There’s a whole constituency of hip-minded folks out there that would gladly proclaim Zooey Deschanel their indie princess. The star of (500) Days of Summer and Elf has made quite a splash with the twenty-something crowd. Combine that with the success of her folksy pop collaboration with rock musician M. Ward, She & Him, and it’s plain to see Deschanel has inadvertently come to represent a generation, at least to some degree. But for good reason, though. With her trademark blue eyes, quirky demeanor and free-spirited style, Deschanel casts an approachable and accessible version of the celebrity figure.
Following this summer’s Our Idiot Brother, in which Deschanel played, of all things, an artist living in a Brooklyn neighborhood known for its creative lifestyle and loft apartment culture, Fox’s decision to cast Deschanel for the leading role in their newest sitcom, New Girl, seems apropos.
The show features Deschanel as Jess, a jilted schoolteacher branded as “adorkable.” She wears modest overalls, sports clunky, horn-rimmed glasses and dances like Napoleon Dynamite. Watching Jess awkwardly trying to be one of the guys or belting out an impromptu, off-tune version of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” the role seems like a good fit for Deschanel, who has cultivated a similar public image of an independent, multi-talented woman with a tom-boy streak and a charmingly goofy outlook on life.
And even though Deschanel wasn’t considered first for the lead, she pointed out that the role was “sort of a perfect fit.” She said, “You go to a store and there's a dress that just looks like it was made for you, but it wasn't. That's sort of like what it was like."
The series finds Jess in an unfortunate situation. In an effort to spice up her relationship, she surprises her boyfriend with a striptease, which is hilariously unsexy yet characteristic, only to catch him cheating on her with another girl. This revelation prompts Jess to answer a craigslist ad for a roommate, and ends with her moving in with three bro-type guys (never mind that the use of the word, ‘bro,’ means adding a dollar to the Douchebag Jar) played by Max Greenfield, Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr., who unfortunately won’t return for subsequent episodes (Wayans Jr. is replaced by Lamorne Morris). From there, she sates her misery by watching Dirty Dancing over and over again, much to her roommates chagrin.
In a refreshing turn, the three guys present a good foil to Jess’ kooky vulnerability, each embodying different aspects and generalizations of dude-culture. There is cocksure Schmidt who thinks every woman is dying to get a peek at his abs, the pumped up Coach who, aptly titled, seems like the pack leader, and the sensitive, mopey Nick who finds himself in the same boat as Jess (possible running romantic interest?). But rather than paint rigid sitcom stereotypes, New Girl gives its characters breathing room. An impressive amount, really. Jess is already going on a rebound date; Nick acts surprisingly mature when faced with his recent ex; and when Jess gets stood up, Schmidt comes out of his testosterone haze and runs off to help save the day.
Also, the show appears interested in taking on the stale gender dynamics of similar sitcoms. And while it’s still not totally believable that three guys would have second thoughts about living with Deschanel or be so quick to discount her sexuality (the show makes it obvious that none of the guys find Jess attractive), accepting this as a conceit isn’t too difficult. If New Girl followed the prescription of built-in sexual tension, most of the chemistry that occurs between the characters would fall flat.
It’s relatively surprising that New Girl turned out so well, and that the show was received equally as well, sapping Nielson ratings from Glee. Many people have bemoaned Fox’s overexposure of the show, the unending clips of Deschanel’s bad dance moves or cartoony hubba-hubba’s, and perhaps they’re right. There is something inherently annoying about quirky personalities, Deschanel’s especially. It’s hard to swallow catch phrases like “adorkable” and mainstream use of nerd-dom, but New Girl somehow pulls it off. The jokes are fresh and original, the Douchbag Jar is sure to become a pop meme, and Deschanel’s wonky character is counter-balanced well by her co-stars. Plus, there wasn’t a laugh track, which is always a sign of moderate taste.
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