New Girl season 5 finale: Liz Meriwether unpacks 'surprising' ending
[Warning: Spoilers from the season 5 finale episodes of New Girl lie ahead!]
New Girl wrapped its fifth season on Tuesday, with two finale episodes that were loaded with wedding festivities, romantic developments, and a lot of jokes. Namely, Schmidt and Cece finally tied the knot, and Coach (Damon Wayans Jr.) returned for the big day; Nick and Reagan (Megan Fox) got together just as Sam (David Walton) broke up with Jess, leading her to realize she still had feelings for her old flame; and drinking game True American made a comeback, this time as First Ladies Edition. Here, creator and EP Liz Meriwether breaks down the above and other big moments from the season 5 kickers, and looks ahead to season 6.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What did you want to accomplish with the finale, narratively and tonally?
LIZ MERIWETHER: This season we had Winston and Aly, Schmidt and Cece’s wedding, Nick and Reagan, Nick and Jess, Jess and Sam — a lot of, I think, really great storylines. We had a lot to do, and Schmidt and Cece’s wedding, we had such a build up to it all year. We’d been doing stories about Schmidt being obsessed with planning it, and we’ve already done so many wedding episodes on the show, so it’s a little like, ‘What are we going to do differently this time?’ We wanted to show how much Schmidt’s grown and how much Cece has helped him grow.
We ended up in a cool place that also felt surprising of having Schmidt miss his own wedding. What’s surprising about it is the way he reacted to it, that he was kind of okay with it, that he made the best of it because he was just happy to be marrying this woman he loves. If you think about Schmidt in season 1, that’s such a huge growth for his character. Also part of that is him smashing the douchebag jar as a glass at the end of the ceremony. Brett Baer, who runs the show with me, [having Schmidt miss the wedding] was his idea, and [the first time] he pitched it in the room my reaction was like, ‘No! We can’t do that.’
We were really worried it was going to feel sad, and then when we pitched it out and thought about how he reacts to it, we realized it was actually this amazing thing for his character, that it gave the wedding that finally does happen in the loft a lot of emotional weight and real joy that wasn’t about anything except for the love between them, as opposed to all of the big wedding trappings that we’d been doing stories about all year. We really tried to keep the tone light and fun and funny, but what’s going on is pretty emotional, a little bit sad.
The Nick-Jess storyline is a little sad too. Being alone at a wedding, there’s that bittersweet thing of you’re so happy for your friend, but you’re also realizing that you’re alone in a real way. We felt like because there was so much joy in the Schmidt and Cece story that the episode could allow for Jess to have this … moment. She’s realizing that she still loves Nick, which I think is a big moment of self-awareness for her, that is also growth in a lot of ways. She says to Reagan that she realized that a lot of the things that she thought were wrong with Nick the first time they dated [don’t] really matter.
It is sad for Jess, with Nick and Reagan getting together, but you told EW in March that “the door is not totally shut” on Jess and Nick. Is that still the case? What can we expect from a potential Jess and Nick reunion, and the Nick and Reagan relationship?
The door is definitely not shut, and that’s what the finale is about. It’s a big deal to have Jess realize that she still has feelings for Nick. It’s a new dynamic between them, where now she’s the one who is really pining after him. Earlier, in season 2, he was kind of pining after her, so the balance has shifted. We love Reagan, and she’s really funny with Nick. Nick dating Reagan shows how much he has grown too; he has the confidence to be with her. In order to get Nick and Jess back together, both of the characters [would need] to grow a lot and change or realize what went wrong in the last relationship. I’ve been trying to move them both in that direction, and what this finale does is have them both take big steps forward in that way. Next year, the door is definitely open, and Jess is probably standing in the doorway.
Turning to Winston, he recently paired up with Aly, and they admitted that they love each other in this finale. It’s such a big moment for him, the perfect cap to what’s been a sort of renaissance for him this season. How did you make Winston a bigger, more integral part of the show, and also maintain his signature quirkiness?
I credit Lamorne [Morris] completely. He’s grown so much. We knew he was really funny — season 3, season 4, his character was really starting to become this amazing comedy presence on the show — but then this season you really saw what an amazing, great actor he is. His scenes with Nasim, he did such a beautiful job of showing how much he loved her from a distance, and when he finally got together with her, their chemistry is so great and he did an amazing job of maintaining [that] he’s still Winston, he’s still ridiculous in a lot of ways.
We were waiting for a long time to figure out the person that he could be in a relationship with and still have it be fun and funny, who could kind of hold her own with him. As soon as Nasim was on the show, I saw how great they were together. We started to very slowly move in that direction. She’s amazing, so funny. The challenge of getting two characters together on a show, which I’ve definitely experienced, is ‘How do you keep it funny if they’re in a relationship or they’re in love?’ From the episode that aired after they got together, you can still see that they’re really funny together, really great.
