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'New Girl' Creator Liz Meriwether on Accidental Love Triangles, Reintroducing Damon Wayans

The EP tells THR about her Fox comedy's third season, which brings back the "Happy Endings" actor, shifts tensions in the loft and sets Schmidt up for a fall: "I think it’s interesting when characters we love do questionable things."

New Girl All In Deschanel Johnson - H 2013
FOX
"New Girl"

The season premiere of New Girl picked up right where it left off, with Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) feeling out their new status as roommates-in-like. But the bigger development in the Fox comedy's return might have been the lack of immediate resolution for Schmidt (Max Greenfield).

Putting off his decision between Cece (Hannah Simone) and Elizabeth (Merritt Wever) in last season's pseudo-cliffhanger, "All In" found Schmidt informing both of the women that he'd chosen her. And the ramifications of the unwitting love triangle he's set up are likely to follow him through the beginning of the season.

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New Girl creator and executive producer Liz Meriwether spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the new dilemma, as well as the brave new world of writing a romantic Nick and Jess, not being afraid to take her series to more serious places and writing for Damon Wayans Jr. again almost three years after last thinking about his character.

How prominently is the Nick-Jess relationship going to figure into the third season?
Obviously from the beginning of the year, we are really dealing with Nick and Jess now dating. There's this couple in the midst of the loft, so it's about what that means for them, what it means for Schmidt and Winston and the group as a whole. The premiere really asks that question. How are they are going to make it or not make it as roommates who are dating and living with two other very particular guys? It's their relationship against the world a little bit.

What is the biggest challenge to that relationship?
At the end of the day, it’s their own internal struggles. They are a perfect match in that way. I think that’s what makes them good together, but they also have to figure out how that works in a relationship. Nick is obviously a bit of a mess, and Jess is a little overly eager to fix everything. Schmidt is also not fond of the idea of them being together. They really have the feelings of Schmidt and Winston to contend with over the first couple of episodes. Their insides and their outsides are against them.

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What made you want to make Schmidt a foil to their relationship?
We all really enjoyed the parking spot episode from last year when he made it clear that he was against it. It just felt like the right thing that he would feel uncomfortable, like the balance of the loft was off and that he was losing Nick.

Schmidt is very clingy with Nick in the premiere.
Nick and Schmidt are struggling to renegotiate the terms of their friendship with this idea that Nick is dating Jess. It never felt like Schmidt would embrace this wholeheartedly. We just thought it would be a lot of fun to have him challenge them.

At the same time, you have Schmidt juggling Cece and Elizabeth. How long can that continue?
We thought it was in line with his character to not be able to decide between them. He is not a bad guy -- but he can be a bad guy sometimes. Under extreme circumstances, he can do bad things. We all can. This felt like the right kind of mistake for him to make. It sets things off for this season. This mistake has repercussions throughout the year. It affects the loft dynamics as this interesting problem they all have to deal with when it comes out. I hope people will go on the journey with us, because I know it’s a little bit different.

Schmidt has sort of straddled that line since the douchebag jar.
I think it’s interesting when characters we love do questionable things. It’s really out of weakness, not malice. He is really in love with both of them; he’s just too weak to make a decision and too scared of hurting either one of them. That’s how we try to focus it.

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Do you think fans appreciate that New Girl can get a little dark for a comedy?
I hope so. Or they'll be like, "I'm uncomfortable. Make it stop!"
 
Did you always want the premiere to be a direct continuation of the finale?
We always thought that we’d pick up right where we left it off, even if we did a time jump in the episode. The idea of Mexico had also been floated last year when we were talking about the finale. It would be funny if they just kept driving because they didn’t know how to deal with beginning together.

Damon Wayans Jr. is back as Coach this season. How easy was it to pick that character back up?  
It was really challenging. We were trying to figure out what his character was. People kept asking me, because I wrote the pilot, but the show is just so different now. I really had to figure out who Coach is, who we need him to be, what can be funny and what's a new energy for the loft. He has this alpha male aggression that felt interesting and new. Our three guys aren’t beta males, but they are on the weirder side of things. Coach is that macho, tough-talking guy that they all think is so cool... and they’re all also a little nervous and intimidated by. We’ve had three years with the other characters, and now we have to pick up this other character that we introduced in the pilot and have enough information about him to have him match where the others are.

Did you guys talk about ways to reintroduce him first or did you just jump at the opportunity when it became available?
We definitely jumped on it. He is just so talented, and he made a movie with Jake this summer, so they had renewed their working relationship. Everyone was chomping at the bit. I love Happy Endings, so I was not happy that ended, but I'm excited to get this chance to work with him again.

E-mail: Michael.OConnell@THR.com
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@MikeyLikesTV