From left: Max Greenfield, Hannah Simone, Damon Wayans Jr., Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Lamorne Morris (Photo: Fox)

Warning: This article discusses plot details from New Girl’s fourth-season finale, “Clean Break.”

Tonight, New Girl wrapped its fourth season with a big proposal and a major cast departure. It was an appropriately momentous capper to the show’s finest season, 22 episodes that included new New Girl milestones like Jess (Zooey Deschanel) attempting to hide (what she assumes is) a big bag of methamphetamine or Nick (Jake Johnson) becoming the charismatic leader of a roaming band of drunks. Due to Deschanel’s pregnancy, production has already begun on New Girl’s fifth season, so when The A.V. Club spoke to creator Elizabeth Meriwether, she was able to give us the scoop on the season that just concluded and the season that’s on the horizon. Read on for her thoughts about putting Schmidt and Cece back together, parting with Damon Wayans Jr., and leaving the door open (or the sex mug out, so to speak) for another New Girl reconciliation.

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The A.V. Club: The fourth season ends with Schmidt proposing to Cece. Once that idea was in place, how soon afterward did you decide to end with the save-the-date callback to the season premiere, “The Last Wedding”?

Elizabeth Meriwether: We knew they were going to get engaged at the beginning of the season. We decided that was our endpoint of the season, so that was something that we’d been working on all year. I think somewhere in the middle of the year I was like, “Oh, of course—that should be the last moment of the season,” hoping that it would seem like we had planned everything like that. [Laughs.]

AVC: Aside from the obvious—they’re engaged this time—how will this romantic arc for Schmidt and Cece differ from what’s come before?

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EM: We felt like we’d gone back and forth with them so many times. It felt like time to allow them to be together in a real way, to let the audience know that it’s going to be something permanent. Which is exciting—I really like them together as a couple; they have a great chemistry, and they’re really funny together. And it’s also a crazy, impulsive moment for Schmidt to propose to her. [Laughs.]

In season five, they have things they still have to figure out: about their families, they haven’t dated in a while, they’ve never lived together—which I think is going to be a very funny area. [Laughs.] I hope it’s funny.

AVC: On the topic of them living together: Will that move Schmidt out of the lot, or will it move Cece into the loft?

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EM: We’ve already shot four episodes of season five because of Zooey’s pregnancy, and I think the answer to that question is “both.” But for right now, when season five starts, Cece is not moving into the loft, but she’s there more. She’s spending every night there. There’s a really funny episode early in season five where Nick is dealing with the fact that Cece is basically living in the loft. We find out that Cece’s actually this incredibly slobby person. [Laughs.] She’s sort of a hot slob: She’s so hot, no one’s ever asked her to clean anything up before. What’s fun about it is it gives an opportunity to get to know the Cece character a little bit more, because they’ve never lived with her and they’ve never really had that experience with her. So I’m excited for season five, to allow this engagement to expand her character and for us to get to know the character better.

AVC: It must be hard to think about letting the characters leave the loft, because so many of this season’s best moments happened within that space.

EM: This show is about roommates, it’s about these people who live together in one space. You find out in the premiere that Schmidt and Cece are going to be primarily paying for the wedding themselves. So there’s this big issue of them saving money, and that’s part of the reason they’re not moving out. I don’t think they’re going to move out anytime soon—but it is going to happen. I think there’s a way of doing those bottle episodes and those episodes in the loft, even if they don’t live there. There’s always a reason to be there.

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I did find that, this year, those episodes were great. They really seem to work on our show: Everybody in a confined space, having to deal with some problem—like a spider or a bag of meth.

AVC: After four seasons, characters are getting married; they have stable employment; Nick and Schmidt own part of the bar. Did it feel like it was time to let them grow up a bit?

EM: Yeah. And I do think that going into season five, that’s a really big focus for me: Everyone’s really starting to grow up. These people need to grow up a little bit, but the bar was pretty low. [Laughs.] Even them growing up will be like baby steps toward adulthood.

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I’m actually really looking forward to Nick owning part of the bar next year. In one of the early episodes of season five, he’s dealing with managing people for the first time—and I think that’s a really funny territory for his character. It’s definitely pushing his character and challenging his character, which I think we really needed to do. Season four for us was a lot of resetting the show: Proving that we could do this ensemble comedy without the Nick-Jess relationship at the center of everything. Which I feel like we did and it was still really funny. I think next season will be about pushing the characters a little bit more into adulthood and returning to some of the underlying relationship stuff that I love.

AVC: When did you find out that Damon Wayans Jr. would be leaving the show, and how soon afterward did you start laying the groundwork for a farewell to Coach?

EM: That was something that we found out in the middle of the season. We started laying the groundwork around episode 15, which is when he met May, so I knew I wanted him to move out because of a girl—because that’s why he moves! We’ve established that his character moves for women. [Laughs.]

