Zooey Deschanel is the beauty queen of quirk. There are those who find it “adorkable”, and those who have disdain for the New Girl star’s overabundance of peculiarity. It’s true that the dial on the Quirk Meter is bent to full capacity and – oh wait – the springs have popped loose. Just watch her in interviews speaking in lilting stops and starts, or in the films (500) Days of Summer, Almost Famous or Elf where the line blurs between Deschanel the person and her characters; they are one and the same. With her trademark fringe of dark brown bangs, and round, blameless eyes she executes the weirdness well. Her delivery is deadpan but without the element of surprise because with Deschanel we know what’s coming: some declaration of what makes her atypical (Let me fill you in: it’s everything).
Sitcom characters that are polarizing, such as Deschanel’s “Jess” on New Girl, are at the core of comedies, and unlike the more complex characters in dramas, viewers often love them or hate them. While it’s true that most comedic personalities can be described with one or two adjectives, the more narrow the description, the shorter the shelf life.
Let’s rewind back to Cheers because not since then has stupidity been handled with more finesse than in the characters Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson) and Coach Ernie Pantusso (Nicholas Colasanto). These characters are two perfect imbeciles who are redeemed by their endearing innocence. Whether a TV character or not, being stupid without being lovable is exasperating, irritating and, certainly, not funny. Friend’s Joey Tribbiani’s (Matt LeBlanc) empty headedness was as appealing as a puppy dog. Mastering stupidity is an art form and never has it flopped as badly as with Glee’s Brittany Pierce (Heather Morris). How dumb is she? As of season 3 her character’s GPA is 0.0. How dumb is too dumb? Pocket lint shouldn’t have a higher IQ than a TV character.
Brainy characters can fumble too. A friend of mine says the Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, played by Jim Parsons, would be dead by now, or at least intellectually compromised from too many punches to the head. He cannot suspend disbelief that people would tolerate a person lacking even a fraction of humility. Even though Parson’s trophy shelf is thriving, he can’t compete with the ultimate flawed intellect embodied by Kelsey Grammar’s Frasier. His wry wit and social sophistication did nothing to prevent him from often playing the fool. Viewers knew that his pride would get in the way but he’d make up for it by eating crow, time and time again, and all would be forgiven. Know-it-alls need to be redeemed with self-deprecation. Sheldon Cooper doesn’t possess it and he probably won’t last 20 years like Fraiser Crane.
Modern Family, a show with sharp wit, and tight, well composed plot lines is in danger of becoming too predictable, the enemy of comedy, because there are too many characters. We can’t predict the joke itself but we’re sure Cam’s flaky pursuits will be reined in by straight-laced Mitchell. The Dunphy’s have an uptight mom, goofy dad and his little clone Luke, along with smart ass daughter-dumb variety, and smart ass daughter-smart variety. The dimension of these characters is dangerously close to paper cut outs, which might be inevitable in a cast so large. It’s still a solid show, but the more the characters become one trick ponies, the more we hate ponies.
So is Zooey too quirky? She certainly is, but the show itself has complexity that will extend its life. The three male leads played by the scene-stealing Max Greenfield, Jake Johnson, and Lamorne Morris provide hilarious reprieve from wackiness with more neurotic humour.
Sometimes characters take time to warm up to. I was among those who found Deschanel artificial, too zany and, therefore, intolerable. When I realized she wasn’t contrived and that the Quirk Meter comes from a genuine place, I came to like her.
In addition to acting, Deschanel sings beautifully and plays the guitar — oh wait, that’s too conventional — she plays the ukulele and the banjo. Quirk on!