You can see that in the way they tell each other that they’re in love, in the midst of Aly having a bad case of food poisoning. It’s a sweet moment, but there’s still humor in it.
That’s definitely the challenge on a sitcom, to not take away any comedy when the character gets what he wants. Because Winston was so unlucky in love for so long, there’s something about that scene where she tells him that she loves him. It’s such a huge moment for his character, a victory for him because it’s really been a long time since he’s been in a good relationship.
It’s also been a long time since Coach has appeared on the show, but he returned for the wedding. What was it like having Damon back, and is there a chance that there’ll be more of him next season?
I would love to. I think he has a pilot, but he’s so great and it’s always so fun to have him, and I also love Meaghan Rath, who plays [Coach’s girlfriend] May. It’s such a natural thing, when he goes back on the show. It feels so fun and easy. Even seeing his face in the editing room, it’s a great thing to have him back.
Coach returns as the loftees are playing True American. Why bring the game back here, and are we ever going to get the real rules on how to play? Are there real rules?
You probably won’t get them, but I love when they play True American. They played True American the night that Nick and Jess kissed for the first time, and they went behind the blue door in “Cooler” in season two, so we were kind of playing with that. Sam and Jess go behind the blue door in this episode, [and] instead of something big and romantic happening, he breaks up with her; then that leads to him telling her that he thinks she’s still in love with Nick, so we were trying to connect those two episodes.
I knew we were about to have a big, crazy wedding episode, so I really wanted the first episode of the night to feel a little smaller, intimate, more about our people, just in the loft. That’s also where the idea for True American came from. Let’s tell the story after the rehearsal dinner, the actual night before the wedding — and let’s keep it in the loft. So True American has always been a great way to involve the whole cast. I was so happy to bring it back, and also the First Ladies Edition feels very relevant.
Sam’s decision to break up came as a surprise after last week’s episodes, when he picked Jess over Diane. Can you expand on the decision to end their relationship?
We were worried about doing the Diane storyline in the last episode, that people were going to be a little bit surprised. We played around with ending the last episode in a little bit more of an ambiguous way and having it seem a little negative between them, but I think we tried to put the hint in when Winston [says Sam isn’t a] bird-shirt person, that there’s a feeling that Sam isn’t the person for Jess in the long term. It felt real that he would make a decision in the moment and go back on it, like something that would really happen.
Again, we were playing with the idea of “Cooler,” where Jess betrays Sam by kissing Nick. We were trying to create a situation where Sam was also in some ways betraying Jess. He’s kind of giving her a little taste of her own medicine for what she had done to him. There are obviously parallels between Sam and Diane and Nick and Jess. Jess says to Nick, ‘He fell in love with his best friend.’ We were trying to play with that too.
Back to the wedding, there were a couple episodes leading up to it that touched on Cece having a hideous dress. Thankfully, Jess was able to make it beautiful in the end. What did you want the dress to look like for the big day?
The problem was Hannah is so beautiful that we wrote this episode where she buys an ugly wedding dress and and in the editing room I was like, ‘It doesn’t even look bad. She makes it look good.’ So we had to digitally add blinking lights on the dress because it had to be remarkably bad, and the only way we were going to do that was if it lit up or something. When Jess turns the dress inside out and it’s this kind of beautiful, white dress, I didn’t want to stop there [with the makeover].
The wedding was really trying to be true to both Cece’s Indian heritage and also Schmidt’s Judaism. I felt like the wedding dress [from costume designer Debra McGuire] should feel maybe not as traditional as her wedding with Shivrang, where she was wearing an Indian wedding sari. I wanted it to have Indian elements to it, so that’s why we added the gold pattern over the dress, and then gave her the veil. The traditional color is red for Indian weddings, but we decided to just have red on the trim of her gold veil and to focus more on gold. I wanted it to feel like it wasn’t a completely Western wedding dress, that there were elements of an Indian wedding in the dress as well.
Lastly, the show was recently renewed for a sixth season. You’ve talked a lot about what could be ahead, but what else is there to look out for in season 6?
We’re hoping that Megan Fox and Nasim Pedrad can come back, and I’m really excited about going into some of the Nick-Jess stuff again and what this new dynamic is going to be. I think there’s potentially going to be a lot of comedy in Schmidt and Cece’s first year of marriage. Then continuing the love affair between Nick and Schmidt; we’ll have to see what happens in that relationship, which is really crucial to the show.
Zooey Deschanel plays lovable Jess, who is plodding through life with a good group of friends.