While meeting new roommates on Craigslist may not be the ideal apartment-hunting tactic, for Jessica Day, it was the best decision she ever made. Since moving into her L.A. loft five years ago, the quirky, sweet lead of Fox’s “New Girl,” played by Zooey Deschanel, has led the show to a landmark 100 episodes.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” says Deschanel, who dropped everything, including developing her own project, to take on the role of Jess. “I loved the script,” she says, “I loved the character and I was like ‘I don’t want anyone else to play her.’ ”
Fresh off success with the 2011 film “No Strings Attached,” “New Girl” creator Liz Meriwether never considered that the show could continue for five years. “I always sort of thought (it) was this small, weird show about a bunch of people who aren’t doing a very good job at life,” she says. “The idea of 100 episodes is amazing.”
|The “New Girl” cast – Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris and Hannah Simone – meet the press on the show’s iconic loft set. Courtesy of Fox|
Originally titled “Chicks & Dicks,” “New Girl” follows the antics that ensue when Jess moves in with three single men after her boyfriend cheats on her.
For the cast’s leads, it was easy to fall for the show, which stood out from the crowd with its unique perspectives on being young and single and finding family among friends.
“I remember feeling like this pilot had a real shot,” says Max Greenfield, who stars as Schmidt, the player with a heart of gold. The actor praises Meriwether’s pilot script as “one of the best.”
“It just felt like the best movie you’d ever read,” adds Hannah Simone, who was drawn to Meriwether’s creation of best girlfriends in Jess and her own character Cece, who bond without being rivals. “Seeing that Liz could see what’s funny in that, as opposed to the obvious funny of two girls fighting over a guy, felt authentic. I thought ‘That’s the kind of model I want to play on TV. That’s what I want to represent.’ ”
In fact, it was Meriwether’s skill at blending comedy and honesty that encouraged Brett Baer and Dave Finkel to sign on to help lead the show after three seasons on Showtime’s “United States of Tara.” The duo became executive producers and co-showrunners alongside Meriwether.
“(Liz) has an ability to be very hilarious and also very human, sometimes within the same word,” says Finkel.
“It was a real freshness … the central character that is Jess,” adds Baer. “You could see immediately that centering a show around her, and what these guys (brought) to her life, was kind of special.”
|“People believe these characters are real, but it’s a heightened reality … we can get away with stuff that is absolutely ridiculous.”|
“New Girl” debuted to a lofty 10.28 million viewers in the fall of 2011, and still boasts a loyal audience who have fallen in love with the characters, something that Deschanel says is a mark of what makes the show special.
“They’re all flawed,” she says. “They make mistakes … but that’s where the comedy and the heart comes from.”
And even though they’re relatable, the characters have a knack for getting into “only on TV” situations, says Jake Johnson, who plays bartender Nick Miller.
“People believe these characters are real, but it’s definitely a heightened reality,” he says. “So we can get away with stuff that is absolutely ridiculous.”
Stories over the years have included a cutthroat war for a parking spot, setting a badger loose in an air vent to stop a wedding and the gang pretending, via email, to be Schmidt’s hero, Michael Keaton.
For Greenfield, it’s those over-the-top stories that set “New Girl” apart from other, more formulaic sitcoms. “That’s what’s exciting about it for me and I think what’s funny for an audience,” he says. “It certainly is never boring.”
Take Lamorne Morris, who plays the zany and competitive Winston. “It’s such a toss-up what I’m going to be doing every week and that’s super fun,” he says.
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He entered “New Girl” in the show’s second episode, after Damon Wayans Jr. was called away to ABC’s “Happy Endings.” Morris couldn’t be more thrilled with the range he’s gotten to play, from an extreme handbell player to the devoted owner of Ferguson the cat. “My dreams of ‘Saturday Night Live’ have come true, but on ‘New Girl.’”
“New Girl” has also had its fair share of poignant moments, whether it be the loss of a parent or the struggle of unemployment. “For comedy actors, they have an amazing ability to play very dramatic stuff, and there’s always a depth to the characters, even in the silliest moments,” says Meriwether. “They’re always able to show the real person underneath all of that and I think that’s so important.”
That truth comes from the show’s 18-person team of writers, who open up in the writers’ room every day to bring honesty to their storytelling. “For a show to run for five years you absolutely have to have everybody involved in it be passionate and care about it,” Meriwether says. “For me, that was really what the 100th episode celebration was. That feeling of ‘This is really a collaborative effort.’ (‘New Girl’) really is a family.”