What exactly can you do with Zooey Deschanel? I know a number of indie boys and girls with crushes who’d have a few answers to that, but none worthy of printing. For those unfamiliar with her, she’s a 31-year old American actress, musician and model, famous for her geek-chic image and being described as ‘quirky.’ Her acting career so far has been underwhelming, having featured in a string of Rom-Coms that read like Jennifer Aniston’s cast-offs, punctuated with the occasional more interesting indie-movie. US channel Fox believes it has the answer to the question of what to do with her with its latest sitcom New Girl, the pilot of which premiered on Channel 4 in the UK this week.
Considering she has spent most of her career playing what is essentially herself – an offbeat, quirky, deadpan heartbreaker – its the perfect vehicle for her. Unfortunately, a whole series revolving around this adorable, attractive oddball, as an idea, has very short legs. Although only quickly sketched in, and immediately likeable, her character isn’t fleshy enough to carry the whole series. The wafer thin supporting characters – namely her room mates – give the impression that they’ve been selected, in the dark, from the stock cupboard of sitcom cliches: The Jock, The Sex-Pest and The Nice One with Ex-issues. They’re tossed the occasional funny line – like a keeper tossing a disregarded pet a morsel – but the humour is so underdeveloped and the characters so interchangeable any of them could have spoken any line. If you want my prediction, she helps them all respect women more, improves their lives, and, if you’re feeling sentimental, ends up involved with the nice one.
It’s little more than a vehicle for Zooey Deschanel to play the kind of role with which she has become synonymous, and to bring her to the mainstream audience which has so far been only vaguely aware of her. But, unless serious development occurs, I can’t see it having the longevity of the likes of Friends and Scrubs.
She is at risk, unless she chooses her next few projects with care, of becoming typecast – like Jennifer Aniston and a few others – for the rest of her career. She’s appeared in supporting roles in a few more, for her, unusual choices of film – The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford and The Happening spring to mind – but essentially she always seems to end up as the same kind of unobtainable, slightly weird love interest, which reaches its pinnacle in the very enjoyable (500) Days of Summer. In the April 2011 issue of Lucky Magazine* she was quoted that she finds the label ‘quirky’ annoying, but if she is getting confused with the characters she consistently plays she should select her roles a little more carefully. I don’t know if it’s the roles she gets offered, or just the ones she chooses, but if she wants to shake off the tag she should accept more challenging parts.
Beyond the world of television and cinema, she has a low-key career as a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist in musical duo She & Him, with guitarist M. Ward. I’m confessedly a fan of all three of their albums, which sound like a playlist for an oldies station but with a modern, indie twist, and Deschanel is easy on the ear. In this endeavour, like her acting career so far, she hasn’t made great waves, but has instead gained an underground following.
It’s not a sustainable career plan, because her looks will fade and the quirky act will become annoying, so, unless she plans to step up to the serious acting plate soon, the New Girl will quickly become old.
*Disclaimer: I stumbled across the interview. I’d like to make clear I’m not a regular reader.
New Girl is on Channel 4 on Fri 6th January at 8.30pm