New Girl Creator Liz Meriwether: Jess Goes "Off the Grid" in Season 2
Jess may not be so adorkable this season.
When New Girl returns on Tuesday at 8/7c and 9/8c on Fox, Jess (Emmy-nominated Zooey Deschanel) will be unceremoniously let go from her teaching position, sending her once quirky life into disarray. Jess' firing will provide new comedic avenues for her — she'll work as a shot girl at Schmidt's penis-cast removal party in the premiere (Words we never thought we'd write together in a sentence) — and it will also allow her to test some romantic waters she might not have dipped her toe in before — like only sleeping with someone instead of being in a relationship. To her credit, the fling-worthy David Walton is pretty hard to resist — a sentiment creator Liz Meriwether agrees with.
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In our candid interview below, Meriwether discusses Jess' new journey this season, along with the ultimate casting coup — Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner! — and what's in store for everyone's favorite roommate trio Schmidt (the also Emmy-nominated Max Greenfield), Winston (Lamorne Morris) and Nick (Jake Johnson). Get the scoop:
The first two episodes were so hilarious, they made me snort soda out of my nose.
Liz Meriwether: That's awesome. We try to make people choke. We want to get people doing other things and then having to stop what they're doing to laugh.
Yes. "We try to choke people" is actually going to be the headline of the story.
Meriwether: Fantastic. [Laughs]
You've mentioned before that Jess gets laid off in the premiere. How does she handle that?
Meriwether: It does feel like a tough moment in her life, but a fun thing to write because the character unhinges. As you see in the second episode, she's off the grid. She gets to explore these parts of herself that she hadn't explored. It's been a fun thing to write for the first batch of episodes because you get to see corners of her personality that you haven't seen before.
Was this a good way for you guys not to fall in a sophomore slump?
Meriwether: I wouldn't speak too soon, but yeah. I think that we just wanted to keep exploring the characters and make sure that we had more to say for them, that we had more stories for them. I think the way that you do that is just by pushing the envelope with every element of their personalities and see how far you can push that and what are they like in that situation? In the first season, you're setting up the character and you're introducing the character to people watching. Then in the second season, it's fun because you can twist things and show different sides and surprise people with a different part of the character, which I think is fun.
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If last season was about Jess discovering who she is outside of that first relationship, what would you say this season is about?
Meriwether: I feel like she's still on a voyage of self-discovery... but I think that sounded super fruity. On a voyage. [Laughs] She's figuring out who she is without her job in the first part of the season; if that changes who she is or if it doesn't. Also, if she still wants to teach. She has to defend that to herself.
She met the guys last year and they became friends. This year, you're starting the season and they're already friends. She's learned a lot from them already. So, there are parts of the guys in her this season, which are really fun. She has a toughness I think that she grew into last season. But this season starts with a toughness, which is great.
You guys pulled the biggest casting coup by scoring Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner to play Jess' parents. Did all the stars just align?
Meriwether: Isn't that exciting? I'm so excited about it. They're my comedy heroes. A Fish Called Wanda and When Harry Met Sally! Obviously they were huge fans of Zooey's and Jake's and the show. It was just great. I'm just so excited for that episode. We're shooting it next week, actually. So, we're writing the script as we speak.
What is Jess' relationship like with her parents?
Meriwether: Well, the parents are divorced. They've been divorced for a really long time. The episode is the Thanksgiving episode. They haven't really seen each other in a while. She tries to Parent Trap them. She tries to get them back together. Obviously it's a flawed plan. Her mom is very much like her. Jamie Lee Curtis gets to be this quirky, Jess-like character, which is going to be really fun. Rob Reiner is her dad who's the straight man to all of the women in his life's craziness and thinks that they're all a little bit nuts. I am totally nervous because they are my comedy heroes and it's just so exciting to be able to work with them.
New Girl Scoop: Rob Reiner, Jamie Lee Curtis to play Jess' parents
Can you talk about Jess' new fling with David Walton? They don't start off on the most honest terms.
Meriwether: No. It has an unhealthy feeling to it. But what's fun about it is that, in that moment in your life when you lose your job or something big like that happens, sometimes you make these decisions that aren't the most healthy or smart or responsible. If you're going to make that decision with anybody, you're going to make it with David Walton, who is like the most handsome man alive. I love that scene in the second episode where he kind of looks down at her and is like, "I don't care about anything about you." No one else can make that line work and actually sound appealing and sexy but David Walton. She's exploring what it is to have casual sex, if she can do it. It's definitely a challenge for her character. She isn't very good at it. That's kind of a push and pull for her throughout this first batch of episodes. Then he's actually coming back a little bit later in the season after some stuff gets sorted out. Spoiler alert!
Some stuff gets sorted out?
Meriwether: Yeah. Because she's had this really long-term relationship with Spencer in the beginning and then dated Justin Long and Dermot Mulroney last year, both of those were relationships. This is the first time that she's exploring not being in a relationship, but just sleeping with a guy or just hooking up with a guy. It seems like the right emotional time for her to do that with her whole life in flux and losing her job. Like I said, he's just really hot.
So you have to bring him back.
Meriwether: Exactly. Twist my arm. I'll look at David Walton some more.
And Nick gets a rude awakening in the premiere. How will that push him to change?
Meriwether: I didn't know this at the beginning of the season, but it feels like he's on a spiritual journey this year. He's figuring out who he is. He's trying to find a better version of himself that's out there. I think rude awakening is the right phrase. A lot of times this season he's having people confront him with problems they've had with his personality in the past. He's having to defend himself and the choices he's made to a lot of different people in his life, which is good. I mean I think his character needs a little bit of a wake-up call.
How about Winston? Will he continue his relationship with Shelby (Kali Hawk) this year?
Meriwether: His relationship with Shelby is falling apart in the first batch of episodes. He's going to get a better job in the first batch [of episodes] so he's just staying pretty focused on work. Definitely later in the season we're going to get him into a relationship. We don't know how or when or what that is yet. You see in that second episode with his mom (Anna Maria Horsford) that his younger sister (Keenyah Hill) is playing pro now. I think he just feels this pressure to do better than he's doing at work.
Carla Gugino joins New Girl in Fifty Shades-esque role
Schmidt obviously made a huge mistake dumping Cece (Hannah Simone).
Meriwether: Huge mistake. I mean he made this mistake, but he also is on this new course of action to sleep with a bunch of people. His mission in life is to go back to the old Schmidt; the Schmidt that was sleeping with everybody. Cece's the thing that he is going to be chasing for a really long time. He has to get through some stuff emotionally to be able to be with her again. And she does too. They have a big year ahead of them with just figuring stuff out. Mostly from her side, she's got some stuff to figure out. She's dating this really, really nice guy who's really good to her, but she's struggling if that's what she wants or if she wants to go down the Schmidt path again, which is a different path.
And he's going to have a 50 Shades of Grey relationship with his boss, played by Carla Gugino.
Meriwether: It's pretty crazy. We like to push it to the edge. Hopefully we'll be pushing it all the way to the edge. We're also playing with it a little bit that she's a little bit aware. She's maybe not necessarily as skilled as he thinks she is at first with the whole S&M thing. Anytime we can get Schmidt tied up with a weird costume on, everybody's down for it.
I just found my new headline.
Meriwether: And I've been cut off. [Laughs] We like to choke people and get Schmidt in weird costumes!
New Girl returns for its second season with two episodes on Tuesday at 8/7c and 9/8c on Fox.