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New fall season: The star of Fox's New Girl isn't conventionally foxy (but that's the point)

Zooey Deschanel stands out in New Girl's male threesome. Fox photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 20th at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Zooey Deschanel, Max Greenfield, Jake Johnson, Lamorne Morris, Hannah Simone
Produced by: Liz Meriwether, Jake Kasdan, Peter Chernin, Katherine Pope, Dave Finkel, Brett Baer

She's lately being dubbed "adorkable," which pretty much fits. Even at age 31.

Zooey Deschanel, still on the cusp of being quite famous after her role in Cameron Crowe's 2000 Almost Famous, is far and away the principal selling point of Fox's New Girl.

Whether bawling her eyes out during another viewing of Dirty Dancing or singing little ditties whenever the mood strikes, Deschanel has the same instant appeal America Ferrera had in ABC's Ugly Betty. She's disarming, oddly charming and equipped to say "Pink wine makes me slutty" in a way that makes her endearing instead of "Real Housewife" material.

In New Girl, nicely paired with the returning Raising Hope on Tuesday nights, Deschanel plays the freshly jilted
Jess Day. She tried to spice it up with her boyfriend by making a surprise return to their apartment in nothing but a trenchcoat. But her would-be stripper fantasy turned into a well-worn sitcom setup. He was in bed with another woman and she suddenly needed a new place and a fresh start.

New Girl cuts quickly to this chase, with Jess auditioning to be the incoming roommate of three not entirely bright but pretty functional guys.

Schmidt (Max Greenfield) is the resident horn dog whose inappropriate blurts find him constantly sticking dollar bills into the "Douche Bag Jar." He also enjoys taking his shirt off to reveal a pale, hairless torso with budding muscular development. His trainer/roommate, called "Coach," is played by Damon Wayans, Jr. in the first episode.

Wayans apparently wasn't super-confident that his previous comedy series, Happy Endings, would be picked up by ABC. But it made the fall schedule (on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. central), requiring him to honor his contract and return.

A new character, named Winston (Lamorne Morris), will move in next week. Premise: he returns from playing basketball in Latvia and takes back the bedroom he had sub-letted to Coach. The usual tack would have been to re-shoot portions of the pilot with the new actor as Coach. But a penny saved is a penny earned, particularly in these tough economic times. And the Douche Bag Jar just hasn't taken in enough money yet.

Bartender Nick (Jake Johnson) is the third man about the house. He's still recovering from his girlfriend dumping him six months ago. And he can get a little weepy about it. Jess also has a best friend model named Cece (Hannah Simone), who immediately has the boys prototypically drooling.

All three male actors have their moments in Tuesday's opener. with Greenfield's Schmidt so far the most amusing. But this series basically belongs to Zooey, whose big sister Emily Deschanel already has made her bones as the co-star of Fox's long-running Bones. Her little mannerisms and misadventures are sometimes indescribably delicious, whether she's striving to pull off a "hot farmer's daughter" look for an ill-fated blind date or trying to perfect a flirtatious smile. Although the above Fox artwork doesn't show it, she regularly wears dark-rimmed specs.

Some of this can be just a bit much, with Jess's impromptu theme song for herself not exactly a laugh riot in either the opening credits or in a subsequent little scene. Fox seems to be on the right track, though, with a lead character who has ample potential to gawkily bloom and grow.

The fall season is dominated by new comedies and dramas that will sink or swim on the strength of their featured female characters. New Girl will be asking a lot of Zooey Deschanel, and so far she seems primed and ready to make her mark.