The premise is rather stale, the writing is uneven, and the supporting performances are mostly unremarkable. So why does FOXâ€™s â€œNew Girlâ€ work so very well? Two words: Zooey Deschanel. Deschanel is the heart and soul of this new sitcom, which would be another mediocre fall pilot if not for her charming, hilarious presence.
Created by Elizabeth Meriweather, â€œNew Girlâ€ tells the story of Jess Day (Deschanel), an emotional, awkward, newly single woman who moves into an apartment with three bachelors (Max Greenfield, Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans). Sitcom-style gender clash ensues. Donâ€™t expect any deep insights here, just a lot of fun.
Jess, as a character, is basically a combination of quirks from Deschanelâ€™s past performances. This is not a bad thingâ€”the character feels fresh and original, simultaneously bizarre and humane. The actors playing Jessâ€™s roommates are primarily tasked with reacting to Deschanelâ€™s oddities, which actually works reasonably well.
Wayans, whose character is referred to as â€œCoach,â€ is the standout among the male leadsâ€”his comedic timing is more natural than the others. This is unlucky, considering heâ€™ll be gone by the second episode due to the renewal of his other show, â€œHappy Endings.â€ Lamorne Morris will be taking Wayansâ€™s place as a new character named Winston Bishop. Iâ€™m already cringing at the tastelessness of coincidentally introducing a replacement black male lead in the second episode.
In the pilot, Greenfield and Johnson have trouble pulling off some of the broader jokes, but I have confidence that their performances will improve once their characters are given definition beyond â€œtoolâ€ and â€œwimp,â€ respectively. I am also reasonably optimistic that the writing will improve as the series progresses. The punch lines in the premiere feel overly calculatedâ€”likely a byproduct of the heavy script-tweaking that pilots endure. I think the writers can develop a more natural rhythm in subsequent episodes.
It would be great if the charm and unpredictability of Deschanelâ€™s performance spread to the rest of â€œNew Girl,â€ but, if not, the show succeeds well enough resting on her shoulders. Of course, there are a few downsides to relying solely on Deschanel. For one, the show has very little to offer viewers who are less enamored with her on-screen persona. Additionally, â€œNew Girlâ€ will be unable to compensate should Deschanelâ€™s performance falter.
This strategy has worked well enough on other shows, though. Showtimeâ€™s â€œWeeds,â€ for instance, is often at the mercy of Mary-Louise Parkerâ€™s similarly hypnotic performance, and thatâ€™s enough to keep viewers tuned in every week. If audiences give â€œNew Girlâ€ a chance, I think Deschanel is relatable and appealing enough to attract a fairly widespread viewership. If the other elements of the show do improve, I could see â€œNew Girlâ€ becoming more of an ensemble piece reminiscent of â€œItâ€™s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.â€
This fallâ€™s network television lineup is far from promising, especially when it comes to new series. Fortunately, the â€œNew Girlâ€ pilot brightens things up a bit. Though you wonâ€™t find anything revolutionary here, Deschanelâ€™s committed performance makes the potentially great â€œNew Girlâ€ worth watching.
Premieres Tuesday, September 20 at 8 pm on FOX