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Damon Wayans, Jr. Is Returning to New Girl as Coach, A.k.a. the Character You Don’t Remember From the Pilot

Posted on the 17 July 2013 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

Damon Wayans, Jr. usually emerged from each episode of ABC’s Happy Endings as one of the clear highlights (along with Casey Wilson and Adam Pally).  His penchant for unexpectedly high pitched line deliveries, wide, stupidly grinning reaction shots, and almost alarming chemistry with on-screen wife Jane (Eliza Coupe) made for a reliably hilarious presence.


So, it’s not surprising that he didn’t remain unemployed for long after ABC canceled the show.  TVLine exclusively reports that Wayans, Jr. has booked a multi-episode (at least 4 episodes with the possibility for more) arc in the upcoming season of New Girl.  The problem?  They didn’t hire him to just play his character from Happy Endings.  Instead, he’s reprising the role of Coach, which he played in the New Girl pilot.  Daman Wayans, Jr. is funny; the character of Coach, though?  Not so much.  Plus, the show already struggles to find time for the character who replaced Coach, Lamorne Morris’ Winston.

It’s been a real shame watching them struggle with what to do with Winston.  More often than not, they simply use him as a straight man to react to either Nick or Schmidt’s craziness, usually the latter.  More so than any of the other characters, his storylines seem to get dropped much faster, such as girlfriends who are introduced and then barely seen again until the inevitable break-up episode.  Plus, some weeks he’ll be the straight man, and then the next week he’ll have a very broad, out of nowhere characteristic (like a love for performing pranks) amplified to the max.  Morris’ uniquely odd energy always brings the funny.  However, it still feels as if the writers are kind of throwing things out there to see what sticks.

Or maybe they just miss what they had originally wanted to do with Coach.  The original pilot for the show featured a cast of Zooey Deschanel as Jess, Max Greenfield as Schmidt, Jake Johnson as Nick, and Wayans, Jr. as Coach.  When Happy Endings was surprisingly renewed for a second season, Wayans, Jr. became unavailable.  Rather than re-cast the role and re-shoot the pilot, they decided to simply create a new character who would fill Coach’s slot in the show, even down to being the token black guy living with three white people.


Coach, Schmidt, and Nick from the New Girl pilot.

As per usual with pilots, the characters were all more character descriptions than actual characters, Jake the bum getting over a break-up, Schmidt the fastidious one eager to meet models, and Coach the overly masculine one.  Wayans played Coach like a Terry Crews type, with forceful yelling being his preferred method of communication.  He was a fitness coach at a gym who struggled to turn off the testosterone-high away from work.  This resulted in a sequence in which Coach attempts to comfort a crying Jess by yelling at her to stop crying, as if she were a flabby gym client lacking the proper motivation to get that next sit-up.  Except here Jess responds by crying even louder, thus neutralizing an alarmed Coach who walks away quickly.

In a later conversation with Jess, Coach admitted that he struggled with talking to women:

new girl coach
The problem with that scenario is mostly that its a bit too obvious where the show was going to go with the character, with a high likelihood of Jess emerging as some sort of coach to a romantically and sensitivity-inept Coach.  Plus, they could have had him attempt to coach Jess in various other areas, such as applying a workout mentality to getting over a break-up.  This would have played upon the show’s early “adorkable” approach, highlighting Jess’ innate girlishness and placing Coach as the one most likely to be reduced to rolling his eyes at Jess’ antics.

Losing Coach actually worked in the show’s favor, as although they sometimes forget about Winston he still fits better into the show’s post-”adorkable” identity as being about a group of just-turned-30-year-olds struggling to find their place in the world.  This has been most literally true of Winston, who began on the show having returned home after spending several years overseas playing professional basketball in Latvia. However, this left him with few transferable skills to American jobs, forcing him to enter the workforce for the first real time and suffer many embarrassing failures along the way.

It’s not clear how many of their original plans for Coach were simply transferred to Winston, but other than their skin color and background in athletics the characters are remarkably different.  It seems as if they have tried to tailor Winston to Morris’ strengths, and they would have likely adjusted Coach on the fly in reaction to Wayans, Jr.’s strengths.  So, maybe now that the show’s writers are hitting their stride, and Wayans, Jr. showed what he could do best across 3 seasons of Happy Endings Coach will be a far funnier character the second time around.

This isn’t one of those situations where Coach was never mentioned again on the show, though.  Nick has referenced him surprisingly often, with the ultimate being an inside joke when Coach was said to have left to live with 5 white people in Chicago (the same scenario and setting of Happy Endings).  Given that in-joke, one wonders if there will be any more references to Happy Endings in Coach’s return engagement, like maybe a joke about having shacked up with a skinny, slightly crazy white woman who insisted upon calling him “Boo.”

The odd part of all of this?  New Girl is partially responsible for the death of Happy Endings.  ABC packaged Happy Endings with Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 this past season, moving them to Tuesdays and scheduling opposite of New Girl and The Mindy Project in a bid for the same exact audience demographic.  Nobody really won, though.  Ratings for both New Girl and The Mindy Project were bad, and both Happy Endings and Don’t Trust the B were canceled.  Okay.  If you ask the people who used to have jobs working for the ABC shows they’d tell you it sure feels as if their side lost.

Fine.  I’ve resisted making this joke this whole time because every damn other site covering this story has already done some variation of it, but….I guess Damon Wayans, Jr. is going to get a happy ending after all, just on New Girl now.  Still waiting for their happy endings, though, are the 5 other cast members of Happy Endings.

New Girl returns for its third season on September 17.

Anyway, what do you think – not of the joke, but of this news?  Excited?  Not?  Actually think that Coach would have been an amazing character?  Think I’m being too hard on the show with its treatment of Winston?  Let me know in the comments.

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