New Girl showrunners Elizabeth Meriwether and Brett Baer recently spoke to The A.V. Club about their show’s second season. Following part four, this installment covers episodes 22 through 25, beginning with “Bachelorette Party” and ending with “Elaine’s Big Day.”
“Bachelorette Party” (April 9, 2013)
The quartet of Apartment 4D work together toward a common, lurid end: making sure Cece inspects a package, so to speak, before accepting it.
Elizabeth Meriwether: We were working “First Date” and that was taking our attention—because it was our post-American Idol episode—and I think [writer] Kay Cannon was working on “Bachelorette Party” and she came in and was like, “Okay, what if Cece has never seen Shivrang’s penis?’ [Laughs.] That’s something that would come up at a bachelorette party—and a good way for Cece to deal with getting married to a man that she doesn’t know very well. [Laughs.] So that was a fun way into that story. Kay also had that idea for the helium thing at the beginning of “Chicago” that I thought was so funny—she’s such a great writer and I thought that was the coolest pitch for how to write this scene where Nick learns that his father is dead.
Brett Baer: Putting that comic angle on.
EM: So we pitched the joke about the penis and it’s really funny, and it’s not going after Idol. [Laughs.] We’re not going to put an episode about Shivrang—a character people barely know—and seeing his penis after Idol. We had thought the show was going to stay on the Cece course for the rest of the season, and then [writer] J.J. Philbin had this idea that Schmidt got together with his old girlfriend. I had initially thought, “Why are we doing that this late in the season?” But then I totally fell in love with the idea that it was someone who he had dated before he lost weight. And I just love Merritt Wever. I like that relationship [Wever’s character] Elizabeth has with Schmidt and Max is just amazing with her. It was a revelation that this is a side of Schmidt that we don’t get to see a lot: She’s challenging him to cut the bullshit. I looked at early cuts of their scene and just thought, “This is good. This is really good for him and for us.” She brings this real challenge to his feelings for Cece because I think Cece—for all of these feelings he has for her—isn’t making him a better guy.
I think the dead-dad pass was my and Kay’s idea, too, and it was a great way of acknowledging that Nick was going through something, but not taking it to this sad, emotionally indulgent place. He’s trying to live his life through these feelings, and a couple of people who’ve lost loved ones have brought it up to me: That idea of the dead-dad pass is an honest, actual thing that you go through. You go through emotional things, and you get a pass.
AVC: Like being able to wear sherbet-colored velour?
EM: And obviously, Nick’s character, a huge fan of the tracksuit. We like to give the actors these gags of, “Hey, you’ve made it this far. We’re going to make a whole episode of you in a tracksuit.” [Laughs.] That was our gift to Jake Johnson.
The A.V. Club: Was the tracksuit custom-made, or was that something the wardrobe department tracked down?
BB: They bought if off the Internet and sent it to him.
EM: Then we asked them to age it a little bit. Did we cut the tag? We totally did. There was this tag where Winston, at one point, had made a bargain with Nick that he was going to go along with photographing Shivrang’s penis if he could wear the tracksuit for 15 minutes. So there’s this tag where Winston is walking around in the tracksuit. [Laughs.] Maybe the tracksuit will come back.
BB: Jake Johnson said he wants that to be Nick’s “laying around” outfit while he’s at home—like he’s always in that.
EM: We’re always fighting to either make Jake Johnson a sex symbol or to put him in a banana-yellow tracksuit. [Laughs.] It’s tough having the loyalty to the female fan base. [Laughs.] We have to balance those episodes with the ones where he’s in a suit. Whenever Nick is dressed up, we have to come up with an excuse. [Laughs.]
“Virgins” (April 30, 2013)
A series of flashbacks about the gang’s various first times—four of the stories involve Nick in some capacity, but only one involves Mick Jagger—culminates in Jess and Nick’s first time with each other.
AVC: So you’re tasked with adding an extra episode, so close to the end of the season. What do you do?
EM: Early on when we were gathering stories for the season, one of the writers came in with the idea that we should learn how one of the characters lost their virginity. We put that up on the board and thought that was a funny area. Later, I was thinking about what we’d do for that extra episode and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could give the actors a break?” They’re working so hard and we’re going to have to do 25 this season, and I was like, “Yeah, let’s do one with them sitting around”—not realizing that this was going to be the hardest episode we had to do because everyone has like 10 costume changes and all this stuff.
