The Fox comedy show, New Girl, is not typically known for its commentary on current social issues or race relations in America. In fact, the series tends to highlight differences in its cast for comedy’s sake—with constant one-liners made about Cece’s (Hannah Simone) Indian background or Schmidt’s (Max Greenfield) Jewish faith. New Girl, a sitcom about five quasi-adults living under one roof, is not eager to take itself too seriously. In last Tuesday’s episode, titled “Par 5,” however, New Girl stepped outside of its usual comedic tone as it tackled a relevant and serious topic—racial profiling and police brutality against black citizens.
The episode begins routinely enough with a tension-wrought dinner at the loft, as Schmidt’s newest flame, Fawn Moscato (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Cece battle it out in a series of passive-aggressive quips. Lister-Jones has been fun so far in her portrayal of the ruthless and social-climbing councilwoman who has Schmidt bronzing his own skin and undergoing sexual performance evaluations. Any seasoned New Girl viewer knows, however, that Fawn and Schmidt are not meant to last and their volatile relationship is just a setup for yet another predictable will-they-or-won’t-they Cece and Schmidt reunion.
Jess (Zooey Deschanel) later accompanies Fawn to a networking charity event at a golf course, where she hopes to win favor with the school board president to get more computers for her school. In a foreseeable turn of events, Jess is horrible at both networking and golf, but when Fawn decides to take her under her wing, Jess learns that she can win more with good-natured honesty than with ruthless pandering. It’s a character revelation for Jess straight out of season one. Fawn, however, is humiliated when she poses for a photo op and accidentally flashes the crowd. (In an earlier revelation, we learn that she never wears underwear to networking events as a power move.)
Meanwhile, Winston (Lamorne Morris) , Nick (Jake Johnson), and Coach (Damon Wayans, Jr.) are out to lunch when Winston encounters a beautiful woman named KC who turns out to be a political activist rallying against police brutality. To Winston, she vocalizes her disapproval of how black Americans are unfairly targeted by the police. Winston, fresh on the LAPD force, never lets on to her that he’s a cop and even claims to be a male stripper when they run into several of his uniformed colleagues.
Back at the loft, Winston opens up to Nick in a touching and rare moment of sincerity about his childhood and race relations in the country. When Nick points out that they grew up in the same neighborhood, school system, and friend circles, Winston reiterates that this is something Nick can never understand, alluding to the tense atmosphere surrounding the killing of unarmed black teenagers by the police in recent months. He says to Nick, “You’re white. I’m black. When I was young, we used to run from the police. Even if we never did anything wrong, it was out of habit.” It’s definitely a timely issue in light of a South Carolina police officer being charged with the murder of an unarmed black man the same day the episode aired.
To say that Winston’s subplot came as a surprise would be a gross understatement. New Girl tackles plenty of issues, but they usually revolve around loft dynamics and romantic relationships. “Par 5,” co-written by Lamorne Morris himself, shows Winston’s conflict with identifying as both a black man and as a police officer.
Because this is New Girl, however, the poignancy of the scene is undercut with Nick’s badly botched Eddie Murphy impressions and a hilarious flashback to a young Nick and Winston during the O.J. Simpson trial (where Nick lost his ability to talk about race when he asked, “Why does the Bronco have to be white? Why can’t it just be a Bronco?”).
The episode ends with Winston coming clean to KC about being a cop and to his surprise, she’s more upset about him lying than the fact that he’s a police officer. In true New Girl fashion, KC has him perform a striptease in front of all of her co-workers in order to earn her forgiveness.
“Par 5” is an odd episode in New Girl’s repertoire in what has been a disjointed and unbalanced season so far. We’ve seen witty, strongly-written episodes (“Background Check,” “The Crawl”) as well as storylines that seemed to go nowhere (Jess’s relationship with Julian Morris’s character, Ryan Geauxinue.) While the season has taken a few steps backward, with Cece’s plotlines again revolving entirely around her feelings for Schmidt, New Girl is recovering slowly but surely from its season three blunders. Still, the episode should be commended for maintaining its comedic tone and New Girl-style antics while taking on a poignant and timely issue, the gravity of which cannot be fully covered in a 22-minute episode format.
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