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New Girl finales aren’t always the most eventful episodes, but that could not be said of Tuesday’s season four wrap-up, which propelled several characters forward (and one out of the show completely) and left the veteran Fox comedy poised to enter uncharted territory.
Spoilers ahead for anybody who has yet to watch.
Following last week’s set-up, Coach went the way of exiting star Damon Wayans Jr. But that came as no surprise. What was slightly unexpected was the eleventh-hour engagement between Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Cece (Hannah Simone) — together, apparently for the duration of the series, after four years of being on and off. Still, the biggest news of all happened off camera: With lead Zooey Deschanel pregnant, and having already filmed several episodes of the upcoming fifth season, creator Liz Meriwether says the titular New Girl will actually be absent for four episodes when the show returns this fall.
Meriwether spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the season finale, which also hinted at hibernating feelings between Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess, and how the writers are tackling the temporary exit for their star.
You’ve had an unconventional production schedule this year.
We only finished about three weeks ago. We filmed four episodes of season five, so we did 26 [episodes] total for the year. (Laughs.) That was a little hard. When we come back, we’re doing four episodes without Zooey, actually. She’ll come back after that. It’s kind of a weird schedule.
How much of a heads-up did you get?
It all happened in February. We had a little bit of lead time. But we hadn’t even been officially picked up yet. We were shooting season five before we had a season five. But the writing staff really dug in, and the cast was game for it. I think we’re lucky. The show was in a really good place this year. At the end of season one or two, if you’d told me we needed to do an extra four episodes, I don’t think I would have survived it. (Laughs.) But it’s smooth these days. Now we have an extra month before going back to the room, which is great.
Do you know how you’re going to navigate the lack of Zooey?
Jess gets sequestered on a jury. The idea behind it was to be able to do those pastel courtroom sketches, so you could still see her in the jury. It’s a little weird, but we’re having fun with it. It’s a way to have all of the guys check in with her. They watch the news reports on the trial. And they show being set in L.A., this is a city where celebrities get into trouble and juries really do get sequestered.
Any nerves about going so long without your title character?
Without the New Girl? (Laughs.) The first episode without her is actually called “No Girl.” I think in the first or second season, it would have been hard, but now it feels like this creative opportunity to learn more about the other characters. And it’s a little bit of a challenge. People are going to be asking, “How are they going to pull this off?” I’m kind of asking that question of myself. I directed the first episode without Zooey, that’s the last one we shot this year, and it’s really funny. It’s a guys’ episode. It’s an opportunity to stretch ourselves… Or it will be a total disaster, and then she’ll come back.
When did you know you’d be losing Damon at the end of the season?
We found out in the middle of the season. He’s really special. In some ways, how funny he is can distract you from what an incredible actor he is. He can go big and broad, but when we did the May [Meaghan Rath] story in the episode right before the finale, he’s emotional and tells this really compelling love story. He would hate me saying this. I’m very sorry to see him go, but having already shot the first four [episodes] of season five, there’s also this nice return to our original cast. There’s more time in the script to invest in each of the characters. I’m excited to learn more about Cece in season five. I don’t think we’ve always had that over the year.
Is the Cece-Schmidt relationship going to stick this time?
It felt like we’d done a lot of back-and-forth between both Schmidt and Cece, and Nick and Jess. It felt important to say that we’re going to commit to one of these relationships. We also really love Schmidt and Cece together. They’re funny. It felt like a way of generating story and comedy. Schmidt, in our idea for the season, becomes obsessed with the wedding planning in the way that, stereotypically, a woman would. He is very focused on throwing the best wedding of all time. Cece, having gone through it already, is not as into it. It feels like they’re growing up. Nick owning a piece of the bar and Schmidt being engaged, it’s the forward movement that I think we needed.
As much as it’s nice to see Schmidt and Cece together, Fawn Moscato was a welcome addition.
Oh god, she’s so good. Zoe Lister Jones is so good. It was such a victory for us. Obviously, keeping Schmidt and Cece apart has been tough. You know that they’re going to end up getting together, and we knew we wanted to end the year with Schmidt proposing, but we needed something to really be in their way these last episodes. We struck gold with Zoe, and what was great is that we were allowed to get a little bit more negative with her character. She’s not hateful, but she’s outrageous. We just didn’t want the audience to feel that bad for her when it was over. I’m trying to figure out a way to bring her back. I think we can do it, if she’s up for it.
She sort of came out of nowhere.
One of my favorite moments was in episode 20. She’s on the phone with someone during the Panty Gate fallout, and she goes, “You’re a dad. Why are you laughing?” And then Zoe threw in “You’re my dad!”
The show barely touched on Nick and Jess’ breakup this season. Was it important for you to revisit it in the finale?
It was tough at the beginning of season four, because we didn’t want to do anything about their breakup or either of them being bummed. We wanted to go away from that, reboot the show a little bit and invest in what else was going on in their lives. The finale was our way of saying that all of this has been going on, we just haven’t done episodes about it. They’ve been struggling with this throughout the year but keeping it under wraps. This is the moment where it came to the surface. To me, it’s not a cliffhanger. There’s nothing looming over their heads. It’s just an organic acknowledgment that this is a complicated relatonship. It’s not clear yet, and it’s not over yet. That’s where I wanted to be going into season five.
Where did the idea of the sex mug come from?
During our retreat at the beginning of last season. You have a lot of weird mugs that you collect in life, and one of the stories from Alex Cuthbertson and Matt Fusfeld was about everyone in the loft deciding to streamline their mug situation. It was going to be a flashback episode with stories behind each of the mugs. We wanted to do it, but we kept pushing it back and pushing it back. This mug was a way of telling a story about Nick and Jess’ past. I think the fact that neither of them wanted to throw it away is a way of quietly acknowledging that. But it didn’t start out as a sex mug.
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