Maybe "New Girl" could have been made without Zooey Deschanel, but it's hard to imagine.
Virtually no other current performer so perfectly embodies the kooky, endearing quality required by the Fox sitcom that debuts at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
"I would like to think it was written for me, but I don't think it was," says the "(500) Days of Summer" actress who's helping to give Fox a family acting dynasty: Sister Emily is starting her seventh season on the mystery series "Bones."
In "New Girl," Deschanel is Jess, who becomes the roommate of three buddies (Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris) after she breaks up with her cheating boyfriend. It's an uncertain arrangement at the start, but if there's any doubt it can work over the long haul -- for the characters or for viewers -- there's the Deschanel factor to consider. Strongly.
"I mean, here's the thing," she explains in her disarming way. "I don't know if I've ever seen a part that was as charming and exciting. She's very much herself, and she's almost too in touch with her emotions. Reading the pilot script, I was literally laughing out loud, having such a good time. I think this opportunity became appealing to me because the material's so great. The thought of doing it for a long time is actually really exciting to me."
That's a big statement for Deschanel, since her movie career has been quite consistent. Currently featured in "Our Idiot Brother," she also has appeared in "Your Highness," "Yes Man" and "Elf." However, she reasons, "They don't make as many movies now as they used to. If there's any character I want to play forever and ever, it's this one, so I'm psyched."
Such praise is music to the ears of "New Girl" creator and executive producer Liz Meriwether, who also wrote last winter's Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher movie "No Strings Attached." She says, "I remember the first time [Deschanel] came in, she read with the guys auditioning to play the guy parts. Just the second she opened her mouth to do the scene, the feeling in the room was, 'This is a perfect match of character and actress.' We really didn't do a lot of finessing. It was great."
The way Deschanel sees it, "Liz and I, our souls are connected. And when your souls are connected, you're meant to do a show together."
The inclination of Deschanel to sing was an added plus: As the "New Girl" debut confirms, Jess can break into a tune ("Ethel Merman, a little jazz standard, a little heavy metal," the star notes) in a nanosecond, even when doing a striptease for her soon-to-be-ex.
"I feel Jess is not a singer because she thinks she's a great singer," Deschanel says. "It's just part of how she expresses herself. I feel like the singing moments are really well peppered in, because you don't want to overdo it. That would be crazy. When there's an awkward moment, she sings, but we kind of play with it."
Deschanel also performs the aptly quirky "New Girl" theme song, and as part of the duo She & Him, her music will get an extra boost soon via a holiday album. She also was heard on the soundtrack of the recent Disney animated feature "Winnie the Pooh," so 2011 has been a year of considerable variety for her.
That said, Deschanel says she also embraces the steady schedule and familiar work "New Girl" is giving her. "I just like to know what to expect," she concludes, "in very small ways."