Adorkable. That's a real word, thanks in part to Zooey Deschanel, who plays a cupcake-baking, animal-loving, silly-song-singing girl on TV and, sometimes, in real life. Dressed in a micro-miniskirt that's about half the length of her false lashes, the 32-year-old actress vamps it up on the roof of the Park Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, where she's shooting a few scenes for Fox's breakout comedy New Girl. Between takes, you can find her dancing the Charleston, hugging crew members, doing her best Cary Grant impression, or joking around in a wittle baby voice. When the camera's back on, she switches easily into character as Jess, a quirky grade-school teacher who moves in with three guys she met through Craigslist. In this scene, Jess and her roommate/occasional crush Nick (Jake Johnson) are filling scarecrows with hay when Jess breaks into an exuberant scarecrow song, extolling the joys of ''stuffin' scaresies.''
Witnessing this, it's pretty understandable why Fox originally promoted New Girl with the tagline ''Simply Adorkable.'' To a certain generation of fans who value sincerity, creativity, and a flair for the retro, Deschanel has become the poster girl for all things big-eyed and bighearted. To others, including the bloggers who labeled the show ''tweepulsive,'' that sweetness has become Deschanel's cross to bear. Last year, the comedian Julie Klausner even suggested that the so-called adorkability Deschanel is now known for was downright antifeminist. (''It's much harder to bring down a woman, or to call her a moron, when she's not in pigtails and Ring Pops,'' Klausner wrote on her website.) And yet, halfway into its first season, New Girl is pulling in 10.3 million viewers each week (counting DVR replay) and has established itself as the No. 1 new series in the 18-34 demographic. Not even the pigtail haters can deny that it's an out-of-the-gate hit.
Besides, Deschanel doesn't want to engage in what she views as a self-destructive fight waged by women against women. For her, this is just sexism disguised as a war on girliness. ''I've examined and reexamined myself,'' she says, curling up in her trailer near a giant butterfly balloon. ''And I really don't feel that liking to wear dresses is a problem for the feminist world.''
Maybe not. But lately New Girl has begun acknowledging Jess' detractors and as a result it's become a much deeper, funnier, edgier show. It started when the show's creator, Liz Meriwether, decided to write an episode in response to Klausner's essay: In ''Jess and Julia,'' Nick's headstrong girlfriend of the moment (Lizzy Caplan) tells Jess off for her ''whole thing with the cupcakes and the breaking for birds and the 'bluebirds come and help me dress in the morning.' '' Since then, everyone in the New Girl universe seems to be calling Jess out, from the guy in the bar who hears her Mae West voice and asks, ''Why are you talking like that?'' to Jess' preteen student, who deadpans, ''Your happiness seems like a mask.'' Even her roommates lovable grump Nick, sporty but sensitive Winston (Lamorne Morris), and charismatic douche bag Schmidt (Max Greenfield) have been rolling their eyes at her Daffy Duck voices and use of a ''feeling stick.'' In a recent episode, Nick tells her bluntly, ''You don't know how to be real.''