A week ago, most critics couldn't stop gushing over how adorable (or "adork-able") Zooey Deschanel is as Fox's delightful New Girl, and judging from last Tuesday's opening-night ratings, which actually improved over its Glee lead-in, the TV audience would seem to agree. They won't be disappointed in tonight's charmer of a second outing (9:01/8:01c). What struck me as I previewed the episode is that as easy as it is to fall for Zooey's pixie-ish pizzazz as Jess, it would hardly matter if it weren't for her invaluable back-up crew of supporting players.
This episode, titled "Kryptonite" in reference to the power Jess's cheating ex still has over her, is an especially strong outing for Max Greenfield's sweetly douchey Schmidt. His transparently insecure cockiness is a great source of laughs, starting with the opening scene in which he demonstrates a variety of would-be seductive poses for Jess's approval, slow to realize that she and fellow roomie Nick are mocking him. Schmidt is easy to mock, but easier to love. And by the episode's end, as the roomies rally around Jess to get her possessions back from her ex, no matter how foolish it makes them look, it's impossible not to feel affectionate toward them all. And that includes the newest member of her long-suffering fan club: Lamorne Morris as Winston, a basketball player returning from a pro stint in Latvia, who fills the slot vacated by Damon Wayans Jr. (stuck, and wasted, on ABC's Happy Endings). Morris fits in effortlessly if at first colorlessly, because Winston initially lacks the comic inspiration of Wayans' Coach, who could only communicate with Jess by yelling in frustration.
Wayans is missed, but New Girl is already a can't-miss. "You get used to her," Nick (Jake Johnson) says of Jess. Used to her? Can't imagine the new season without her.
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A few more thoughts on some of tonight's programming that was made available for screening in advance:
I've only seen the first of the back-to-back episodes of MTV's Awkward (11:30/10:30c) that close out the ridiculously entertaining first season of this irreverent, edgy yet heartfelt teen classic. (CW, take a look. This is how it's done.) Even the first episode is something of a game changer, in which everyone's anticipating an all-important Winter Formal. It whets my appetite further for the finale, which promises to reveal which admirer Jenna (the smartly snarky Ashley Rickard) will ultimately choose: Matty (Beau Mirchoff), the crush who can't quite commit completely to a public relationship with "that girl," or Jake (Brett Davern), the earnest student leader who makes no apologies or secret of his affections. We'll also find out who wrote the devastating letter to Jenna that got the season's narrative ball rolling.
But first, Jenna is on a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows as the winter dance approaches. It's the humiliating lows, of course, that hit home with the most impact. And when someone asks, "What kind of monster would do something so Resident Evil?" you know the answer has to be Sadie (Molly Tarlov), Awkward's most indelible creation, a vindictive ogre who is as damaged as she is hilarious. Awkward was the summer's most pleasant surprise, and the recess between seasons is going to be excruciating.
Sticking with the high school theme, I'm happy to report that this week's Glee (Fox, 8/7c) is a big improvement over last Tuesday's annoyingly random season opener, which had even the show's more loyal defenders wondering whose bright idea it was to introduce Dalton defector Blaine to the student body with an open-air performance of "It's Not Unusual." No wonder they set the piano on fire.
Most of this week's stories are actually grounded in character, as Kurt finds an unexpected ally in his campaign for student office, and the return of Idina Menzel as Shelby Corcoran (for a purpose that's preposterous even by Glee standards) rattles the worlds of Quinn, Puck and Rachel. Even better, the musical numbers all serve a purpose for a change, as the usual suspects try out for the school musical (West Side Story), but a rivalry for one of the leads could threaten one of the show's core relationships. In the plus column, Kurt's dad (played brilliantly by Mike O'Malley) is back, always a welcome voice of humane reason. In the minus column, the insufferable new character of delusional tone-deaf diva Sugar Motta (Vanessa Langies) also returns, couching her insults in a jokey "Sorry, Asperger's" mantra that's as unfunny as it is distasteful. But it wouldn't be Glee if it didn't hit a sour note once in a while.
Finally, for a life-and-death change of pace, there's the two-hour premiere of BBC America's 24 Hours in the ER (9/8c), a gripping 14-part docu-series reminiscent of ABC's Boston Med and Hopkins in its fly-on-the-wall, up close and personal look at the chaos and compassion in the emergency room of London's King's College Hospital. Producers set up 70 remote cameras to capture the action around the trauma unit, unobtrusively filming 24/7 for 28 days. The result is an inspiring and harrowing collection of case studies, with follow-up interviews of doctors, staff, surviving patients and grateful family members reminding us of the fragility and preciousness of life and the high stakes of every split-second decision made on the floor. "It's terrifying," says lead trauma consultant Malcolm Tunnicliff of the pressures of the job, which he later concedes is also "extremely satisfying." Much like the show itself.