Wednesday, October 15, 2014

New Girl 4x05 "Landline" (Missed Connections)

Original Airdate: October 14, 2014

Up until I moved away to college, I had always had a landline. My parents still have one in their home, even though they both have cell phones. Every time I visit, I'm startled by the ringing of the "house phone." My parents keep the landline around for specific reasons (my mother is a teacher and doesn't want parents to call her cell phone, our family in Pennsylvania contacts us mainly that way, etc.) but I think a part of them really just likes having the phone around for the sake of comfort, familiarity, and a bit of nostalgia. A landline represents a form of connection that we once had but is now lost and this item is applied both literally and figuratively in "Landline." New Girl doesn't usually offer us a whole lot of symbolic items in its episodes. I dig deep sometimes to find the symbolism and thematic elements in the series, but I didn't have to really dig at all to find the purpose and message of this episode -- connections with others -- which is actually quite refreshing and welcome for me with this show.

"Landline" is a stellar episode in a season of New Girl that has been one hit after another in successful writing. The episode was penned by Rob Rosell who, interestingly enough, penned everyone's least favorite episode last year ("The Box") but who also co-wrote some of the greats ("Prince" and "Cruise"). As has been customary and extremely welcome this season, the episode splits our characters into only A and B stories and, truth be told, I found myself connecting more with the latter in "Landline." The symbol of the landline as a source of connection is most important in the B-story, where Nick uses the new phone as a way to grow closer to Schmidt and Winston, who he feels he's beginning to drift apart from, relationally. It was an extremely well-executed story in my opinion, and one that made me look at Nick Miller with all the fondness and affection I had in season two. Meanwhile, in our A-story, Coach and Jess learn the importance of NOT making connections (romantic ones) in the workplace. Coach/Jess stories are always welcome to me because these two butt heads and challenge each other, but they also have common ground -- teaching -- in what they love, care about, and belong.

But before we discuss all of that, let's recap the episode, shall we?

The loft is experiencing some cell phone issues with a new building being constructed next door to theirs, so after trying to solve the problem by cramming into the only corner of their apartment that has a signal. Unfortunately, that corner just so happens to be on Nick's bed. Before things get too out of hand, Jess proposes a solution: a landline that the group places in the living room of the loft. This will be beneficial for everyone -- Schmidt will have another phone number, Jess will have a way to contact her principal, and Winston will have another way to avoid the woman he's trying to break up with. Everyone wins, right?

Well... almost everyone. Since Coach, Jess, Winston, and Schmidt all have day jobs, Nick is the one who is forced to listen to the landline ring all day long. It's annoying to him initially, but then it's almost as if a switch is flipped in Nick's brain and he realizes that the fact that he IS the only one at home means he's got value. He's important. He's needed. And let's talk about this for a moment, shall we? Nick has gone from the glue that holds the group together ("First Date") to the one that everyone leaves behind. He and Jess aren't dating anymore so they don't spend all of their time together. Schmidt is trying his hardest to move out of the loft, Coach is occupied by work during the day and women at night, and Winston's time has been spent at the police academy. Suddenly, everyone in the loft has moved on with their lives after the summer and Nick... well, Nick has stayed at home. I think the summer together was what the loft needed, especially after the antics of "Cruise" in order to re-establish their dynamic and relationships with each other. (This works on a meta level, too, in terms of what New Girl needed as a show.) Everyone needed a break, and when the curtain closed on the last wedding of the summer season, people moved on and forward.

But Nick has stayed put and "Landline" is the first episode in which we really get the sense that he's lonely and misses his friends. Moreover, this is the first episode we really see that... well, the group doesn't NEED him for much at the moment. And Nick -- in a beautifully heartbreaking B-story -- latches onto the one item in the loft that is connecting them together and uses that as a means to connect himself to Schmidt and Winston. He spends the duration of the episode taking calls and messages for them, notifying his friends of this at their work. Schmidt and Winston are baffled, obviously, when Nick shows such an intense interest in their lives. Remember what I noted above when I mentioned "First Date"? In that episode, Schmidt and Winston vocalized the fact that Nick was always the weirdly dysfunctional glue that held them together as a trio. I have the same experience in a friend group at work, actually. My friend Heather is kind of the glue that bonds me and Kate together -- without her, we're still friendly but a bit more awkward with each other than we are when she's here.

The end of "First Date," though, established a new Schmidt/Winston friendship and dynamic, one that was not based solely around Nick's presence. Ever since then, they've been able to function together in stories without him and I think Nick has never noticed that because, obviously, he was primarily with Jess. But in "Landline," Nick realizes that he has pretty much become the landline of their friend group: he's been neglected, either consciously or subconsciously, and is pretty much glossed over like the nostalgic device. Schmidt and Winston barely talk to him about their lives. Nick doesn't know about the girl Winston is seeing and Schmidt doesn't talk about the spoilers that may or may not be on his car. The understood layer of subtext in New Girl's episode is this: much like a landline, normal communication between roommates is a thing of the past in the loft. We like to laugh at Nick's curmudgeonly attitude toward technology, but the fact that neither Schmidt nor Winston nor Nick know what's going on in each others' lives because they don't TALK to each other is pretty illuminating. And though Winston and Schmidt may communicate more with each other than they do with Nick, they still don't communicate nearly enough.

So the episode's B-story was really great because it reminded us that Nick is pretty much the landline in the loft. It was delightfully sad to see him get so excited about being a part of his friends' lives again and admitting to Winston that he just wants to know stuff about them. But I'll talk more about the resolution in a bit.

