Friends fade in and out of our lives for all sorts of different reasons, especially as we get older. We move away and meet new people. Our jobs become careers, giving us less and less time to keep up with old acquaintances on Facebook while we’re on the clock. New Girl has depicted this phenomenon, either on purpose or by accident. Cece has appeared less frequently since her life got less Schmidty. We haven’t seen much of Jess’s friend Sadie either, ever since she and her partner had their baby. Looking further back, Coach disappeared from our lives after the series’ first episode, because actor Damon Wayans Jr. left to join the cast of Happy Endings. We never learned much about why no one ever thought to call Coach and check in, why he never dropped by the loft to see his old college buddies. Tonight it became clear. Coach is the worst.
Sometimes you meet up with an old friend, and it’s just like old times, and it’s wonderful. Other times, things are just the way you remember, and it stinks. You try to recapture the magic of youth, but you wind up thinking: “What the hell? Aren’t I supposed to be an adult now? Why is someone puking out a window? Why are we drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon in someone’s house?” We’re not in college anymore. House party beer starts at Sam Adams and gets classier from there.
Coach, however, has returned, and he wants to spend all night at the strip club like that’s not some kind of nightmare. When it comes to strip clubs, there are two kinds of guys: The kind who like strip clubs way too much, and the type who want to leave the moment they walk in the door. There is no middle ground. Either you’re nursing one beer while your friends get lap dances side by side, or you’re spending your life's savings to take a woman into the back room.
Coach is the gung-ho type. (I actually said out loud, “Oh, that’s wicked sexist,” as he tried to badger Nick into coming out.) He goes all-in at the Velvet Rabbit (and of course a show starring Zooey Deschanel features a strip club sort of named after a children’s book). He buys dances for the group and bicep curls the dancers, as if there were a place in Los Angeles that lets you handle the strippers like free weights. No one else shares his enthusiasm. Schmidt has a presentation to give in the morning. Winston, immediately upstaged by his old friend, skulks off to spend his strip-club-specific currency. Nick just wants to go home to Jess. Then Coach starts crying, right there at the strip club, which is super tacky. Even the strippers don’t do that, and they have more reason to than anyone. It turns out he was just sad about his breakup all along.
At the same time, Jess and Cece retaliate against Nick’s decision to go to the Velvet Rabbit by spending the evening with Artie (Taye Diggs), a handsome and worldly coffee-shop owner. Cece has decided that men are the worst, but for some reason the cure for this problem is a different man. Jess doesn’t realize that Cece isn’t really talking about Nick. She’s talking about Schmidt. Cece doesn’t realize it either, until it’s too late. Taye Diggs is already naked in Jess’s bed, which is what the French might call a “Champagne problem.” Jess and Nick ain’t broke! Stop trying to fix them!
“Don’t listen to advice. People always give you the advice they would give to themselves,” a friend told me once. Although maybe, according to him, he should have just said that to himself. It’s a real phenomenon, though. People always seem to give you the pointers that they would follow, were they in your position. Coach and Cece give Nick and Jess the advice they crave for their own lives. Coach wants to forget his ex. Cece needs to get over hers. But they’re screwing with Nick and Jess, and I am not onboard.
Bringing Coach back is an interesting decision. One immediate benefit is that his presence gives Winston a new antagonist. I’m happy Winston fought back against his old nickname “Shrimp Forks” (even though he got a new, worse, but more accurate nickname right away). Also, the flashback to Winston’s early-aughts braids and attempt to palm a basketball made me laugh.
More important, Coach’s return reintroduces Jess to her status as New Girl. The other characters are already acclimated to Jess’s eccentricities. Nick has realized that Jess is a smart, attractive woman (and not just a pineapple-upside-down cake). Schmidt is out of the loft. Winston, I assume, has some opinion about Jess, but his thoughts and feelings are rarely made clear. Coach sees her oddball antics with fresh eyes. Sure, the two of them lived together for a couple weeks and even watched Osama bin Laden’s take-down together, but apparently real life Zero Dark Thirty didn’t make much of an impression on Coach. His reemergence is a reminder that people are (for some reason) unnerved by Jess’s habits from time to time. When everyone accepts that Jess is pretty regular, the show isn’t New Girl as much as it is Four Sexy Weirdos. Coach can change that dynamic, for better or for worse.
Coach is not just a figure from Nick, Winston, and Schmidt’s past. He’s also a character from a past iteration of New Girl. He left before things got wacky. Before Schmidt realized his heart was breakable. Before Winston learned he was colorblind. Before Nick admitted his strong feelings for cello music. Maybe season one of New Girl had room for a hard-partying friend who loves strip clubs, but season three of New Girl has outgrown that. It’s a weirder show now. It’s gone off to college and gotten into Milan Kundera and the Velvet Underground. Okay, fine. David Foster Wallace and the Pixies. Okay, fine. Malcolm Gladwell and Arcade Fire. Whatever the show’s flavor, it has certainly matured beyond Def Leppard and drunken fights with cops.
The point is, New Girl is a different show now. Maybe Coach can integrate into its new incarnation more successfully than he returned to his peer group. It could be, though, that he’ll become a fifth wheel. Although, Schmidt has been pretty mopey lately. It’s possible Coach could step up and fill the group’s need for a needy, self-centered maniac, which, once you hit 30, is vastly preferable to an insatiable party animal anyway.