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'New Girl' Throws Winston into the Sitcom Cop Problem

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Jan 15, 2014 | 12:02pm EST

New GirlGreg Gayne/FOX

Forgive me, but I'm about to make reference to Zach Braff's movie Garden State. There is a scene early on in the movie that shows Braff, having recently returned home to New Jersey for the first time in 10 years, bumping into an old friend of his who has, ostensibly, become a police officer. The following exchange takes place:

ZACH BRAFF: "You're a cop, Kenny? ... Why?"
KENNY, THE COP: "I don't know, man. Had nothing better to do."

And that, in a nutshell, is how mainstream comedy views law enforcement. Nothing better to do with a character? Make him a cop. That's what they did with Andy Dwyer on Parks & Recreation, sparking the new calling in the Season 4 finale after realizing that they had nothing else to do with the character in the year to come... before they got tired of that storyline, failed him out of the police academy, and whisked him off to Europe. It appears to be what they're doing with Annie Edison on Community, having her shirk her sensible and fitting career in hospital administration for an out-of-the-blue passion for forensic analysis. And it's what New Girl is doing with Winston now.

While Jess and Nick and Coach are off doing something regarding basketball or sex in this week's episode of New Girl, Winston decides to shadow Schmidt at his marketing firm in order to figure out if it might be a field conducive to his unusual skill set. In the process, Winston inadvertently (and with help from Cece) identifies a far more preferable course of action: becoming a police officer. Why? Because he enjoyed cracking the puzzling veneer of Schmidt's elderly work rival Ed (Bob Gunton, slingin' some terrific comedy, that ol' so-and-so) and likes "roaming around" ... or something.

If we're desperate to successfully adhere this to any established functions of Winston's character, I guess we can allocate his love for puzzles and his Season 2 Halloween costume. But all in all, this is New Girl shoe-horning its least figured out character into what television comedy seems to think is an all-purpose career. One that anybody can pursue at any time, without it being too severe a narrative transgression.

But would Winston really work as a cop? Would Andy Dwyer have? Will Annie Edison? What about Ashton Kutcher on That '70s Show, or Roseanne's sister? Why do so many shows think they can slap aimless do-nothings (and Annie) with a badge and watch them thrive? Shouldn't being a cop get the same kind of character-based weight as being a teacher, a marketing agent, a lawyer, a bartender, a model, or a coach? Maybe New Girl will prove that Winston is, in fact, perfectly constructed for a life on the force, but we're not going to hold our breath for any revelations of inspiration with this character.

Hey, at least we have Brooklyn Nine-Nine ... or should we say, Golden Globe-winner Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

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