Things seemed simpler 60 years ago, especially in terms of blending your life with that of your significant other. If you were a man, you parted your hair vigorously to one side with pomade and drank beer with your war buddies for recreation. If you were a woman you kept your hair in curlers (with no endgame of curly hair, as far as I can tell) and you gossiped over the telephone with your gal pals. Then, sometimes, the war buddies and the gal pals would have a dinner party. At the end of the night, everyone would return to the homes they owned because they weren’t under the crushing weight of massive student debt. Often they drove home drunk, which was less of a big deal back then. But that’s not a surprise. Football players wore helmets made of Saran Wrap in those days. This is everything I know about the fifties, and I learned it by absently watching Mad Men while checking my e-mail.
Nowadays, relationships are more complicated. In 2014, one of the most delicate relationships is the interaction with a significant other’s roommate. I guess there are probably young people dating in America who own houses or apartments. But not in New York or Los Angeles or Boston or San Francisco, for the most part, right? I mean, if you can afford to own a home in a metropolitan area, I hate you. I don’t wish you harm. I don’t hope you lose your home. But your very existence makes me seethe with jealousy and inadequacy. You may as well own a time machine in terms of my ability to relate to you. This digression may not have much to do with New Girl, but the need to express it burns within me with the intensity of a star going supernova.
Relationships with girlfriends’ roommates have always been a puzzle for me. If my girlfriend is in a fight with her roommate, am I also in a fight with that person? If they’re relative strangers, do I also keep the roommate at arm’s length? How long after a breakup do you unfriend the roommate on Facebook? Do you just stay in that weird digital friendship limbo forever? That doesn’t seem right. But it’s what I’ve done after every breakup ever. Most important, if a girlfriend is close with her roommate, am I supposed to get close, too? Multiple roommates make this conundrum exponentially more difficult.
In “Basketsball,” Jess tries to crack the difficult walnut that is Coach. She’s motivated in part by her irrepressible Jess-ness but even more by an urge to be Coach’s friend, and not just his buddy’s girlfriend, which is how he sees her at first. This is a real and thoroughly modern problem. There was a time when your identity basically consisted of your job and your lineage. Now, there are so many ways to define yourself. Your favorite sports team. Which iteration of Doctor Who you prefer. Your profession. We all want to be seen for the identities we have carved out for ourselves, not just for associations with other people. So when Jess rebels against being Nick’s Girlfriend, she adopts Coach’s favorite team (the Pistons) as an act of defiance. Not only that, when Nick cuts off Jess’s supply of “Vitamin D,” she demands that he recant the allegiance to his beloved Bulls if he wants any of what she might call “Vitamin V.” (“That doesn’t seem reasonable,” said my friend Andrew, whose couch I’ve been sleeping on this week.)
As Jess tries to shuck friendship out of Coach like he’s an oyster, we learn more about him, too. He’s not just a personal trainer who likes to time things. He’s also the product of a turbulent childhood who latched onto athletics because he had no other way to make friends. That’s good to know. Before that, I thought Coach was kind of a dick. Now I know he’s kind of a dick, but I get why. When you know where someone’s flaws come from, you’re much more likely to excuse them, which is weird because everyone’s neuroses come from somewhere. No one is born an irredeemable monster.
While Jess tries to assert her own personal identity, Winston is in the process of developing his own professional self. Obviously, he isn’t suited to marketing in the way Schmidt is. He seems to have a heart and a soul. As far as we know, Winston’s most prominent traits are an inability to execute pranks and a love of solving puzzles. Cece (accurately) determines that would make him a good police officer. He (finally) has an identity of his own.
“Basketsball” does one of my favorite New Girl things; it draws the characters together rather than pushing them apart. Jess and Coach become friends, and also Winston and Schmidt, traditionally uneasy allies, work together to save Schmidt’s job. Even Nick, who is largely useless, pitches in on that project. At the end of the episode, Nick and Jess overcome their newly developed sports rivalry and give in to their mutual attraction. It seems like the couple has overcome their early-season volatility and settled into a pattern of stability. It’s more enjoyable to watch them squabble when their entire relationship doesn’t feel like it’s in a state of peril. Their fights lately have lower stakes and are more watchable. But it could be that I’m an anxious people-pleaser who can’t stand to see people argue.
As the series continues, the identities of the characters grow clearer and clearer. Nick and Schmidt have two different ideas of what is sexy. (Honestly, I don’t think “Black Licorice” or “Sexy Mayor” are especially enticing. But they aren’t any worse than Jess’s sensual reading of how a piston works.) Coach’s poor social skills are becoming more relatable. Winston has a career path. I repeat: Winston has a career path! Cece has very quickly become a competent bartender.
Not only that, but the relationships between characters are becoming more vivid. Nick and Jess are crazy in love (cue Beyoncé’s horn section). Schmidt and Winston are working together. And, just as Jess intended, she and Coach have become friends. They’ve transcended the nebulous “buddy’s girlfriend” relationship through Jess’s Herculean efforts at friendship. In the end, a modern problem calls for a solution from a group of contemporary thinkers.
“If you wanna be my lover, you’ve gotta get with my friends.”