This week’s New Girl was kicking it old school. They took a well-worn piece of technology and turned it into a funny storyline. They also took a well-worn sitcom trope and, um, couldn’t quite figure out anything new or interesting to do with it.
That latter storyline focused on Jess, who, this season, feels more like the true lead, as opposed to the ostensible lead she seemed to be last year. When Jess (now the vice principal of her school), finds out that Coach is intimately involved with both a naughty nurse and Angela from The Office, she decides that she has to lay some rules down for co-worker romances, and for overly sexual CPR posters.
Naturally, just as she makes this decision, a handsome British man with a name borrowed from a particularly bawdy Bart Simpson prank call gets Jess all aflutter, and the next thing you know she’s unable to shut it down. Then, of course, the Principal happens to point out that administrators and teachers can’t date, so there’s a stumbling block in the way, one we’ve seen a million times or more. Do you think it’ll stop her from pursuing this guy? And do you think it will end up not blowing up in her face?
Of course, New Girl could easily handle this in a funny, original way, but the first dalliance into this world is not encouraging. Most of the funny stuff was not related to Jess being all flustered. It was more about Brian Posehn going on weird tangents. Now that Jess isn’t dating Nick, they have to give her someone to date, because this is a sitcom and that’s what sitcoms do. But hopefully they don’t drag this out too much.
At least the titular storyline of “Landline” was better. Due to construction, there is really only service in Nick’s bedroom, and so the gang decides to get a single landline phone. While there are some odd jokes about them being confused with this corded telephone, they are all old enough to remember such phones clearly; eventually humor spews forth.
Nick is at home all the time, drawing pictures of cities within whales, so he takes to answering the phone, and taking messages and getting involved in people’s personal lives. Eventually, he goes too far, and is replaced by a machine, with a message provided by Cece, which Schmidt can’t help but find sexy. In the end he, and Winston, save the day, using Winston’s classic smooth phone personality.
As opposed to Jess’ antics, this storyline was both retro and original, and, more importantly, full of funny jokes—with a reasonable set of stakes.
All this is not to say “Landline” is dragged down by Jess and British guy. There are a lot of very funny jokes, but most of them are just odd non sequiturs. It’s Nick with a bowl full of jelly. It’s Judy, Winston’s sort of lady friend, standing outside the loft blasting “Levon” by Elton John on a boom box. Did this make sense? Not particularly. Is it yet another riff on Say Anything? Of course. Was it awesome? Yes, it was the best thing in the episode.
The season premiere of New Girl felt so promising because it mostly focused on the jokes, and it succeeded at that. This is where “Landline” succeeded too. Maybe what New Girl needs to do is to start thinking of storylines as a mean to an end for its particular sense of humor.
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.)