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Knowing the engagement was going to happen at the end of this season, and knowing Coach was going to leave, did give the last part of the season a lot of focus for us. We [had to focus on] developing the story to get us to a place where those two things could happen.

And Damon was an amazing addition—the cast is fantastic, and he helped them grow. We’re really sorry to see him go. But having already shot four episodes of season five, there is something fun about getting back to the original cast we had in season one. And Zooey is not in four episodes because of the baby, so I directed an episode of season five that was just Jake and Max and Hannah and Lamorne, and it was really, really fun. [Laughs.]

AVC: Looking forward, do you think you could incorporate another character into the ensemble the way Coach was folded back in, or do you think that was unique to Damon’s situation?

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EM: That’s a goal of mine for season five: To expand the world and bring in another character that could really join the group. I would love to do that. It’s obviously a hard thing to do, and it worked with Damon so well—obviously because of his history with the show, and he knew Jake [from Let’s Be Cops]. It was so natural for him to come into the cast.

I have a respect for shows that have been able to do it. Because when you’ve been doing a show for five years, there’s definitely a group dynamic to the cast. Just finding a person who can totally work—where the character makes sense and can help all the other characters with stories and comedy—it almost feels like a math equation. It’s something we’re talking about for season five—we’re looking at people. But our cast is so strong, the only reason to do that would be to open up the world a little bit and have another character providing stories. We’re almost at 100 episodes! We’re at, I think, 98. It’s good to have a fresh face. [Laughs.]

AVC: The show’s going into syndication in the fall, on TBS and MTV. Do you feel a little more freedom now that the show’s in repeats? This is, traditionally, when TV shows begin making back the money that the studios and networks paid for them—do you feel like some of the pressure is off?

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EM: Yeah. I think there’s something great about this fifth season. It is freedom—there’s trust between the network and the show and I feel creatively excited for season five, because I feel like I know at this point what we can do.

The pressure of being a first-season show, and fighting to stay on the air, and no one really knows what the show is yet: All of that has changed. Now there are different pressures: How do we keep topping ourselves; how do we keep expanding the world; how do we keep everybody creatively excited about the show? I’m just happy to be in the position where we’re allowed to take risks and explore. Fox has always been great about us being able to do some crazy shit. [Laughs.] When you’ve reached 100 episodes, it’s a moment to go in new directions and try things out.

AVC: In the finale, Nick and Jess mutually decide to throw away their “sex mug”—but then they separately check the garbage to see if it’s still there-

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EM: Oh good, you got that. I was worried that people were going to be like “Why are they looking through the garbage?” [Laughs.] I was really hoping that people understood.

AVC: Are you leaving the door open for a potential reconciliation between these two characters as well?

EM: I’ve said this before, and I’m sticking by it: Their relationship is the center of the show, and I think we proved this season that it’s not the entire show. We proved that there are a lot of ways the show can go—and the fact that this group of friends is so strong. There’s so much comedy with Nick with the guys or Nick with Schmidt.

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But on the other hand, the emotional center of the show is the Nick-Jess relationship. I don’t know if that means it’s going to be back to them dating. I love their twisty, turn-y relationship, their romance that is very up and down. I want that door to be open. I don’t think it’s ever going to be easy for them, but I do think it’s an area that we’re going to go back into. You’ll have to watch to find out how, I guess. [Laughs.] There’s something there between them that hasn’t been fully resolved yet.

And I think the finale acknowledges that, under the surface this year, there was more going on between the characters—and that they were both trying to pretend like there wasn’t, trying to get over the relationship. I think that’s true in any breakup. A year had passed and this is sort of that moment when you would think that you’re safe, and then realize that you’re not safe. [Laughs.]

I love them as a couple, and I love them together, and I love writing them. I’m just not totally sure what direction it should go in yet. There’ve been a lot of ideas about that on Twitter, directed at me. [Joking.] So I’m taking a vote on Twitter.

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AVC: [Also joking.] Like all the great sitcoms, you’re making decisions through crowdsourcing.

EM: [Still joking.] We’re crowdsourcing where Nick and Jess should go, so get on Twitter! [No longer joking.] No. Please don’t.

We want it to be organic, we want it to feel real for the characters. I had a lot of fun working on the show this year, and I think there was something good about going away from it for a while. I think it was good for the characters, it was good to remember what else is going on in their lives. And also to remember what Nick and Jess are like as friends, when they’re just helping each other out.

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AVC: That feeds into one of the sweetest moments of the season’s penultimate episode: Nick and Jess are thinking about the person they want to be next to when they’re old, and they’re clearly thinking about one another—but it doesn’t have to be in a romantic context.

EM: That was definitely one of my favorite moments of that episode, because it just sort of happened in the script. There was a lot of debate about whether it should go—I’m glad it stayed. It wasn’t some majorly plotted-out thing that we were going to have a moment between them. It felt like this real thing that would happen between these two characters. I don’t know what it means, and I think that’s good.