Back in the pilot of New Girl, there was a certain rapport that seemed promising. Actually, all the cast members had a good rapport, but one couple in particular really sparked: Lovelorn Jessica Day and tough love trainer Coach. She cried, he cringed; she cried over a break-up, his comforting response was an order to "stop it"; he asked for advice for how to stop screaming at his clients, she burned off a chunk of her hair trying to help him. In other words: Coach and Jess have been gold from the beginning. But they took such a long hiatus.
The hiatus is of course not their fault: When Damon Wayans Jr. took the New Girl pilot, everyone thought that Happy Endings was seconds from cancellation. Instead it was two years from cancellation, and New Girl continued on without him, discovering new dynamics and exploring other, different kinds of chemistries. And his return to the show this season has had its ups and downs, with as many stumbles as there have been soaring moments of fusion. But this week's episode of New Girl, "Fired Up," reminded me of something I wish I'd never forgotten: Jess and Coach are a duo worth fighting for.
I've said before and I'll say again — not out of any delusion that I'm the only one with this thought in my mind, so much as, well, it's relevant: Ensemble sitcoms live and die based on their ability to pair off different combinations of characters in a variety of comedic and emotional ways. Schmidt and Winston can be great, for example, as can Nick and Winston, or Jess and Schmidt, or Schmidt and CeCe (when the tides are right), or Winston and Coach. The standouts, however, are where it's at: Nick and Jess, for example, are legendary, and Nick and Schmidt almost always works. We've seen two examples so far this season, though, that suggest that the Coach and Jess combination needs to be added to the canon of character combinations to look forward to.
The episode earlier this season that first showed this off was, of course, "Basketsball," which found Jess distraught at her lack of closeness with Coach. Where that showed their stumbling their way to closeness with one another, however, "Fired Up" cemented that that closeness was worth the fight: Coach gets a job at Jess' school, Jess gets a promotion to Vice Principle and finds herself having to immediately fire him, and, in the process, we're treated to all the mixes of sugar and spice and tough love and softness that makes their friendship work.
I will sing the praises of Damon Wayans Jr. at every opportunity, of course, but this episode was much less about what he's usually so brilliant at — the physical comedy, the trilling, the subverting of the black man stereotype with "effeminate" activity — and focused more on his ability to play well with the energies of his colleagues. It's part of what made Happy Endings great, too: Throw him in with slobby Max, high-strung Jane, or overcompensating Dave, he'd pick out every flavor that was missing from that scene and either fill that space as the yang to the ying or else join the ying side and let the comedy fly that way.
It's a skill the cast of New Girl can be reall good at, too (Zooey Deschanel of course also deserves a lot of credit for her half of distinguishing this dynamic this week), and something they've always been somehow less good at exploring in the first half of seasons as they are in the latter halves. We're in that latter half now, and Jess and Coach match insecurity and yelling with just enough sentimentality to make it sing. Seeing that chemistry actually all come together is a special kind of magic. Here's to a continuation of that magic in the episodes to come, and for Damon Wayans Jr. to get every part he so desires.