Hey, remember New Girl? Situational comedy that airs Tuesday nights on FOX? Coined the word “adorkable,” and then quickly lived to regret it? Well, after a few weeks without new episodes, the show returned with “Panty Gate,” which references all the various “-gate” scandals, but failed to properly format the title as “Pantygate.” However, that’s a minor quibble in this episode centered on love and empty romantic gestures (and finagling a way to say farewell to a character).
Jess is really on the sidelines in “Panty Gate”, floating about as a self-proclaimed “love doctor.” That being said, it isn’t a terrible use of her character, because Jess is funny in her smugness, and she is right as often as she is wrong—so her proclamations don’t feel entirely ridiculous. The episode breaks up Schmidt and Fawn Moscado, and also contrives a way to get Coach out of the picture.
You may or may not have known that Damon Wayans Jr. is leaving the show, which means that New Girl had to figure out a way to send off Coach. Unfortunately, ever since Wayans returned to the show, he’s been the least well-served cast member. You may recall that he’s dating a woman named May, but she’s basically a cipher. Well, evidently this cipher and Coach are in love, if only because then it makes sense to have them run off to New York together in a big romantic gesture.
They break up at the episode’s beginning, and both are shaken up about it, so Jess tries to get them back together. Coach breaks down during a sexual education talk. Coach goes to the bar with Nick and Winston to get drunk and party his blues away. May shows up at the loft and cries, and eats a bunch of crackers. At least the crackers thing was funny. It’s also pretty much the only bit of comedy business May has ever gotten to do.
She shows up at the bar and sees Coach with a bunch of ladies all up on him, but after a rousing speech from Nick, Coach goes and pours his heart out to May—and hurrah they are going to New York! They are in love, and we know this because they both say it during this episode. Otherwise, there would be no reason to believe this (and there’s still barely any reason to believe this, based on the episode). It’s a love of convenience, and it makes all the romantic stuff feel completely unearned and hollow. It’s not funny enough to overcome the fact that they can’t earn any romantic resonance with a relationship that barely had any buildup or screen time.
It’s also annoying that it seems every show now feels that—if a character is being written off, they need to move for love. Or they get killed, but that doesn’t really work with a show like New Girl. Television does realize that sometimes people move for reasons other than grand romantic gestures, right? Sure, it’s entertainment, so stuff is heightened and people have to fall in love, but how about a little innovation? It’s especially problematic when love only seems to enter the picture to give the character an eventual good excuse for leaving. At least Poochie got to die on the way to his home planet.
Meanwhile, in the last episode of New Girl, there was a joke about Fawn bending over without underpants on, and it being a real scandal. At the time, it just seemed like the dumb payoff of a storyline that was just petering out because they had no other endpoint in mind. However, to the show’s credit, they actually managed to spin it further and carry it into this episode. Schmidt stands by his woman, and his woman asks him to take the fall for her lack of undergarment. As far as the public is concerned, Schmidt is a man with an irrational disdain for ladies underwear, and so he is to blame.
This all comes to a head when Fawn and Schmidt go on a photo op excursion to buy underpants, wherein Fawn lays out her plan for their future, which involves a sham marriage. Schmidt doesn’t want that, though. He wants love, and, failing that, horizontal sex. Thus, he breaks up with her. While Fawn has always been a comedic character first and foremost, a pantomime politician, their breakup scene has way more heft and emotional resonance than anything between Coach and May. Not that anybody is going to feel too badly for Fawn, but she actually is a character that got a chance to have some sort of storyline. We know things about her, and Schmidt is still willing to give her a going-away present by staging a freak-out and storming out of the store. This, of course, also means he’s free to get back to Cece, who has been relegated to, ahem, fawning over Schmidt from afar. Also, she decided she is going to climb a mountain this week.
New Girl’s decision to give Coach a big, romantic goodbye really hampered their storytelling ability in “Panty Gate.” It meant it was a less funny episode, and it was a less dramatically sound episode than usual. When Schmidt and Fawn weren’t on screen (and while their bits were good, not great), nothing much happened worthwhile (aside from Jess, or Winston and his waffle). At the very end of the episode, as the whole loft gang eats pizza and bickers and acts weird, Coach clearly has a moment of reminiscence about what he will be missing. It’s relatable. The viewers at home were missing out on this kind of stuff all episode long too.
Chris Morgan is an Internet gadabout who writes on a variety of topics and in a variety of mediums. If he had to select one thing to promote, however, it would be his ’90s blog/podcast, Existential Parachute Pants. (You can also follow him on Twitter.)