In the A-story, because of the new addition of the landline, Jess discovers that Coach is sleeping with the school nurse... and sleeping with her slightly crazy friend Rose, too. Jess is an administrator now and Coach's recklessness is doomed to cause discord within the work environment, which Jess doesn't approve of. Jess likes order and neatness; Coach likes to be spontaneous and messy. Jess likes plans and the comfort of schedules and reason... Coach, not so much. I've said it already but the Coach/Jess dynamic of New Girl is one of my favorites. Once Coach embraced Jess as his roommate and friend, the two had this sort of ease that comes with people who really KNOW each other (and know how to press each others' buttons). Ever since "Fired Up," Coach and Jess have developed a rapport -- they both care about the school they work for, both care about kids and teaching them, but both have very different personalities and means by which to accomplish this. Identity within a work environment is tricky when you're friends and roommates with a co-worker, as Jess learns the hard way in "Landline." Coach, for all of his faults and hang-ups, has actually EMBRACED his new identity as a teacher. Remember "Coach" and "Basketsball" when the man didn't quite know who he was after his break-up or what his place was in this friend group and new environment? Well, now Coach has found his identity, as he explains. (His identity is that of "the guy who has sex with everyone.") Jess, of course, is not okay with him doing this because her life and identity has been shaken up recently, too. She's just acquired a new dream job. She's newly single. She just wants life, for one moment, to be happy and carefree and good for her.

On the romance front in Jess's life, she and Nick are broken up -- that's a fact. But as we've noticed in the last few weeks, Jess has been hesitant to get into the dating field again and "Landline" is so painful because the moment we realize she's finally allowing herself to entertain the idea of being happy again with someone she's attracted to... the opportunity is ripped away from her. Coach pretty much vocalizes that Jess has been out of the dating game for a long time and is uncomfortable with the process of hooking up with someone again and is projecting those emotions onto Coach and his situation at school. Coach probably has a point, one that is made even more evident when Jess meets the new science teacher, Ryan, who is a British dreamboat. Because let us never forget one thing: Jess is self-righteous in an endearing sort of way, but self-righteous none the less. She berates Coach for hooking up with both Rose and the school nurse, but then finds herself in a difficult predicament when she becomes attracted to Ryan and has to, you know, actually enforce her own rules and standards. And Coach is delighted to watch Jess squirm and flail (which she does and accidentally hits Ryan in the crotch during a demonstration in front of the staff about how to shut down unwanted advances) in order to prove that she was in the wrong.

(Eventually, Jess DOES realize that she might have been projecting a bit too much onto her friend and co-worker and decides to lift the ban that was in place against intra-office relationships. Still, there's something a bit sad over Jess's face in the break room when she comes very close to having a shot at happiness with Ryan.)

The B-story takes a few dips and turns -- Schmidt and Winston become frustrated with Nick invading their lives and intercepting their calls, so they buy an answering machine that inevitably fails to work when Schmidt needs it to -- and ends with Winston asking Nick, point blank, what his deal is. Why has he been so concerned with answering their phone calls? It is then that Nick admits that he liked being a part of Winston and Schmidt's lives again, that he had felt a connection to them that he's lost over the last few months, maybe years. Winston softens at the confession and I did too.

Landlines -- physical or metaphorical -- are tools to connect us to people and things we feel like we've lost. And nothing makes you feel more at home and connected than when you just take time to connect again.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • Guest-star-a-palooza: I love the introduction of Julian Morris (I know him as Dr. Wren from Pretty Little Liars) as Ryan and the return of Angela Kinsey's Rose, a borderline-crazy-hilarious teacher friend of Jess's. I also love the random teacher whose name I cannot remember but was hilarious in "Nerd" and "Dance." Someone drop me a comment with his name, would you?
  • "... Did you just call me dawg?"
  • Any episode where we get "Virgins"-era flashbacks of Nick and Winston is a GREAT episode.
  • Everyone's phone calls at the beginning of the episode were hilarious, as we only heard snippets of them.
  • "It's ringing." "... Just like the movies!"
  • "Oh forget it, man. I'm storming off!"
  • Angela Kinsey's delivery of "I will send your weave right back to the loom!" had me laughing for a solid minute.
  • "Winston, how do you not know if you made love to someone?"
  • "Who are you, Blanche in The Golden Girls?"
  • "British people love doing stuff, right?"
  • I was okay with Cece not being as prevalent in this episode because she was more prevalent in "Micro" last week.
  • "I'm as mad as a dad in traffic!"
  • "SCHMIDT: Some Can Have Money, I Desire Thoughtfulness."
Thank you all for reading! FOX comedies are on hiatus for the rest of the month of October due to baseball, so be sure to check back here in the beginning of November for a new review. Until then, folks. :)

1 comment:

  1. noooo i have to wait 2 weeks for the next review! :-((

    Very good Job Jenn :)

    In my opinion - there is the season 1 feeling back.. they are more for their one at the moment..

    Poor nick.. so sad, but i think its important that he had that lonly-feeling because he doesnt put so much time in thinking about important thinks.. and now he thinkt about his friends lives...

    I hope that there will be more Nickand Jess situations in the future.. i want that flirty feeling back :( do you think there will be any situations in which Nick and Jess are flirting and teasing again?

    It is annoying, that i can't see any episode of season 4 :(

    Yours Aylin from Germany :)