BB: They used to do these episodes of Taxi where the characters reminisce about Cab 804 or whatever, and they’d shoot an extra little piece where there’d be a whole Judd Hirsch story or a whole Marilu Henner story. And they’d shoot it on their own and they’d get an episode out of it. It would make production a lot easier and they wouldn’t have to shoot a full week—they could pick it up over the course of shooting another episode. It seemed like a really nice way to do something simple, so we were like, “Well, let’s do a flashback episode.” But it turns out all of our characters knew each other when they were younger. [Laughs.] So they all ended up being in each other’s stories, and it didn’t work out that way at all.
EM: I always love, for one reason or another, writing episodes with weird, awkward sex, so I immediately wanted to write this one—but I was doing other stuff. So this room run by [writer] Donick Cary broke the story. Like Brett was saying, we had this issue where the characters knew each other in the past, and they wove together this beautiful story where all the characters appeared in each other’s flashbacks and were there when they lost their virginity. And it worked out with Merritt, where we knew we wanted this episode to further her relationship with Schmidt—so it worked that he would have lost his virginity to Elizabeth.
BB: Structurally, we didn’t want this to be a pure flashback episode, because those can be a little stagnant. We wanted something to be driving the episode, a story that would continue throughout so you’d be waiting for the ending and there would be some stakes. So that’s when we decided to split up the Jess story with this mystery of “Who’s Teddy?” And we also knew we wanted the episode to build to this momentous thing.
EM: We knew we wanted Jess and Nick to sleep together at the end of it, right? We had a lot of conversations about whether we wanted them to have sex at the end of the finale or if we wanted them to have sex before the finale, so that the finale could end on some different idea. Donick was adamant about them not having sex at the end of an episode about everyone losing their virginities. It was “super creepy” he said. [Laughs.] I was definitely worried about it, but for me, it turned out that it gave a lot of weight to their sex, because it felt like it was this long, momentous history behind it, and it was an important moment in their lives. And you can see in that episode how far they’ve come as people. All the different personalities and how you grow up and change—it all adds weight to it. These flashbacks were affecting the present day. It wouldn’t work at this point in the season if it were just a standalone, funny flashback episode.
BB: [Executive producer] Katherine Pope was really hard on us in terms of what it was about Jess’ and Nick’s personalities that affected their virginity stories—and what would come to pass in the present that would be the thing they’d act on in the moment.
EM: And I think my first draft hit that too hard. Suddenly we’re working on the script and I’m like, “These people are very troubled, but they’re still dealing with sexual problems that were introduced the first time they had sex.” [Laughs.] It felt like we were pushing this idea that losing that weight of your virginity loses all your problems with sex or something, and it made them seem pathetic. And we were losing the fun of the premise of the episode. So I went back and did another pass where everybody’s telling a funny story, and tried to be a little bit more subtle with the connections between the flashbacks and the present day—lay that with a lighter touch. [Laughs.]
Alec Berg directed that one, and he was really helpful. We’d talked about Seinfeld and economy—but we’d written a really long scene of dialogue of Nick and Jess right before they have sex. And it was sort laying there, not funny or exciting. Once again, everyone was crying. And Alec was like, what if we don’t do anything? What if she leaves for the night, and we cut to the two of them in bed? And we thought about that for a minute—that was too extreme. Theoretically, you’ve been waiting all this time for them to consummate the relationship and to just cut to them in bed was definitely the comedy pitch, but it felt like cheating the audience. So we came up with this hybrid version where Nick picks Jess up in the elevator—I did a version of that scene that had more jokes in it, but we cut that out and did a reshoot where he carried her to the bed. We shot that piece afterward, because I was really sensitive to getting that sequence right. We don’t do a lot of montages so we were trying to figure out how to pull that off with the right balance.
BB: The kiss was such a successful moment and people responded to it, so we felt a sense of responsibility to top that.
EM: We shot it with Jake and Zooey kissing the whole time, and I think right before the end, we shot a version where they’re just looking into each other’s eyes. I think that was more exciting than kissing.
BB: I think that was [editor] Steve Welch’s idea, right? Didn’t he frame that up originally?
EM: Yes. [Laughs.] He had the idea of carrying Jess into the bedroom—but it’s such a collaborative thing. Things happen on set or in the editing room. We’re so not afraid of going back and trying something else. We’re not married to the script at any stage. [Laughs.] It’s a collaborative, organic process.
