There is no better example of the difference between television reality and actual reality than the way TV couples flop simultaneously onto their backs as a shorthand for “we just had great sex.” The audience accepts this even though it implies that whatever act the pair was previously engaged in had taken place side by side, sitting bolt upright. There are lots of ways to have hot sex. (Foreign accents, body paint, and face-punching are just a few of the ways we see this week.) Seated parallel to one’s partner, core engaged, and covered in blankets is not, to the best of my knowledge, an especially sexy posture for anyone. Still, when Nick and Jess crash down to the mattress, we are supposed to believe they’ve been doin’ it, and doin’ it, and doin’ it well (to quote the poet LL Cool J).
We are also willing to watch television friends treat each other in ways that would make real-life nemeses shudder with horror. Schmidt is Nick’s best friend, but he is openly trying to destroy Nick’s relationship. I have seen actual real-life roommate relationships dissolve over bathroom cleaning schedules and late-night music volume. An active attempt to sabotage my romantic relationship would immediately earn anyone, be he casual acquaintance or blood relative, a spot on my short list of Worst Enemies alongside anyone who insists that frozen yogurt tastes as good as ice cream and the first person who ever said “totes” instead of “totally.”
Schmidt is at his best when he’s at his worst. That’s television logic. We love when Schmidt is awful because there are no repercussions in our own lives. He’ll never get thrown out of his apartment by an angry girlfriend and wind up sleeping on our couch. We’ll never have to endure a party bus on his birthday. Plus, the laws of sitcom physics dictate Schmidt will always get his comeuppance. We can enjoy his diabolical description of “the Captain” (between bursts of smoothie-making that create the auditory equivalent of the old Austin Powers cover-up-genitals-with-analogous-fruits-and-veggies gag) confident that the scheme will somehow backfire and drive Nick and Jess closer together. We enjoy the fact that Schmidt founded the Zane-iacs, even though no human being whose heart pumps red, oxygenated blood could side with Billy Zane in Titanic.
I am breaking no new ground here. We all understand that television and real life follow different guidelines. It’s a good thing. No one would benefit if our entertainment accurately depicted the amount of time people spent waiting in line at the grocery store or playing iPhone games. Similarly, it would be disconcerting if you saw actual police officers making pithy, punny comments over dead bodies like they do on Law & Order. It’s fine that even supposedly “realistic” fiction doesn’t quite match up with our experience of being three-dimensional humans groping our way through a world that is often boring and for which we never seem to bring the right thickness of jacket.
Problems arise when fiction is not consistent with its own rules. It’s frustrating and sells out the audience. I had to quit reading Stephen King novels after making my way through the 1,000-plus pages of It, wherein a crew of childhood friends had to face down the embodiment of pure, unrepentant evil, only to realize in the end that what they really needed to do was (Spoiler Alert?) crush a giant spider with a broomstick or scare a snake out of a pantry or some dumb thing. It’s not just endings that can be problematic. I also got cranky when two thirds of the way through Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude, things got all supernatural. The last hundred pages of the novel were drowned out by John Goodman as Walter Sobchack screaming: “Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules??!?!” Maybe I’m a boring jerk, but I think consistency matters. (To be fair, I still mostly really like Fortress of Solitude.)
What I’m trying to say here is … guys, we have to talk about Winston. He’s breaking the rules. We’re used to seeing characters execute nefarious plots on New Girl, but it’s always in the context of the group dynamic. Winston is scheming off the grid, and it is unsettling. Just as drinking alone is the sign of a problematic relationship to alcohol, STAGING A CAT BACHELOR PARTY ALL BY YOURSELF IS A SIGNIFIER OF SERIOUS MENTAL ILLNESS. When Nick refuses to help Ferguson get laid, it becomes clear that Winston isn’t a cool guy throwing a party for his cat; he’s a weirdo who’s trying to watch animals have sex. It’s contrary to the spirit of the show. Four episodes into New Girl’s third season, Winston has become a walking cry for help covered in pet dander.
I get that Winston is alienated by Nick and Jess’s coupling. I’m even willing to acknowledge that wearing a bell so they always hear him coming is fairly reasonable, given their insatiable and far-reaching sexual activity. But this weird cat pimp subplot is a clear sign of a real descent into madness. He has become too lonely to function. A human woman comes to his apartment for what she believes to be a first date even after she thinks he has euphemistically asked her about her pubic grooming habits and whether she has a vagina. She brings over a bottle of wine and lets him take her straight to his bedroom, and Winston blueballs (blueboobs?) her so he can play The Apartment of Dr. Moreau with their pets. My heart breaks for his unspeakable loneliness. This is a more serious problem than the show seems willing to admit. Winston has been set off on solo adventures for the past two episodes. If this were a horror movie or a Star Trek episode, he would have died twice already.
All around Winston, his friends are coming to terms with their deepest feelings with varying degrees of fulfillment. Schmidt, full of estrogen (or whatever is in birth control pills … oh dear God, I shouldn’t be allowed to vote), leaves a note for Cece, who spits her gum into it like it’s a sub shop napkin. Jess tries to talk through Nick’s “Groundhog Day Situation” (shy penis, not repeating the same day over and over until he finds true love). Even Nick has started to express his feelings, including a love of the cello and fascination with live zebra birth. He’s growing and evolving, which is important because Jess has been giving him partial credit like a generous seventh grade math teacher for showing any hint he might have emotions other than “scowl” and “high five.”
Everyone’s maturing except for Winston, whose weird isolation disrupts New Girl’s glossy semi-authenticity. The problem isn’t that he’s behaving “unrealistically.” It’s the opposite. Winston is violating the rules of New Girl’s universe and acting too close to reality, veering away from sitcom and dangerously close to Hoarders.