(Note: Due to a packed schedule, tonight’s New Girl review will be a brief one).
I’m very comfortable saying that “Landline” is far and away the best episode of New Girl this season. When showrunner Liz Meriwether talked about getting “back to basics” in the fourth season of New Girl, I’d hoped it would come with the kind of structure and content of something like “Landline”, an episode that is able to rest on a simple plot (the inhabitants of the loft get a land line) for a lot of great comic material – and more importantly, character material.
Now, the personal revelations of “Landline” aren’t the most revealing: in fact, Coach’s slutiness and Winston’s cool factor on a land line phone are really empty moments, designed for comedy rather than cathartic moment. But in the framework of the rest of the episode – with Nick feeling lonely and separated from his male friends, and Jess dealing with Mr. Goesinyou – it works wonderfully, the comedic highlights of an episode that is funnier (and in moments, more poignant) than it really has any right to be.
Maybe it’s the improv-heavy nature of the season’s comedy: where bits like Schmidt and Winston’s “hello?” “ayo!” bit is hilarious in how out-of-place it feels in the episode, other long-winded bits earlier this season haven’t worked so well (as funny as Max Greenberg can be, some of Schmidt’s random rants aren’t landed as consistently as previous years) and have leaned heavily on sex-related humor and puns to get by. There’s certainly some of that in “Landline” (hello, Mr. Geauxinue and Coach’s “Sam Jackson”), but it doesn’t suffocate this episode, relegated to B-story territory while “Landline” focuses on the tri-bromance of Schmidt, Nick, and Winston – and most importantly, Nick dealing with the feeling of losing touch with his closest buddies (his short-lived secretarial career is the single funniest bit of the season).
All in all, it’s not quite the New Girl of seasons past – which managed to be both funny and deeply poignant, even if it had to throw most other characters to the side to accomplish it – but “Landline” feels like New Girl is growing into its new form, remembering the gimmicks it does well (simple gags that involve the whole apartment… Nick fixing things, True American, and the like) without forgetting that ‘lighter’ comedy doesn’t have to mean ’empty’ comedy.