'This election, it's really important that young people vote... We have a lot of fans in that demographic,' EP Liz Meriwether says
Jess (Zooey Deschanel) is about to take being True American to another level: The titular new girl on New Girl will be hitting the campaign trail with Cece (Hannah Simone) in Tuesday night’s episode, as the pair try to encourage voters to support Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, Schmidt (Max Greenfield) presents the conservative perspective among the loftmates — even though he won’t be inclined to Make America Great Again just yet.
So, while the loft’s denizens may argue over politics (in a manner less heated than Monday’s debate, hopefully), New Girl isn’t about pandering a viewpoint or a specific political message, showrunner Liz Meriwether says. Instead, the episode — airing, aptly, on National Voter Registration Day — works to show how national politics can affect the characters by looking at the humorous ways politics can play out among friends. Below, Meriwether talks writing the newsy topic into New Girl, comedy’s role in tackling timely issues, and other surprises in store in the episode — along with an exclusive clip.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: New Girl has touched on characters’ political views and tackled news-y topics before (i.e., with Winston’s (Lamorne Morris) job as black cop in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter), but doing an episode around the presidential election is a new move for this comedy. How did you and the writers reach the decision to approach the topic?
LIZ MERIWETHER: It just felt like a big enough thing that it felt wrong that our characters weren’t commenting on it. We set up, in the past, the political parties of the characters, so it felt right that Jess would be enthusiastically trying to get out the vote. [The idea] came up on a little retreat [the writers] go away to every year to talk about stories, and everybody thought it would be a fun opportunity to show Jess campaigning.
The show airs on Fox, and with Fox News having a mostly conservative audience, I have to ask: Was that ever an issue to have Jess, Cece, and even Schmidt all not campaigning for this year’s Republican presidential nominee? Max Greenfield stopped by EW Radio and said that you had to dial things back for the network, and that there were many Business Standards and Practices notes that came. So did you ever get any notes from the network that you had to work with?
No, definitely not. I never felt that pressure from Fox at all about this storyline. Like I said, we have gone into political waters in the past a little bit, even with just jokes and stuff, and I think the rule for broadcast networks is some equal-time rule, where you have to show logos of the opposing candidates. I actually don’t know the ins and outs of it [laughs], but I think we were just making sure that it was balanced. That was what the conversation was like with the network, so I don’t know where Max got that. [Laughs.]
So no back-and-forth with Fox?
No, no, no, no. Honestly, that wasn’t what was happening, but there are some Standards and Practices rules about being equal about representation.
Listen to Max Greenfield on EW Radio, SiriusXM Ch. 105, here:
Jess and Cece campaign for Hillary Clinton, but what about Schmidt? He’s conservative.
We decided to have Schmidt be a Paul Ryan 2020 supporter. He’s looking toward the future.
He’s not supporting Donald Trump?
He doesn’t say what his plans are for this election, but he doesn’t like either candidate, so he’s looking forward to 2020, to supporting Paul Ryan.
What’s interesting is when you first wrote in Schmidt’s political views, the political landscape was very different, even just for Republicans. Was that something you thought about when it came down to deciding who Schmidt supported?
No. You know, with Schmidt’s character, he seems like the kind of Republican who wouldn’t be supporting Trump. He seems like he’s more… [pauses] I don’t know. I should probably stop saying any more. [Laughs.] It just felt right that he was a Paul Ryan guy, so we made that choice.
In the promo for the episode, we see Jess dress up as Trump. What was that like?
Zooey is a pretty amazing Trump, surprisingly. I was really amazed at how well she did that. They don’t look particularly similar. [Laughs.]
You’ve been quite vocal in talking about this election, with your pieces for New York Magazine, on The Cut and Vulture, but how did you approach this episode’s topic with the writers in the writers’ room?
You have to be a little bit careful when you’re a comedy show that’s trying to tackle politics or anything that has a bigger scope. I do think that one of the great things about sitcoms is that they can take on big issues within a small, funny way, which is, I think, what we’ve tried to do on this show when we’ve dipped our toe into things like this in the past.
Actually, with Vulture, I went to the Republican National Convention, and one of my assignments was to talk to a bunch of the Republican delegates about television and what they watch and if they ever feel like there are too many liberal agendas coming out of Hollywood, you know? [Laughs.] I’m a lifelong Democrat and I support Hillary, but I had interesting conversations with the Republican delegates. A lot of them just said that they got that a lot of creators of their favorite shows were probably liberal, but they felt that it would be great if the storylines were fair, so I think we went into the episode wanting it to be based in character and not that we had an agenda that we were trying to preach to the world, because I don’t feel like that’s our responsibility. Obviously, I have very strong feelings about the election, and you’re right, I’ve been pretty vocal about this particular election, but I see this episode as more about our characters dealing with the election, instead of me trying to get some secret message out, if that makes sense. [Laughs.]
You said you weren’t trying to promote any personal agendas, but this is an episode about getting out the vote. Was encouraging voter registration a message that you did want to drive in?
Yeah, it was. I think this election, it’s really important that young people vote, and I think we have a lot of fans in that demographic. It also felt really important to Jess. It just felt right for her character that she believes in democracy and in the power of a vote, and then similarly, I found it really funny that Schmidt gets completely disillusioned with democracy and thinks it’s just all about money and lobbyists and stuff like that. So definitely, getting people to get out the vote and just trying to help, especially young women getting out the vote, felt right to us… I wish we could physically do that, but the schedule for making television is crazy. [Laughs.] This episode is like our way of doing that.
Overall, what do you think is the role of comedies when it comes to tackling bigger issues like politics?
I definitely wouldn’t say that we have “tackled” politics with this episode. [Laughs.] But like I said, what I think is great about going into some of these areas with a sitcom is that you can approach what seems like a big, complicated issue from a really small, character-based place, which I think is, in some ways, a great way to think about things and break down issues. You’re not telling a sweeping, epic story about an issue, you’re telling a more human story, or more just a real-life story about how an issue affects characters.
I definitely hope [the episode] adds to the conversation. When you can laugh about something, sometimes it opens you up to listen to something. Comedy can play a role in these bigger conversations, as long as it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The funniest stuff can be about things that are actually pretty complicated. But I mean, above everything else, you just have to make sure that what you’re doing is still funny [laughs], because that’s our main job.
New Girl airs Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on Fox.
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