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New Girl: A show so nice it could be Canadian

This column is not easily shocked. Surprised, sometimes, but not running-around-with-its-bit-of-hair-on-fire shocked.

I was indeed shocked by the volume of vitriol aimed at Little Mosque on the Prairie as it ended its run Monday night. Such was the hatred in the mail that you'd think the CBC was engaged in a massive robo-call campaign to force people to watch it. The hatred seemed, you know, un-Canadian.

On the other hand I was merely surprised to read about the shenanigans on the U.S. network morning shows this week. There's The Today Show, Good Morning America and CBS This Morning. Oprah Winfrey was on one of them Monday moaning about the difficulty of launching her OWN channel. Today, Sarah Palin is a guest host on Today, and Ryan Seacrest shows up to talk about how many gazillion dollars he earns. Meanwhile, Palin's old nemesis Katie Couric is guest-hosting Good Morning America. OMG! Morning-show wars!

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Other high-profile guests on Today this week, along with Palin, are Kim Kardashian, "Octomom" Nadya Suleman, Tori Spelling and singer Nicki Minaj. That's terrific but it's not surprising that nobody in Canada watches U.S. network morning shows.

Moving along to pleasant surprises – New Girl (Fox, CITY-TV, 9 p.m.) has emerged as an adorable, absolute enjoyment to watch. It has evolved beautifully. It's now a show about being good and kind and people taking care of each other. It's so drenched in amiable nurturing that it could be mistaken for a Canadian series.

The show had a killer pilot. Zooey Deschanel arrived as Jess, a young woman in a bad spot. Dumping her love-rat of a boyfriend, she impetuously moved in with three guys. Things then had a boilerplate sitcom plot – the guys tried not to be male-crude and ended upon being kind to her when she was a mess.

Then things seemed to go awry. The adorableness of Deschanel appeared to be parked somewhere, off-screen. But, it turned out, as the show found its feet, this was not a conventional vehicle for a funny and charming young lady star. The male characters came into focus, and gloriously so.

There's Nick (Jake Johnson), a bartender and law-school drop out. A sad-sack initially presented as a cynic, he is the sentimental one now, the guy who cries over an old romance. Jess helps him with that, declining to scoff at a grown man in tears over a lost love.

The most intriguing character to become fully formed, though, is Schmidt (Max Greenfield), a guy who will show off his six-pack abs at every opportunity. He thinks of himself as a Casanova and the coolest, most fashionable dude in L.A. As it happens, he's a bit of an idiot. His speeches about women are priceless and the gentle mocking of a stereotypical ladies' man is hysterical. In recent episodes, his romance with Cece (Canadian Hannah Simone) has been a thing to behold. She likes sex with him but is mortified by his presence. She hides him. Thus he's the male equivalent of the female, bubblehead popsy that powerful men stash somewhere. And Greenfield is very, very fine in the role.

Still largely unfocused is Winston (Lamorne Morris), a former pro-basketball player who tends to see the world as a jock. He's as easily bored as a four-year-old, which nicely undermines the jock-competitiveness of the character, but there's room to grow there.

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What usually happens, mind you, is that the Jess character initiates some collective caring. These people, a society in microcosm, don't merely deliver one-liners at each other. They learn to help each other. To sympathize. Nick had a medical scare and everybody helped pay his medical bills. Schmidt was getting so uptight that he was gently pushed into being mellow for a bit. Then he was allowed to go back to being his maddening self. There are few shows that are as much about tolerance as this seemingly flimsy sitcom.

Of course Zooey Deschanel remains at the core, but not as a babe or a flake. Just regular. I was taken aback by a recent episode in which she spent almost all her time dressed in leggings, boots and a nifty bolero jacket. It was notable, not for some salacious reason, but because she looked like a lot of women on the streets of Toronna. And, oddly, as absurd as the show is, there is considerable wit and warmth to Jess's adventures at work and in romance.

It is a pleasure to report surprise at the strength of New Girl. It's a good surprise, in the way that discovering Wendel Clark is on TV promoting Dove Men-Plus-Care products is a surprise. Once one of the NHL's toughest guys, there he is now, presented as a guy with a very gentle side. I know it's only a commercial. But, still ... Clark used to be the player known to be relentlessly tough. Now he could be a guy on New Girl.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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