Liz Meriwether Wants You to Know She's, Like, Supes Awks
Adorkability trumps candor when the New Girl creator visits The Writers' Room.
If you're not already watching Sundance Channel's The Writers' Room…I mean what, did you not read Jeff Drake's "Get on Board!"? Get on board! Already this season, Jim Rash has jawed with the writers of Breaking Bad, Dexter, and Parks & Recreation on all things storytelling, from character inspiration to happy accidents. Rash is both an exceedingly pleasant moderator and a solid interviewer. Even if you regularly listen to podcasts with this band of TV creatives, as I do, you feel each week like you're picking up something new.
Of course, if you regularly listen to podcasts with this band of TV creatives, as I do, then you knew going into last night's New Girl-focused episode that you probably wouldn't learn too much from show creator Liz Meriwether. She's a likable guest, sure, but rarely steps out of "weird girl in the corner tossing out non sequiturs and making goofy faces" mode to actually talk about television creation. She is, she'll admit, the inspiration for Zooey Deschanel's character. That means:
Vague bordering on nonsensical recollection of events (the New Girl pilot was "crazy and kind of a mess")
- Those glasses. You know.
- Military-grade self-deprecation
- Doodling, all the time doodling
- Use of expressions like "mouth party" to describe hooking up*
*Which, to be fair, Jake Johnson brought up first.
Meriwether was a playwright and feature writer (her script Fuck Buddies became No Strings Attached) before selling New Girl at the age of twenty-nine. She'd never been in a TV writing room before. Which -- no problem. Plenty of awful TV is just that for the stagnancy and ingrained habits of its veteran staffs. And as she mentioned more than a few times on The Writers' Room, that inexperience only led to stronger collaborations with the writers (and actors) with whom she surrounded herself. Meriwether's prodigiously talented. No one's arguing that!
Nor is being adorkable in and of itself the worst thing in the world. (One day it might be a crime. But not yet.) Meriwether comes off, more than anything, as a stage and movie writer getting used to a TV world that demands openness and the clear articulation of what you mean. She doesn't speak like a kindergarten student, but the answers she gives in these interviews all feel…wanting. You're the creator of a beloved (and well-made) sitcom; you can speak seriously for a few minutes. Here's Meriwether describing a one-night stand that inspired a Jess plot:
I had this night in New York. I went home with a guy. I made some decisions that may have involved alcohol. Kind of…after the fact, he was like, 'Oh, Katie. That was great.' And I was like, 'Whoa.' I had this moment where I wanted to just go with it, create this alter ego….that became the episode 'Katie,' where Jess creates this alter-ego for herself.
It's not the "isn't that kooky?" quality of that story that frustrates, but the missed opportunity to discuss its script translation in a way that might be revealing to writers and interested fans. This is the reason we watch a show called The Writers' Room! And whether she likes it or not, Meriwether's in a unique position being a 1) young 2) woman who 3) doesn't come from TV**; she's got a certain responsibility to show us what's up.
**Which perfectly describes another show creator, Lena Dunham, who's far more forthcoming with valuable writerly reflection.
Like most of my fellow Americans, I love New Girl and want to learn more about the creative steps by which it shows up on my TV screen! "Happy to be here!" only cuts the mustard for so long.
What did you think?