“We accept the love we think we deserve” is a sentence that I’ve heard adults say to each other. Until tonight (when I Googled the phrase and learned it comes from The Perks of Being a Wallflower), I’d assumed it was some kind of popular self-help maxim like “live your best life” or “don’t go chasing waterfalls.” Nope. It’s a line from a young-adult novel. Well, regardless of where the quotation originated, it certainly applies to the men of New Girl. Nick, Winston, Coach, and Schmidt only accept affection in doses they feel they should receive. The wounded, lonely men of New Girl have become the series’ driving force. And they’re driving in circles.
The most promising of these sad sacks is Coach, who at first seems to cultivate self-esteem as easily as well-groomed facial hair, but has actually been wearing his neuroses like a deep-purple bruise (or Lakers warm-up jacket). He defensively flaunts his wealth while on a date with Cece, buying seven pretzels at the Staples Center. (A soft pretzel at a professional basketball stadium costs roughly as much as a certified, preowned Toyota sedan. Though, to his credit, the brag: “Coach had a good year today,” is as exuberant a boast as you’d hear on any Lil Wayne mixtape.) Coach texts throughout the entire basketball game, ostensibly demonstrating his aloofness to Cece, while in reality he’s getting affirmation from his mom, Ms. Coach.
Real quick: Do we even know Coach’s real name? Is it just … Coach? If not, why does he go by “Coach?” That’s a fine nickname when you’re a coach, but if you’re not coaching anything, it seems like a bummer of a moniker. It’s like when you’re unemployed, and a 7-11 cashier calls you “Boss.” You know you’re nobody’s boss. They’re just rubbing it in. If that is his real name, couldn’t his parents have aimed higher? Champ Bailey and Peerless Price are the names of star athletes. Those names inspire confidence in teammates and fear in opponents. How far would those men have gone if they’d been called “Equipment Manager Jones” or “Team Physician Carter?” Probably less far, is my guess.
The point is, Coach sabotages his date with Cece until it’s almost too late, which makes sense, given that he was getting pep talks from Schmidt, who’s just a withered husk of abs at this point. Schmidt’s hollow “You’re the prize!” doesn’t carry much weight, given that the man saying it has demonstrated a penchant for self-harm both in his binge eating of dessert and the extreme temperature at which he consumes his cobbler. In a disturbing flashback, we see that a college open mike gone awry once caused Schmidt to beg Nick to leave him to die. Later Schmidt demands that Jess hit him with her car. By the episode’s conclusion, both his psychic wounds and his physical ones begin to heal. Still, he’s in rough shape. Except physically it looks like he’s still in great shape. With all the depression eating he’s been doing, he must be exercising compulsively to keep the weight off. This does not seem healthy. I wish there were someone I could talk to about this. I’m worried.
Both Schmidt and Coach follow straight-line, young-adult character-development paths. Coach is coming off a breakup, so he’s keeping Cece at bay with misguided power plays. Schmidt was fat, and now he’s not, but his life still isn’t perfect, so he’s going to pieces. Winston, however, sports a less explicable brand of lunacy. His relationship history is trouble, sure, but he has been showering with a cat. Cats don’t even like showers! How is he enjoying this? Then he barrels headlong into a physical relationship with a woman whose best quality is that she doesn’t eat pudding from a cup (which apparently makes her “so real”). Look, far be it from me to decide who does and does not deserve love. I think there’s someone out there for everyone. It just seems like this lady may have already found her someone, cooked him, and fed him to her hamster. In that case, you do not get a second someone.
At this point, Nick Miller is the most stable of the gang. Before he got together with Jess, Nick was a man-child who would make the protagonist of a Judd Apatow movie say, “Get your shit together, dude.” He fought her for a long time, but her relentless positivity wore down (at least for now) his ornery defenses. He still may not be able to tell a hamster from a squirrel, but he’s in a head space where he can look out for his friends, which is more than the other three can say for themselves.
While the guys are 50 shades of shambles, Cece and Jess are exceptionally well-adjusted. They have satisfying careers and expect mutually fulfilling relationships. They understand their value as humans, professionals, and romantic partners. They have ups and downs proportional to the quality of their lives at the moment. Those are good traits. Grown-up traits.
Coach, Schmidt, and Winston don’t realize that they have rich lives and experiences of their own to share. Schmidt has made himself into the man he’s always wanted to be. Winston is quickly climbing the ladder in his career. Coach can afford pretzels at a basketball stadium. All three of them, though, place too much emphasis on their relationships with women. They’re mopey, and they’re boring to watch. Especially when Schmidt isn’t even allowed to try to ruin things. So much of this episode revolved around people trying to stop things from happening. And then … even worse … those things didn’t happen.
Remember that classic Chekhov quote about how if a gun is hanging on the wall in act one of a play, someone has to prevent that gun from being fired in act three? Me either! Because that would make for a stupid, boring play.
I don’t watch New Girl to see guys in their thirties plod and swoon over every little slight like auxiliary characters in Jane Austen novels. I listen to the National for that. (Their music pairs better with whiskey and has no commercial breaks.) Plus, New Girl’s brand of whimsical depression is frustrating to watch. There are no consequences to worry about. Even Jess hitting Schmidt with a car didn’t feel like it mattered. It’s the unbearable lightness of lightness. I’m done with it. Either dive into the depression or steer toward something brighter. This mid-range glumness is no fun at all. It’s like the song at prom you don’t know whether to slow dance or fast dance to. That’s fine for high school, but this show is about adults who need to cut the young-adult crap and move on with their lives.