past (by still being able to do all that he used to with Coach). In the end, he realizes he cannot have both and makes his choice.

During Nick and Jess’ discussion, Nick brings up the fact that they have never had “the talk” – though they’ve used similar terminology, they technically have never referred to one another as a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” This visibly offends Jess, who believes that Nick receives all of the rewards a boyfriend would get and – logically – IS her boyfriend. Digging the hole further, Nick also mentions that they’ve never had the “seeing other people” talk either, though both of them vehemently deny the want or need to date anyone else. By the end of the conversation, Nick’s self-centered way of thinking lands him in hot water with Jess, who is going out with Cece later that evening and snaps that Nick can do whatever he would like and that she doesn’t care.

Here’s the thing: Nick KNOWS he messed up and feels immediate remorse for it. This much is evident on his face when Jess leaves the room. But just because Nick feels a twinge of guilt does not mean he instantly remedies the situation. Remembering that growth occurs in baby steps, especially for characters on a television show, and is not an instantaneous event is necessary in order to appreciate the characters and the shows we watch on a weekly basis.

In the B-story this week (or perhaps it is the A-minus storyline, since both seemed to have relatively equal screentime), Cece and Jess go out together, the latter explaining to her best friend what had happened with Nick. Jess is frustrated, and understandably so. But instead of encouraging her friend, Cece transfers the bitterness and resentments she feels regarding the demise of her relationship with Schmidt onto Jess. This is, of course, an unwise move on Cece’s part that she (quickly) regrets. In the moment, however, the model explains that if Nick wants to play games, Jess should play them as well by making Nick jealous.

Jess, to her credit, is initially hesitant and resists calling Artie – an attractive coffee shop worker played by the delightful and smooth Taye Diggs – because that would make things too real. She knows that she cares about Nick deeply and doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize her relationship with him. She simply looked to Cece in order to vent some of her frustrations, not to actually hurt Nick.

At the club, Winston makes a mistake by taking out $2,000 worth of “Bunny Money,” which is essentially useless and can only be spent at the club’s bar or restaurant or gift shop. Throughout the remainder of the episode, the men – especially Coach – remind him of his mistakes. When Coach explains, excitedly, how the men will be at the club until the sun comes up, Nick and Schmidt laugh and agree… until Coach is out of sight. It is then that the men begin to panic (Schmidt has an early morning presentation for work and Nick is concerned that Jess hasn’t texted him back). What I love about “Coach” as an episode was the subtle Nick/Schmidt bond it reignited. The two have been at odds, understandably, all season long but this episode found them struggling to remain upset at one another.

Schmidt will always be Nick’s turtle – no matter how terrible Schmidt becomes, Nick will always care about him as a friend. And I think that’s pretty endearing because these two mess up quite frequently. The men agree to a game plan, though: they will both try to encourage Coach to leave and return to the loft with Nick leading the charge.

What I truly love about Nick’s suggestion is this: it’s mature and it’s honest. Nick KNOWS that Coach is hurting and, two years ago, he would have shuddered at the thought of sitting in the loft, drinking beers and discussing feelings. But Nick is now in an established relationship and he’s learning that these sorts of things – these emotional moments – are important not only in his romantic relationships but in his friendships as well.

Schmidt abandons Nick, however, even though he also agreed to the plan. (Let’s be honest: Schmidt will jump aboard whichever plan is most popular and requires the least amount of conflict for him.) After being mocked about how he is “whipped,” Nick stays at the club. Back at the bar, Jess emerges from the bathroom and decides to text Nick.

Unfortunately, Cece has called Artie and is intent on using his presence to make Nick jealous. Jess is uncomfortable with the entire scenario, noting that she already has a boyfriend. Bear in mind that Jess is still doing the right thing at this point in the episode. Cece is pushing her prejudices and beliefs onto Jess, but the teacher is resilient. She isn’t the worst friend ever in this episode, of course, but Cece also isn’t a GOOD friend. And she’s certainly not the friend that Jess needs. Jess needs someone to tell her that she needs to discuss her feelings more with Nick, that she needs to return to the apartment and not do anything she will regret.

Jess claims that she’s had her own fun: she’s told Artie that she is involved and shook his hand. But Cece is persistent and shifts the angle of her argument: men cannot be trusted and therefore need to be beaten at their own game before the women have the opportunity to get hurt. Jess contemplates these words, likely thinking about all the ways she has been hurt in the past and perhaps even the way Nick hurt her earlier that day, and agrees, calling Artie back over.

At the club, Nick and Schmidt devise a new plan in order to force Coach to leave: they’ll drag him out after he’s had too much to drink. Back at Nick’s bar, drinking is also involved in the conversation Artie and Jess are having, though the former seems rather encouraging in regards to Jess’ relationship with Nick. He asks her to call Nick and hash things out with him, and she begins giggling incessantly at his deep, smooth voice. (Let’s be honest: I’d be doing the exact same thing.)