I feel like going back in time, you learn so much about the characters—and I know the actors had fun making it. Though Max Greenfield was a mess having to be in that fat suit longer than he should have been. [Laughs.] At one point, I turned over and he was on his back next to a fan and was just like, “Tell me when I need to get up again.” [Laughs.] He was taped in rubber for six hours straight doing physical comedy. And not only was it rubber, but it was greased-up rubber because we had to lube him up every single take. He really went for it—and it almost killed him. I’m totally serious. [Laughs.]
“Winston’s Birthday” (May 7, 2013)
A new job opportunity, a henna-tattoo mishap, and the unexpectedly early arrival of her father make for the day from hell for Jess. She’s not the only one who forgot Winston’s birthday, however, so that relieves some of the pressure.
AVC: So, naturally, the move was to make him dance in the fat suit for the next episode?
EM: Anything after that lube-wrestling scene was going to be a walk in the park. [Laughs.]
BB: We wanted to avoid getting into a real talky episode after Nick and Jess first have sex with each other. We didn’t want them trying to figure out their relationship with each other since they’ve been trying to figure out their relationship with each other for like 48 episodes at this point. [Laughs.] There wasn’t much to talk about, so I think some of the fun of the episode was trying to keep them from resolving the emotional feelings they have following their first time together.
So it was that, married to the idea that when we had Rob Reiner and Jamie Lee Curtis on for the Thanksgiving episode, there was immediately such great stuff with Rob and Jake. I think Donick said, “We have to get them in a fishing boat out in water where the only people they have to deal with are each other, a bunch of worms, and a hook.” We couldn’t do that—but we figured the worst possible thing that could happen to a guy is he comes out of a room after having sex with somebody and ends up face-to-face with her father. [Laughs.] And that was a good way to keep Nick and Jess from talking about this stuff.
We also knew, as the season was winding down, that we wanted to get Jess back to her work environment—incorporate it and conceptualize it as well. We also had Cece’s wedding, so we had all these things and we were like, “Let’s do a plate-spinning episode and try to activate Jess and have her running 100 miles an hour in a beeline for 21 minutes while she’s got all this emotional stuff pent up.” The fact that she and Nick can’t get back together to deal with all of this was a fun way to motivate the episode. So we had all that going for us.
Then we had the Schmidt and Elizabeth story, which was, again, another opportunity to explore their relationship and dynamic. It was a tough one because we wanted to deepen the relationship between Schmidt and Elizabeth as we got to the finale, because we knew the Schmidt-Cece relationship was going to be a big part of the finale. We had spent so much less time with Merritt than with Hannah—we wanted to take it to a deeper level with Schmidt, to explore his feelings for Elizabeth, how much he cared, and what he loved about her. This relationship was formative for Schmidt, and Elizabeth is a real contender for Schmidt’s heart and she matters to him.
AVC: So it’s pretty easy to forget Winston’s birthday while all this is happening.
BB: Well, there’s two things going on there: At one point, Liz pitched that after Nick and Jess have sex for the first time—the biggest moment in the series—we have an entire episode where we follow Winston around for a day. [Laughs.] Everyone has been on us about, “More Winston, more Winston. What are they going to do with Winston? Where’s Winston?” So I think we leaned into that and made a joke about it. It’s his episode, it’s his birthday, and he’s being put into the C-story again. But he’s so funny, and Lamorne Morris is so great in circumstances of playing high emotions. On one side that he thinks there’s this big surprise party happening for him, and on the B-side, there’s this anger that nobody is paying attention. It was our nod and wink to the audience for beating up on us about that.
AVC: It great to see Curtis Armstrong as Jess’ prospective future employer in this episode. Is there any chance he’ll be a semi-regular in season three?
BB: We would love that. I was just talking to people about this recently: Guys over the age of 35 are more excited about Curtis Armstrong than anything—the connection to Revenge Of The Nerds and Risky Business. He was hilarious and fun to work with and a great guy, and we’d really love to develop a world of characters at Jess’ work that we could go to—with Mary Lynn Rajskub as well.
“Elaine’s Big Day” (May 14, 2013)
After preventing Cece from making a huge mistake—with the help of a badger and special guest star Taylor Swift—Jess and Nick drive off into the night, Schmidt scatters to points unknown, and Winston takes a trip to the emergency room.
