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New Girl rides on Zooey Deschanel’s comic quirks

It is a truth not universally acknowledged, because it is an uncomfortable one, but sensible people often look to the lyrics of pop songs to seek out maxims about life and human nature.

Take a certain ditty written and performed by a chap who went by the name of Big Bopper. In his immortal work Chantilly Lace, he wrote and sang, "That wiggle in the walk and giggle in the talk/ Makes the world go round/ There ain't nothing in the world like a big eyed girl/That makes me act so funny, make me spend my money." This is so totally true and applies to all men everywhere. Well, almost.

It is extremely hard to find someone who has a negative take on New Girl (Fox, CITY-TV, 9 p.m.) or has a low opinion of its star, Zooey Deschanel. The show is widely considered the one can't-miss show of this new TV season. Deschanel is, by prevailing assessment, the best and kookiest young woman in the whole world, ever. Well, almost, again.

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Deschanel is 31 years old but looks mid-20s. She has an elfin appearance and boundless charm. When she's acting, she talks in her naturally rough voice and delivers what is mostly deadpan sarcasm or self-deprecation. Whether acting or not, when she sits, her toes touch the floor, ankles upward. Mostly she doesn't giggle but when she does, it is ceaselessly infectious.

In New Girl, she's Jess, a young woman in a bad spot. Watch and you'll see why she is so desperate to find a new place to live that she moves into an apartment shared by three guys. "Full disclosure," she says to the guys. "I'm kind of emotional right now, since the break-up, so I'll probably be watching Dirty Dancing at least six or seven times. A day. I'm a teacher so I'll probably be bringing home a lot of popsicle sticks. Things like that. Also I like to sing a lot. To myself."

From there, things unfold in the way of sitcoms – the guys try not to be crude in her presence and there are several set-ups to allow for Deschanel's great charm to shine. Jess isn't a babe. She's a bit nerdy, a bit needy but witty and absolutely comfortable in her own skin. The show is, surprisingly, quite touching. New Girl is one of those extraordinary examples of a TV-show concept being the perfect fit for a certain actor. And, oddly, as absurd as it is, there is considerable wit to the treatment of the three male characters.

In fact there is really only one other female character apart from Jess. That's her friend, a model named CeCe. The character is played by the Canadian actor, model, and former MuchMusic VJ Hannah Simone. Simone, who disappeared from Canadian TV a couple of years ago, is very beautiful. Anyone who followed her professional movements knew she headed to L.A. And lo and behold, she landed a role on this hot new comedy on Fox. All good, you'd think. And it is, but everyone on New Girl is playing second fiddle to the force of nature that is Deschanel.

Such is the wave of affection for Deschanel and New Girl that it took hours of research to find someone who hates this show. But I did. The TV columnist for The Washington Post, a scholar and a gentleman, wrote this: "I count myself among the apparently few male TV critics who are completely immune to the so-called "adorable" doe-eyed indie girl charms of one Zooey Deschanel. And boy, has she pulled the bangs over everyone's eyes with this atrociously cutesy sitcom."

Uh oh. Way to make the rest of us look dumb. One can see his point, though, after concentrating for a very long time. "Atrociously cutesy" is too strong, but everything does indeed rest on the fragile form of Deschanel. What matters, though, is whether that charm can last week in and week out. It is possible that tonight's first episode is the single one-off masterpiece of whimsy that can be wrung out of Deschanel and the premise. Me, I think not. I'm with the Big Bopper on the enduring allure of certain charms.

Also airing tonight

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Raising Hope (Fox, CITY-TV, 9:30 p.m.) returns and makes for an excellent double-act with New Girl. The captivating, off-kilter sitcom, which began airing a year ago, comes from Greg Garcia, who created My Name Is Earl. It is still rooted in dirt-poor working America, where, for good reason, people have to get along and help each other. Jimmy (Lucas Neff) is the twentysomething hoser who decides to raise the baby he never knew was his. Crackpot hilarity does indeed ensue, and tonight Jimmy discovers that as a boy, he was enormously talented. Then something hit him on the head. Such is the story his mom tells him.

Check local listings.

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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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