Nick and Schmidt’s plan is failing miserably. When Jess calls Nick, Coach begins to tease the man for being “whipped” and Nick – slightly drunk and still desperate to shove his life into the box of “what used to be” – doesn’t handle the situation well. And here, of course, is where Jess starts down a slippery slope of wrong decisions: tipsy herself, she informs Nick that she’s with another man at the bar (causing Nick to drop his phone in a panic), and then hangs up.

Artie then offers Jess and Cece a ride home, and that is when Cece begins to realize her fatal error upon seeing how drunk Jess is and how much she’s beginning to flirt with Artie. Recognizing that Artie taking the women back to the loft is a bad idea, Cece vocalizes this and insists that they can get a cab home. Jess is persistent on Artie being present, and her best friend suddenly realizes what horrible advice she had given. The beauty of this moment is that Cece may not be mature enough to fully handle the emotional baggage of her breakup quite yet, but she IS mature enough to recognize when she has made a mistake. And, instead of leaving Jess to deal with the consequences of her bad advice, Cece takes charge of the situation to the best of her ability.

Do you remember what Nick said in the episode from last season titled “Halloween”? I do. He likened relationships to haunted houses – he said this, actually: “You want to know why I don’t like haunted houses? Because they’re just like relationships. You walk in all confident, and then once you get in, it’s not what you thought it was gonna be, and it’s scary!” As Nick insists to Winston, Coach, and Schmidt that he needs to leave because he was just on the phone with Jess and she’s drinking and talking to another guy, Coach counters with an offer – Nick should stay with the men at the club. “Strippers and booze – forever!” he insists. He also says something interesting and reminiscent of the quote I noted above: “Relationships are prisons,” he declares. When Schmidt and Winston agree, Nick shakes his head and corrects the men.

“Relationships are NOT prisons,” Nick explains. “Jess is sexy and sweet. And I can’t lose her.”

(Cue every single female audience member swooning. And also take note: this quote is reminiscent of what Nick said in “All In” about not wanting to let go of her. Basically, these two are sappy schmucks and I love them so much.)

Nick Miller has grown up and matured, whether he realizes it or not. The sheer fact that he refuses to allow someone else to talk about how terrible and trapping relationships are demonstrates that clearly. He’s willing to fight for something – for SOMEONE – because he cares about them. Two years ago, Nick Miller asked Caroline a question in the pilot episode. He asked her why she dumped him. Her response, if you recall, was along these lines: she didn’t know he had even cared about her until after they broke up.

But with Jess, Nick has made one thing quite clear: he cares DEEPLY for her and would do anything to keep her in his life, whether that means sacrificing boys’ night or opening a checking account. And I think that this is the first instance in which COACH is able to recognize the extent of which this relationship means something to Nick. Schmidt and Winston, too, are able to understand his commitment to Jess better, and they all contemplate his words before Coach breaks down crying at the table. His ex-girlfriend, as it turns out, broke up with HIM and it’s left him pretty devastated. His attempt to fill the void through alcohol and juvenile behavior failed and he notes: “You have to fight for your relationships.”

(But Winston is fighting for his pride and his $2,000 in “Bunny Money” so he’s not quite ready to leave the club yet.)

When the men DO leave the club, they hit one final snag of the night: Coach insists on the cab driver taking them to the workplace of his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend Derrick. The only problem? Derrick is a cop. And the men are drunk. Nick and Winston know that this can only end badly, but Coach is determined (perhaps spurred by Nick’s passionate miniature speech) to fight for what he used to have.

Unfortunately, the men realize that one of the cops has called for backup because of Coach’s behavior and they pile out of the car in order to assist him. Back at the loft, Jess invites Artie in (with Cece in tow). The two women have an honest conversation, in which Jess explains that she doesn’t really care about Artie – she just was hurt that Nick couldn’t call her his girlfriend and she wanted to hurt him back. (Poor Jess still isn’t in the right yet, but at least she acknowledges why she is behaving the way that she is.)

Cece then apologizes for the things that she said to Jess: “I put that on YOU,” she explains, “because I’m going through something with Schmidt. You have NICK.”

What happens next is one of my favorite moments in the entire episode, to be honest. Jess begins to rant about how Nick behaves like a child and – as she does so – recognizes that the silly things he does and the way that he acts, no matter how absurd is actually all rather endearing. He may not have his life together but then, Jess realizes, neither does she. But as Cece vocalizes, Jess has something really good in her life with Nick. And through Jess’ subtle and bashful smile, we – as the audience – know that she believes in what she has with her “old man.” She knows that he may have to write a note to put on pants and throw pizza at seagulls and drink on a Tuesday but that at the end of it all, he cares immensely for her and would do anything it took to keep her in his life.

