The rules and origins of True American, a drinking game glimpsed in a season 1 episode of FOX’s “New Girl,” are like shadows of a whisper of a rumor. Zooey Deschanel’s Jess attempted to describe the game as “50 percent drinking game, 50 percent life-sized Candyland,” but her roommates immediately disputed her math.
All fans of the show know for sure are the following:
1)It involves a mix of beer and Jack Daniels;
2)It involves pretending that the floor has turned into molten lava;
3)It involves shouting out the names of American presidents;
4)It seems, despite how little we know about it – or perhaps because of that – to possibly be the best game ever invented.
By the morning after the episode aired, there were already Tumblrs set up to try to extrapolate the rest of the rules, and there are videos online of people attempting to play it based on their own fuzzy understanding of the rules.
I figured if anyone would know how the game actually worked, it would be “New Girl” executive producers Dave Finkel and Brett Baer, so when I ran into them at FOX’s press tour party, I attempted to get more concrete detail. What I instead got, I think, was something less like molten lava than like quicksand, where the more I struggled to understand, the deeper I felt I was being pulled into a confusing abyss. Some or all of what was said by them may be true (and American), or maybe none of it was. I leave that to you true “New Girl” viewers to decide.
When that episode was written, were there True American rules?
Dave Finkel: The truth is, the idea of True American came from one of the writers who played a similar game in college that she couldn’t remember the rules for. We just knew there were presidents and historical references in it.
Brett Baer: When we were writing, we decided to basically go at it from a standpoint of, “What’s the funniest thing we can put on paper from page to page?” We thought it would be funny to have them shouting out president’s names and odd tangents of historical facts. Finally, when we were on stage, we were rolling cameras, and the cast was going, “We don’t understand what this game is.” And we were like, “Exactly! So have fun, dig in, jump in.”
DF: We told them to play it like they’d been playing this thing for years and years and years. At some point, we’re going to have to lock down what the rules are. We kind of have a general sense of what they are, but it involves a lot of presidential references.
Let’s say hypothetically that I’m a gentleman in my 20s, and my friends and I would like to get drunk and play True American. What do we need? What paraphernalia?
DF: A lot of alcohol.
BB: You definitely need a bottle of Jack Daniels, a lot of beer. You need some great historical knowledge.
DF: You need more political and historical references than you think you would need. In order to win the game, you have to go deep – arcane political history. “Who was Polk’s vice-president? Who was the secretary of state?”
Oh, so there’s trivia. That’s not part of what we saw.
BB: Yes, actual trivia. There’s a big Teapot Dome component that leads to a lot of extra alcohol.
DF: I don’t know why these guys know so much about U.S. history, but they do.
BB: There’s also a lot of lava. The trick is to pick a president who’s over the age of 60. That is really the secret to winning True American.
And what percentage of what you’ve just told me existed before (the filming) began?
BB: Almost none of it.
DF: A lot of it happened on the day. The chanting of “JFK! FDR!,” that was on paper. Pretty much everything after that was made up on the spot with us shouting out things to the cast. Nick walking around with the stools was scripted, but mostly it was us pitching.
BB: We had a list of physical ideas, with the chairs and the stools, but we knew we had to keep throwing them historical information.
DF: I think there were references to Sacco & Vanzetti, and Smoot-Hawley. We went deep. Of course, none of that made it into the final cut.
Do you feel like you are going to put it down on paper at some point?
BB: It seems like we pretty much have to, because we’ve seen video and photographs on Facebook.
DF: People have put together what they know, and it’s wrong. I don’t know what’s right, but what they have is wrong.
BB: We definitely have to correct what’s out there. People are getting too drunk too fast. There’s a strategy. People are playing it like it’s football, and it’s a physical game, and it’s more of a mental game, like baseball. So we have to get out there and get in front of this thing, and provide a little bit of a guidance. I think George Will would probably be one of the best there is.
DF: There’s a truck going across America called the “New Girl” True American Tour, and they asked us for the rules, and we just couldn’t get it together. I wish we could have in time.
BB: Not because we didn’t know what they were, but mostly because there are too many to put down on paper. We didn’t have the time to do it.
DF: I think what we need to do is play it with America.
What you need to do is a bottle episode that’s a True American game in real time.
BB: Absolutely. We’ve restrained ourselves from trying to go back to the same well over and over again. We’re being very cognizant of not ringing the bell over and over again. But I do think True American is a concept that deserves its own episode at some point. It can be very emotional, that game. People are very drunk, they are often called to ask for how little they know about true American history.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com