I had kind of a mixed reaction when I watched New Girl, the new American series which has just started on Channel 4. The concept behind the show is that Zooey Deschanel’s 20-something teacher character, Jessica Day, just went through a difficult break up (he cheated on her) and has had to relocate apartments to live with three young guys.
There’s something intensely irritating about pretty girls pretending to be unattractive onscreen if they don’t do it well enough. What I’ve seen of New Girl is witty and stylish, and Zooey Deschanel is certainly very watchable, but something about the concept of her male flatmates not taking her seriously as a romantic option isn’t quite… believable. This isn’t a Princess Diaries lets-transform-Anne-Hathaway-by-giving-her-contacts-and-doing-her-hair makeover, it’s true. This is a pretty and likeable girl who had a traumatic break up and is struggling to get her life together. That’s why it’s hard to place – is she doing a kind of younger, American Bridget Jones? Her ‘unattractive’ habits (singing mid conversation, doing silly little dances) can feel a little off, sometimes, like add-ons to an otherwise funny, sexy woman.
It’s not that pretty women can’t make themselves unattractive. There was all that fuss about how the stunningly beautiful Charlize Theron transformed into an ugly serial killer in Monster back in 2003 – part clever make up, part very good character acting. Tina Fey is an attractive woman who pulls off a believable unattractive hopeless case image as Liz Lemon in the comedy series, 30 Rock (which, by the way, has just returned for the sixth season – hurrah!). I think it has something to do with an actress’ ability to really let go, stop being cute and actually commit to being goofy and not sexy. There’s sexy goofy, and then there’s just plain goofy. Zooey Deschanel is almost there, and I really really want to like her in this role – she’s a style guru, funny, intelligent, fun, and she has amazing hair. But that’s just it – to really succeed in the role of Jessica Day, she needs to stop being Zooey Deschanel with her amazing hair and actually convince us that she’s an emotional wreck. We need to stop wanting to be her for just a second. That will be the sign that she’s turned from standard stuff into comedy gold.