Even though you may be used to seeing Winston on “New Girl” in a storyline about, say, a cranberry stuck in his ear, Tuesday night was quite different.
In a rare move, the Fox comedy — starring Zooey Deschanel as Jess, the wacky ringleader of a dysfunctional friend group — tackled a serious issue in one of its subplots: Police and racial profiling. Last season, the writers decided Jess’s roommate Winston should join the Los Angeles police force.
Lamorne Morris, who plays Winston and co-wrote the episode, said he approached the “New Girl” executive producers about addressing the issue of police brutality, especially in the wake of Ferguson and Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths. (Hours before the episode aired on Tuesday, South Carolina police officer Michael Thomas Slager was charged with murder after shooting a black man during a traffic stop.)
“I had been getting tweets from fans about Winston being a black cop, like, ‘What’s up with that?'” Morris told the New York Times. “But it was around the Darren Wilson verdict that I got really upset and thought I should address this, without being too preachy or too militant.”
Indeed, the story line was anchored in comedy. Winston, generally awkward around the ladies, hits it off with a cute girl named K.C. (guest star Kiersey Clemons). She invites him to join her afternoon plans: “I’m going to a rally to protest the police,” K.C. says. Winston declines her offer, trying to hide his LAPD t-shirt.
However, they meet up later at a restaurant, and K.C. starts telling Winston about the rally. She says there was a teenager there who was once arrested “because he fit a description.” “He’s 14 — he doesn’t even fit into his jeans,” K.C. says dryly. Then, Winston’s cop buddies stop in; they nod hello and say they’ll see him at work. K.C. becomes suspicious and Winston assures her, no, he’s not a cop…um, he’s a stripper! That’s why he knows all those guys in police uniforms.
At home, Winston has a serious talk with Nick, his goofy buddy who has no idea what he’s going through. “I can’t believe I didn’t tell her I was a cop,” Winston sighs. “With everything that’s been going on, I just feel like she wouldn’t respect me.”
Nick tries to sympathize — though the discussion devolves into impressions of Eddie Murphy and Jerry Seinfeld. Finally, Winston tells him he just won’t understand when he talks about racial profiling.
“You and me are going to get weird about race?!” Nick asks, incredulously.
“I love you, but you’re white. I’m black. I understand where she’s coming from,” Winston says. “When I was kid we used to run from the police. Even if we did nothing wrong, it was just out of habit.”
“Why haven’t you ever told me?” Nick asks.
“Cause you’ll never get it,” pipes up their pal Coach (Damon Wayans Jr.), who’s been listening the whole time.
“As the only other black man in this loft, I feel like I should weigh in,” Coach says. “This issue really hits home with me and I feel like I have a lot thoughts and ideas that I have to get off my chest.” Ultimately, we never hear Coach’s perspective, as he decides that he needs food before this conversation and walks away singing about “race talk snacks!” Then the scene ends. Weirdly abrupt — then again, it’s a half-hour sitcom.
Obviously, the episode concludes as Winston tells K.C. the truth. And she’s not mad that he’s a cop, only that he lied. (Though she still makes him do a striptease, because this is “New Girl.’)
The silly ending was intentional. While Morris wanted to bring up more issues, he said, he had to dial it back. After all, it is a comedy. Morris told the New York Times he originally wrote a line to Nick that read something like “I’m black, and I’m a police officer, and as I sit here, comfortable in this loft with you, my white buddy, black people are being slaughtered.” Ultimately, it didn’t make it in the episode.
Indeed, Morris explained to TVLine that the dialogue wound up being a lot lighter and less “militant” than he planned.
“It’s gotta be lighthearted. You’ve got to ease up on it a little bit,” he said. “Still hold your ground, still keep your point, but this is not HBO.”