One of the most admirable traits of New Girl is how the show takes a simplistic and silly plot about nothing — like, say, installing a landline in the apartment — and effortlessly transforms it into something deeper and more emotional, and something that speaks volumes about a character’s serious concerns — such as Nick feeling left out because Schmidt is busy with work and Winston is busy with the police academy.
But let’s start at the beginning. Because of construction nearby, the roommates are all having trouble getting bad cell reception except for one tiny, crowded corner of Nick’s room. To solve the problem, they dust off a landline (“Just like the movies!”) to use. Instead of going the expected route of wacky young people trying to use a landline instead of a cell phone, the plot revolves around Nick really embracing the phone and becoming something of a secretary for his roommates. He answers all of the calls, relays the messages to Schmidt and Winston via a conference call (and then says he’ll call back in five minutes with any updates), and sometimes even deals with their problems on behalf of them.
Nick as a secretary is a humorous situation but again, “Landline” goes deeper. Everyone has had that point in their life when it suddenly feels like everyone around you is moving forward as you’re stuck in a rut or, even worse, moving in reverse. Nick is watching Coach thrive at his job at Jess’ school, watching Schmidt get rewarded for his hard work at his job, and watching Winston fulfill a dream by attending the police academy (where he studies bullets, apparently). In the time he’s known Jess, she’s moved from teacher to vice principal (and from roommate to girlfriend to roommate).
Nick is still working in the bar (and his schedule means he’s around all day when the roommates aren’t), back to being single, and spends most of his days fucking around while everyone is busy. He’s feeling stale. He’s also feeling left out of his friends’ lives because no one has the time to really hang out with each other. Becoming their “secretary” allows Nick to stay up to date on what’s happening with everyone because he’s fielding the phone calls directly related to their lives. Nick isn’t the most direct people when it comes to his feelings — no one in this loft is, because most real people aren’t — so the landline is his way to express to Schmidt and Winston that he misses them. (And later, he does explicitly tell them so.)
Over in Jess’ plot, she’s finding herself a little overwhelmed with her increased responsibility as Vice Principal and tasked with enforcing new rules due to Coach sleeping with two fellow employees (including one ditzy nurse, Ruth, in a Halloween costume, played by the always funny Erinn Hayes) who get into a fight over him. Like everyone at a new job, Coach has been trying to figure out where he fits within this little world. Unlike everyone, his self-proclaimed role is “the guy who has sex with everyone!”
To prevent further incidents, Jess decides to enforce a “no fraternization” between coworkers policy. It works for about two seconds before she meets the newest hire: an incredibly handsome British science teacher (Julian Morris) that she is quickly smitten with. What follows is the typically awkward HR seminar about what violates this policy and includes Jess’ accidentally violating it herself. It’s not the funniest thing New Girl has done — this entire episode isn’t very memorable, although it goes the more bizarre route rather than staying grounded — but it gets the job done, I suppose.
What is very funny in “Landline” is an end scene when Winston has to pretend to be Schmidt in order to do an interview for a magazine. He kills it (he is very smooth on the phone, especially while horizontal and drinking soda out of a straw) and makes Schmidt look good. The best part? Explaining that his name is an acronym: Some Can Have Money; I Desire Thoughtfulness.