Nick is doing his best at the precinct to encourage anything but a brawl from erupting. He yells at Coach, Schmidt, and Winston, noting that they are ALL too old to be acting as immaturely as they had been the entire night. There’s an expiration date, he insists, on that kind of behavior and they’ve long-passed theirs. Their lives HAVE to move on, Nick says.

It is then that Schmidt admits to being unhappy in his new apartment, in spite of his pretending to be otherwise. In fact, he says that he is miserable. And though they don’t really explore the conversation further, I think that Schmidt’s behavior throughout the night parallels Cece’s: Schmidt dealt with and is still dealing with the fallout from his failed relationships. He’s in a fragile place, emotionally, and is trying to pick up the pieces. He, too, is transferring his pain regarding relationships onto Nick and the others. He’s lonely and unhappy and though it is a place that is totally self-earned, it is a dark place no less. And though Schmidt pretends he is all right, the truth – of course – is that he is not.

And Coach is not okay, either. But the real heartbreaking moment of the episode occurs when Coach confronts Derrick. After a pause, with Winston, Schmidt, and Nick watching, Coach steps toward his ex’s new beau and simply says: “Take care of her.” Derrick momentarily softens and says: “I will.” Until he adds: “I’m a cop. Not a drunk loser.”

Damon Wayans Jr. is wonderful at a lot of things and nuanced facial expressions are what he is especially skilled at. (I am honestly extremely happy to have him back on the show, though it came with the price of Happy Endings being cancelled. Boo.) You can see the pain flicker across his face and realization resonate – that’s all he is, really, after a night like he had. In burying his pain and attempting to fill the void with alcohol and strip clubs, Coach has become a version of himself he never thought possible: the worst version of himself, in fact. Nick – beautiful Nick Miller – sees the pain and utter heartache in his friend’s face and insists that all of the men can become adults… tomorrow.

So, like the man-children they are, the loft gang begins to taunt Derrick who – unbeknownst to them - has backup coming. It is then that the men hilariously scatter away. Back at the loft, Cece and Jess search the loft in order to kick Artie out before Nick arrives home… and the man has stripped down to nothing and sprawled himself out on Jess’ bed, eliciting utter horror and embarrassment from both women.

As the men arrive back at the loft, Coach is taken back to Schmidt’s apartment, the latter instructing Nick – with a gentle smile – to go talk to his girlfriend. And Nick, in spite of everything, genuinely tells Schmidt that he had a fun night with him. Though the relationship may never be completely repaired to what it once was, it is definitely wonderful to see these two men working on becoming friends again. Winston, meanwhile, confronts Coach on a nickname t hat the latter continues to call him. Winston says that it is hurtful to constantly be reminded of his faults by someone who is supposed to be a friend. Coach genuinely apologizes… and Winston is quickly granted a nickname that essentially means “Britta’d.”

Cece and Jess, meanwhile, are scrambling to get a naked Artie out of Jess’ bed before Nick sees… and that plan fails miserably. Jess, however, explains the situation to Nick and earnestly pleads for him to understand that nothing was ever going to happen between her and the man. Nick, after only a moment of consideration, believes her. And I think that this is what I love most about Nick and Jess as a couple – they deal with the most absurd situations, but they always come out of those scenarios stronger than ever. There’s an amazing foundation of trust that roots their relationship. Yes, Nick messes up and acts immaturely. Yes, Jess can be nagging and overbearing. Yes, occasionally both adults can act like children and can yell at one another over stupid things like yarn and cardboard boxes.

But at the end of it all, a little nugget of truth remains: they’d do ANYTHING for each other. And I believe that nugget to be true regardless of whether or not Nick and Jess are in a romantic relationship or a friendship. No matter what ever happens with these two crazy kids, they will always support one another.

The episode ends with Nick punching Artie (which was awesome), Artie being hauled into the elevator, and Nick calling Jess his girlfriend. Later, the entire loft crew is seated around their kitchen table and to be frank, it filled me with utter joy to see those five characters together. They’ll always be wacky and sometimes find themselves in weird scenarios, and maybe one of them will be the voice of reason or maybe none of them will.

The truth though is that they’ll always find their way back to one another. Because that’s just how friendships work.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • “Schmidt, you stole my toothpaste WHILE I was using it.”
  • I know it was used for comedic purposes, but I sincerely doubt Coach would forget Jess. HE SANG “(I’VE HAD) THE TIME OF MY LIFE” TO HER, REMEMBER?
  • “He’s like some man-boy, man-child hybrid.”
  • TAYE DIGGS. That is all.
  • “Make a wish.” “I’m afraid to.”
  • “Girls are replaceable. Jobs are forever.”
  • “You’re drinking on a Tuesday and you’re a TEACHER.”
  • Cece's failed attempt to distract Nick was hysterical: "JESS! I FAILED!"
Thank you all for reading this review! Check back next week when I discuss the next New Girl episode entitled "Menus." :)


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