BB: The finale was an undertaking. We knew we wanted to do big and exciting and we’d already had the big moment with Nick and Jess—we wanted to launch into the end of the season and feel like we have the audience hooked and ready to go into season three. We had the wedding from day one of pre-production, we knew we were building to the question of whether Cece was going to get married or not. There was a built-in love triangle of Cece and Schmidt and Elizabeth, so we had that working for us.
After that, it was what we wanted to make the dynamic between Jess and Nick, and what note we wanted to ring in on. Rob Reiner was so good in that episode—I didn’t get a chance to talk about him in “Winston’s Birthday,” but there’s that bit where he says to Nick, “You’re not your father, you’re me. And I’m not good enough for my little girl.” And the fact that Bob thinks Nick isn’t good enough for Jess—and the fact that there’s a part of Jess that shares that concern—is what we decided to pick up on in that episode. From her end, that’s the thing that’s going to keep these two from being in a relationship, because she does have a concern and I think that’s what will, potentially, give us a season’s worth of conflict for the two of them. There’s so much that’s broken about all the characters, and the parts of Nick that worry her are the ones that her father put a finger on.
EM: We wanted it to be an important Nick/Jess episode, but we also knew we wanted to have fun with this idea that the wedding was going to be sabotaged. In the first conception of the episode, we were pushing the Nick/Jess stuff more. And the network was like, “You’re glossing over the concept of sabotaging the wedding.” So we went back to the drawing board two days before the table read and broke a big, funny, silly story about sabotaging the wedding. We all wrote it—it’s one of those big, group-written episodes. At that point in the season, you’re staring at the finish line, but it was a moment of fun because we all had fun together, and when we break the story, there’s pieces of every writer in the story and jokes from every writer and ideas from everybody.
BB: And then we threw a badger in the mix. [Laughs.]
AVC: Which is an escalation from the first-season finale. There was just a coyote last year, this year there’s a horse and a badger.
BB: There’s a horse, there’s a badger, there’s a Taylor Swift. There’s vent-crawling—this episode is so big. And the biggest challenge was tonally making sure we paid off the season because there were so many big ideas comedy-wise. [Executive producer and episode director] Jake Kasdan was so astute and sharp and worked really hard to make sure we were staying in the realms of the show, even though we were going in big territory. It was a challenge production-wise, a challenge creatively, and a lot of late nights.
EM: The idea that there was a badger in the duct was a placeholder. We were like, “Let’s keep ‘badger in the duct’ as the third prank ’til we figure out what the actual third prank is,” because no self-respecting show would actually have a badger in the air duct. And then the more we kept saying it out loud, the more it was making us laugh. Finally, I just gave in and I was like, “Clearly, we’re doing the badger in the duct.” And then Jake Kasdan said, “As long as you can tell me why there’s a badger in the duct, I’ll let you guys keep going.” [Laughs.] So we had to figure out why there was a badger at the wedding, and then Nick Adams, I think, said, “Oh, it’s the mascot of the University Of Wisconsin.” And then we were like, “Okay, done.”
AVC: Are you sure that Jake wasn’t also voicing apprehension about having to direct scenes in such a confined space?
EM: Oh, yeah. He was voicing apprehension and was like, “We tend to not do those big those bigger, sillier episodes well”—and he’d had a couple of crazier ones with the horse con and the funeral and he was like, “You guys are seriously making me do this?” I felt like we could go there and go that route because I knew we were going to end up in this emotional place with Nick and Jess. It was definitely hard because I think that’s a struggle we always have with the show: How broad do we go? If it works, it’s great, and that’s usually because we’ve come down on one side or the other. I feel like I have this part of me that is a little bit French—in my sense of humor. Like, I love emotional, character-driven comedy but there’s also silly, farcical stuff that makes me laugh that has gotten us into trouble in the past because I’ll be like, “Badgers are so funny!” And then we really commit to that. I feel like the Jerry Lewis lover in me becomes problematic.
AVC: Do you feel like season two found the right the balance between the emotional content and the content for the Jerry Lewis lovers?
EM: [Laughs.] Yes and no. For me, it was an incredibly important season with some real low points and some real high points—just trying to figure out what show I want to make and what the show was going to be. There’s a real progression where we got a little more confidence and committed to what we know and love about the characters, as opposed to doing a bunch of things we can’t do very well. I think that’s one of the things that’s a struggle of making 25 episodes in a season: You have to step out of what you usually do, and when you make those steps out, you can do them with a little bit more success. I think you learn more from the episodes that don’t work. You’re like, “Okay, this didn’t work. Why?” Even in our biggest failures, there’s something I’m proud of: a scene or a moment or a joke that makes me fill with joy. I guess that’s where I should be at the end of season two—and if I wasn’t there’d be a real problem. [Laughs.]
