McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Max Greenfield (from left), Jake Johnson, Zooey Deschanel and Lamorne Morris star in "New Girl," airing at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on Fox.
LOS ANGELES — The way folks go on about how darn adorkable Zooey Deschanel is, you’d think she’d be the one at the center of a silly scene being shot on the set of her hit series “New Girl,” tripping and stumbling around in roller skates. But it’s her three male costars who are attempting to be goofily graceful in an upcoming episode of the Fox comedy.
“This won’t be pretty,” said Max Greenfield, who plays overly confident Schmidt, while jaunting across the hardwood floor during rehearsals.
Deschanel may be the face of the new half-hour sitcom, not to mention the voice (that’s her crooning the show’s bubbly theme song). She’s even the commercial sometimes (her 2009 ad for Cotton seems to be working overtime on the network).
But just as Cher needed Sonny for backup, Deschanel’s Jess needs her dudes.
Greenfield, Jake Johnson and Lamorne Morris play the roommates who take in Deschanel’s character when she’s at her lowest ebb, after a humiliating split from her boyfriend, and accept her for who she is — one of the guys. A very weird, girly guy who likes to watch “Dirty Dancing” and do the chicken dance in slow motion.
“This is like the ultra-modern ‘Sex and the City,’” joked Johnson (“No Strings Attached”), who plays Nick, the hopeless romantic of the show.
Actually, “New Girl” backs away from the “Sex and the City” female buddy route, currently employed by “2 Broke Girls.” And it’s not nearly as male-centric as ABC’s “Man Up.”
Rather, it aims to highlight the female-male buddy relationship. It’s the dynamic TBS’ “My Boys,” which ended its run last year, focused on and the rapport ABC’s “Happy Endings” plays with at times.
“I wanted a girl sort of walking into a different world — a guy world,” said Liz Meriwether, the series creator. “Guys help you in a different way than girls can. You get that tough love.”
Meriwether said the idea was semi-autobiographical: “I started looking around my life and realized I had a lot of friends who were guys and I was thinking about why that was.” The original premise was an updated “Three’s Company” — with two guys and a girl, she said.
But in the end, they threw a third male perspective into the mix to tip the gender balance and make things “more interesting.”
The result is a trio of guys who will push Jess to face her ex-boyfriend and demand he return her TV (because they need a TV) or will ditch a club with one-night-stand potential to rescue her when a date stands her up. They are the wind beneath her wings, if you will. And they’re the kind of fellas male viewers would have a beer with and female viewers want to watch a romantic comedy with.
They are the secret ingredient of the series, keeping Deschanel’s loopy character balanced (as much as she can be).
“Jess is a weird chick,” said Morris, who plays low-key Winston, the character written to fill the void left by original “New Girl” guy Damon Wayans Jr., who now appears on ABC’s “Happy Endings.” “But that’s why we love her. That’s why we care about her. We’re all learning from each other ... in ways we wouldn’t be able to if we were just hanging with our own sexes. We’d be, like, talking about Axe body spray all day or something.”
Behind the scenes, the connection between Deschanel and the trio is evident.
When Johnson is having difficulty keeping his balance on his skates, the 31-year-old actress/ singer-songwriter instructs him to bend his knees. “You are such a dork,” she quips when even that fails him.
Even so, there’s something to be said about the friendship among the guys sans the spotlight that inevitably follows Deschanel. Before filming the skating scene, the men sat huddled in Johnson’s tiny trailer and their boyish manliness exposed itself: They threw a baseball to one another while talking; they talked about the “awesome”-ness that is Bob Dylan; they yanked one another’s chain, like when Greenfield was taunted for his in-depth knowledge of “Glee.”
“The three of us very much understand the uniqueness of the situation we’re in,” Johnson said. “It’s not every day you get on a TV show and it strikes a chord. You do pilot after pilot. Failed show after failed show. But when you get on a show that gets some traction — I know it’s still in the early stages for us — but you go, ‘OK, wow, we’re in a real situation here.’”
The earnest moment lasts for only so long.
“Who knew you were such a sap?” Greenfield says.