Elizabeth Entenman
April 08, 2015 11:01 am

Every Tuesday night, I laugh until I cry at the genius that is Winston Bishop on New Girl. His terrible pranks (“They call me Prank Sinatra!”). His enduring optimism. His willingness to share — over share, even — his emotional state of being. So when a strong Winston plot began to form on last night’s episode, I was excited to watch it play out. And it did not disappoint.

‘Par 5’ was more than quick-yet-brilliant Schmidt quips and long-hilarious Nick rants. It was an episode by Winston, for Winston. Literally — it was co-written by actor Lamorne Morris who plays Winston. It put both Winston and Lamorne in the spotlight and gave them an opportunity to talk about something quite serious that’s been on their minds, and on all of ours: race relations and the police.

Winston is a cop. And in last night’s episode, his character opened up about making a living as an African-American police officer — it’s a topic that I hadn’t thought much about in the context of New Girl but had thought a lot about in the context of current events.

In the episode, Winston starts talking to a pretty girl who, it turns out, is on her way to a rally against the police. Fans of the show know Winston loves his job. But last night, the series broke the fourth wall in a way, letting us know that they, too, live in a world where police brutality is at the forefront of the media and characters’ minds. In a scene on last night’s episode Winston talks to Coach and Nick about his conflict being black and being a cop. He says to Nick, “I love you but, you’re white, I’m black. I understand where she’s coming from. When I was a kid we used to run from the police. Even if we did nothing wrong, it was just out of habit.” It’s a powerful quote, especially when viewed within the context of a comedy show like New Girl. 

So here’s how this politically poignant episode came to be. Lamorne spoke with The New York Times about the episode, saying that he’d been fielding fan questions about Winston being a black cop for a long time and he was ready to address the issue head on. After the Darren Wilson verdict was announced, Lamorne saw an opportunity to start a conversation. In the interview, he says, “I got really upset and thought I should address this, without being too preachy or militant.” He brought the idea to his New Girl producers, and the result was last night’s ‘Par 5’: an open and respectful dialogue that plainly addressed race and the police relations responsibly, while also managing to be funny. Not an easy tightrope to walk.

In the interview Lamorne continues, giving a little background on his life as well, “I grew up on the south side of Chicago, where we really did run from the police when we saw them, so this issue has always been on my mind.”

The irony of Winston’s cat’s name — Ferguson was chosen long before the Darren Wilson verdict — is not lost on me. But Lamorne’s point extends beyond this one incident. He told the Times his mission for the episode was a tone of neutrality but intelligence, “We wanted to take a neutral stance. I have friends that are police officers and they’re great individuals. When one officer does something wrong, law enforcement as a group takes the fall, because the media attention is so intense now. I’m old enough to know not everyone’s like that, but I’m smart enough to know you still have to be careful.”

With two prominent African-American actors in the main ensemble, New Girl was already making strides when it came to diversity on television. Last night’s episode sealed the deal: They’re doing more than just comedy. They’re fending off stereotypes and presenting fair, honest, and real conversations that we all need to be a part of.

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