AVC: What was the driving force behind leaving Schmidt’s final decision hanging?
BB: We love what Merritt brought to the show and loved the dynamic between Schmidt and Elizabeth. And we knew it would be good to have a cliffhanger ending in one of these two romantic stories. In the Nick and Jess thing, we felt like busting them up after working so hard to get them together didn’t feel like the right move. We were more excited about the possibilities of them going off into next season into the sunset. Schmidt’s story felt like the one that was most served up to say, “We’re not going to tell you what Schmidt decides”—and Schmidt probably doesn’t even know how he feels right now. We had gotten him organically to a place where had a lot of feelings for Cece, and he had incredibly deep and historic feelings about his relationship with Elizabeth, so it felt legitimate to us that he wouldn’t be able to make that decision that quickly. And it felt like, “Well, here’s something we can write for next season and see where it takes us.” Watching the character of Schmidt squirm is what we’re going for. [Laughs.] Watching him double-talk his way out of his emotional feelings is where he’s at his best. Put him in a corner and watch the guy fight his way out of it and try to survive.
AVC: What’s it been like trying to keep the Taylor Swift reveal under your hats?
BB: [Laughs.] In a perfect world, nobody would know that she’s on the show. But the moment she books the appearance—and believe me we were all ecstatic and saying, “This is incredible, this never happens.” We knew we needed somebody at an A-level status to play that part. When we got Taylor, we were thrilled and knew immediately that the network was going to say, “No, this is important, this is going to help us, let’s put this out there.” So then we were like, “Okay, let’s put it out there, but let’s not reveal her character.” I feel like people have been good about hiding the specifics, but I think people can put two and two together if you look hard enough. These things are better when they’re big, giant surprises but, in this day and age, it’s hard to get an audience at all so the network will do whatever they have to to get eyeballs on the show.
ME: It was an idea I had in the shower. [Laughs.] Not the Taylor Swift part, but instead of Schmidt running in and breaking up the wedding, it was going to be one of Shivrang’s ex-girlfriends that has a Graduate moment. So that was the original idea, to have it be someone recognizable and a fun cameo because it felt like one of those things you could get away with with someone fancy. And she was so funny and came in and was improvising and it was a really funny, fun thing to happen. And the one day we were doing the Taylor Swift scene, we were doing this huge scene where Nick and Jess fall through the ceiling. It was the biggest day we’d ever had, production-wise.
AVC: And now the obnoxious question that follows all of this: Where do you go from here?
BB: [Laughs.] In the context of talking about how you would get out, you do talk about where you would go—and the truth is that we’ve walked down a lot of the paths of next season. We’re tired and it would be nice to get a little perspective on it and see, in time, how the audience responds to stuff and what works. So when we come back in June and have a few moments to clear our heads and put last season in perspective, I think that it’ll be cool to come back where it sits with each of us individually. Dave and myself will sit down with Liz and we’ll start talking about it and then Katherine and Jake Kasdan will get into the conversation.
It’s an interesting thing because, you find out where the collective unconscious lies amongst people and where you feel organically, “Do we feel a symbiosis?” We’re like, “Yeah, this is probably what happened.” And then we start moving in that direction. I think we’ve almost purposely not been talking about it and leaving options open and we have a moment to let it become what it wants to become rather than forcing it somewhere. Which, in a network television season, sometimes you’re forcing pieces so that you can get the show done. But when you have a moment to think about it, I can be as excited about the future of the relationships on this show as the audience. That’s a cool opportunity, to be like, “I don’t know where’s it’s going to go.” It’s like writing a novel or a play or something where you don’t have the time pressure to produce the next plot point to see what this might become.
EM: We talked a lot about the song that’s playing as Jess and Nick drive off. There’s one version of it that felt like it was very emotional—like the end of the movie—and then we ended up going with the other song [The Vaccines’ “I Always Knew”] that has a punk feel to it. I wanted something that felt like, not the end of a movie, but something that was like the beginning of a whole, new level of shit, I guess. [Laughs.] Like in Rushmore, when they’re like, “Have you ever been in the shit?” They’re about to go into the shit. [Laughs.] All their conflict is really yet to come.