The first two episodes of New Girl‘s fourth season are about as close as the Fox comedy could get to pulling a 180 from last fall.
Internal flirtations within the loft gang seem indefinitely relegated to the back burner, with Nick-and-Jess (Jake Johnson and Zooey Deschanel) now a thing of the distant past and Schmidt’s (Max Greenfield) pursuit of Cece (Hannah Simone) more passive than it’s been in years. Some more sensitive souls may weep for the ill-fated couples, but instead of serial monogamy the show will function much as it did during the first season. The roommates are strictly platonic again — only now the writers are comfortable kicking off the season with jokes about (ahem) fisting.
Tuesday’s opener, “The Last Wedding,” isn’t necessarily a reboot of the comedy, but executive producers Liz Meriwether, Brett Baer and David Finkel were all frank about their desire to switch gears after the recent relationship-centric season when they recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter. And since the show also picks up with some sly, crude innuendo — together the five roommates are the fingers of a “sex fist” — and an episode about some characters getting stoned, the trio also talked about what they find funny right now and the forgiving folks at standards and practices.
Whose refrigerator most resembles the wall of save-the-dates in the episode?
Meriwether: It sounds like I’m bragging that I have a lot of friends, but that story definitely came from my own life. For me, it’s this magnetic chalkboard that I inherited from the last person who lived in my house. It’s just covered in invites, save-the-date cards and Christmas cards with children’s faces or watercolors of doves. I wanted to write about how they’re all at a point in their lives where they feel like, “Are we supposed to be moving on?”
Baer: There are birth announcements and weddings, housewarmings, and they don’t have any of those things.
Finkel: That seems to be such a particular thing about people in their early 30s. There are all these gigantic life events happening around them.
Meriwether: And what’s interesting about that time is that people are really at different stages. You could have a friend who has a toddler and a friend who’s barely getting up off the couch. It felt like an interesting way back into our group and what’s going on for them.
Most shows use weddings as a plot device without addressing that they can be really annoying.
Baer: Yeah, we were glad to be able to say it for America. Take that, wedding industry.?
Meriwether: We have so many more pitches. The floodgates opened up in the writers room. I feel like we could have done an hourlong show with just strategies to survive weddings.
Finkel: Let’s be honest: it’s a nightmare, celebrating someone else’s happiness.
Meriwether: I’m very grateful for all the weddings I’ve been invited to …
Baer: Oh, yeah. Me too.
Finkel: Not me!
The premiere also moves past the Nick-Jess aftermath very quickly. Is it something you were ready to just get out of the way?
Baer : I think we definitely had to address it in some way, and let the audience know where these two were. It’s a big story point for the season that these two are living with each other, and continue to live with each other. But I do think that our general feeling was that the best way to move forward and reset the show in the place where we felt most comfortable is that the two are completely fine with it — which is weird to everybody around them. The point is that they are ready to move forward and they can be there for each other.
Meriwether: It was very important to me, if we were going to buy them still living together, that their friendship would have continued and deepened. I didn’t want to do an episode about getting back into the dating world, that was all centered around her relationship with Nick. It felt like enough time had already passed, and this felt like a funnier take that he was totally fine with it.
Baer: We also spent a year and a half building up a relationship. It felt silly not mentioning it in some capacity and acknowledge that this is a thing and introduce a new dynamic.
Who were you most eager to write for this season?
Meriwether: Definitely Winston [Lamorne Morris]; he was so fun to write for last year. What’s exciting about his character is that we spent such a long time trying to him out … like now we know what he’s about, and we can jump off and do anything with him. I feel like he’s all of us. He’s sort of incompetent and can’t really do anything right, and has such a good heart. Honestly, I was also really excited to write for Jess. I’m really comfortable writing for single women, and I was excited to jump in in a different place with her. I definitely struggled last year with her in the relationship and sort of lost her a little bit.
Finkel: We always liked the version of this show built in this concept of this girl who needs these guys to sort of inform her life — and the guys need her to inform their lives. We were excited to get back to that model because we were involved in the relationship for so long. It’s a weird breath of fresh air.
Baer: I was going to say I was excited to write for Nick, but then it dawned on me that it’s more about introducing him to his guy friends again — the odd-couple relationship between Nick and Schmidt and their sort of romance.
Finkel: At the beginning of the year, the writers go on a retreat and we talk and make a laundry list of what we want to accomplish for the year. One of the first things on our list was that we wanted to get Schmidt’s swagger back. We went a bunch of different directions with that last year and wanted to flex that muscle and getting him back to that place: he’s the one with a douchebag jar.
The second episode is all about Coach (Damon Wayans Jr.), Nick and Cece getting stoned. Did you get any pushback about that?
Meriwether: We were very happy that they allowed us to do this story. Obviously, it’s something you want to deal with in a responsible way. This story had come out in the first week we were back, and it all made us laugh so much. I like to think it made the people we work with at standards and practice laugh.
Baer: We got away with murder. We’ve given broadcast standards a run for their money this first little chunk of episodes, between fisting and marijuana. We made them earn their keep.
Normally broadcast shows only allude to pot in some cutesy or tongue-in-cheek way.
Finkel: Yeah, we’re not capable of either.
Meriwether: But it’s medical marijuana that Nick takes for his insomnia.
Baer: You need to show a negative repercussion to make it palatable for a network audience, and I think we had a built-in thing that allowed it all to fall apart in the best possible way.”
Speaking of notes, your studio bosses (Gary Newman and Dana Walden) are now your network bosses too. Has that changed your jobs at all?
Meriwether: Yeah, I would say what’s been great is the singularity of vision of what the show should be and what it is. We’re always sort of getting notes with one voice — which, for us, has been awesome and really helped us figure out what we wanted it to be.
New Girl has been on for four seasons now; why do you think you’re still drawing such big guest stars?
Baer: We’re fortunate that we’ve had these incredible people do the show in the past. That creates desire on other actors’ parts to want to participate because they’ve made such great contributions along the way.
Meriwether: I love getting someone amazing like Michaela Watkins in Schmidt’s office or Rob Reiner and Jamie Lee Curtis. Bringing them back and creating the world of the characters, we’re so lucky with the people who’ve come back. They add so much. Jessica Biel and Kaitlin Olson this year … we’ve been really lucky.
Last thing: did you catch up on any comedies this summer?
Meriwether: True Detective. It isn’t as funny as everyone says it is, but I loved it.
Baer: Game of Thrones, which is hilarious.
Finkel: Masters of Sex.
Meriwether: All of those describe our personalities, by the way.