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Monday, October 10, 2011

Zooey Deschanel in New Girl Leads a New Round of Dream Girl Fatigue -- Get Used to It

Posted By on Mon, Oct 10, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Zooey Deschanel as Jess in New Girl - FOX.COM
  • Zooey Deschanel as Jess in New Girl
Those cotton commercials. Ukeleles. Her website Hello Giggles. It was only a matter of time before Zooey Deschanel, reigning Manic Pixie Dream Girl, would bring her quirk to the small screen with Fox's New Girl. Deschanel's Jess is a schoolteacher who moves in with three guys after a break-up. She compulsively sings aloud, falls over in heels, and clumsily smashes a TV. Yet, she's warmed the hearts of veritable strangers who allow her into their home to annoy them and break objects of value. Because she's just so adorbs.

Well, not everyone may agree with that.

In 2008, Buzzfeed compiled links of Zooey backlash, and this New Girl review argued, "I have no intention of wasting my precious viewing time on a lazily written half-hour of Zooey Deschanel essentially making faces in her bathroom mirror." Having watched the show, I think it's pretty well written. However, much of the humor comes from the male roommates' reactions to Jess's "adorkability," or their own, less exaggerated idiosyncracies. I can see why her doe-eyed goofiness prompts eye rolls and Internet rants, but I suppose my larger concern is why she doesn't have the funniest lines on her own show. Why is the kookiness a stand-in for comedic talent Deschanel already possesses?

It seems that a lot of ladies are annoyed with the female quirk overload, but it's certainly not a new phenomenon. This AV Club list cites Audrey Hepburn and Goldie Hawn as just a few old school Manic Pixie Dream Girls -- MPDGs -- and many of these films are historically popular with women. Therefore, it's not simply an issue of an insufferable, idealized vision of woman as made by man. Detractors are not afraid to address the MPGD directly to tell her, in so many words, to cut that shit out.

But Deschanel shouldn't be the lone culprit of collective MPDG fatigue. She's just one incarnation of a larger Dream Girl archetype. Cameron Diaz's character in There's Something About Mary shaped a very specific DG image: the hot chick who likes dude stuff, which lives on today via Olivia Munn. Munn's pictorials in men's mags coupled with her work on G4 developed a following, but perhaps DG fatigue triggered the backlash after she joined The Daily Show, prompting Munn to defend having looks in addition to a sense of humor (which only spurred more vitriol). Tina Fey even came to her defense. In general, I find the Munn hate to be irrational (the critique of her current work seems to unfairly stem from her previous body-baring experience) and would rather it be directed elsewhere.

For example, a smidgeon of that wrath could be sent Whitney Cummings' way. Her new NBC show Whitney highlights her character's neuroses about her relationship and her flailing social etiquette (LOL, she doesn't know why she can't wear a hoodie to a wedding!) which come off as whiny and without nuance. What really kills any hopes of relatability is the show's reliance on playing up her conventional attractiveness (she wears a naughty nurse's uniform in the pilot and erotic dress-up seems to a motif that continues into the season), as if to say, "I've got flaws just like you regular gals! Only I look awesome in these booty shorts." But Cummings believes that her character is filling a void of "young, sexy, smart women" on TV, to which Raising Hope's Martha Plimpton deadpanned on Twitter: "The time for ugly fat ladies is OVER!" The ribbing was totally on point. Does the revolution of pretty, borderline unlikeable ladies really need to be televised?

Deschanel and Cummings both serve as producers and/or writers for their shows, each with a largely female demographic, and according to the ratings they're doing a decent job. DG fatigue is alive and well, but apparently nowhere near an epidemic, and the archetype itself has been accepted (tacitly or otherwise) by a good number of men and women long before jokes about jeggings and sexy role playing. With any luck, as the criticism gets sharper so will the female representations, which will eventually rely less on fantasy-driven notions of the ideal woman.

Cue the ukelele music.

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Sylvie Kim


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