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Guys endearing, Zooey Deschanel goofy in ‘New Girl’

NEW GIRL: The new comedy starring Zooey Deschanel as an adorkable girl who moves with three single guys changing their

NEW GIRL: The new comedy starring Zooey Deschanel as an adorkable girl who moves in with three single guys, changing their lives in unexpected ways, premieres Tuesday, Sept. 20 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Isabella Vosmikova/FOX

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‘New Girl’ ★★★

8 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays on WFLD-Channel 32

Updated: November 10, 2011 12:57PM

Jess has issues. She’s a dorky twentysomething teacher prone to breaking out in song and breaking into tears while watching “Dirty Dancing” … over and over again.

Jess needs help. And she ends up getting it from an unlikely source — a trio of strangers — in Fox’s freshman comedy “New Girl” from Liz Meriwether, writer of the rom-com movie “No Strings Attached.”

Singer/actress Zooey Deschanel (“Our Idiot Brother”) plays Jess. The quirky character seems like it was written for Deschanel, even though she says that wasn’t the case — at first.

“You go to a store and there’s a dress that just looks like it was made for you, but it wasn’t; that’s sort of what it was like,” she said in a conference call with reporters. “Now that I’m on the show, it is written for me.”

No matter how natural the fit, Jess isn’t easy to play. Deschanel has to ride a fine line between socially challenged goofball and, well, Jerry Lewis. So far, she manages to pull it off. But take heed, Deschanel: You’re just a few overplayed pratfalls away from hosting MDA telethons.

“New Girl” begins with Jess getting dumped by her cheating boyfriend, but not before she performs The World’s Least Sexy Striptease. Hoping to make a fresh start, she answers an ad from three guys looking for a roommate on Craigslist.

Jess’ new loftmates have plenty of issues themselves. Nick (Jake Johnson, “No Strings Attached”) is a bartender who’s nursing a broken heart — and setting his ex’s trash cans on fire. Nazi personal trainer “Coach” (Damon Wayans Jr.) has a short fuse. And Schmidt (Max Greenfield, “Ugly Betty”) is constantly on the prowl, overly impressed with his abs and the most frequent contributor to the apartment’s “douchebag jar,” a repository for fines payable as a result of douchy behavior.

I know what you’re thinking: These dudes sound like nightmares. But they have endearing, vulnerable cores that make them likable, and occasionally, lovable. (Schmidt deserves a douchebag jar refund after trying to cheer up Jess with a heartfelt performance of “[I’ve Had] the Time of My Life.”)

The cast’s comedic timing is spot on, with the actors playing off one another in a natural, relaxed way. Too bad Wayans won’t be able to stick around for more than one episode. The actor has been summoned back to ABC’s “Happy Endings.” Lamorne Morris will take his place next week as Winston, a basketball player returning from Latvia.

“New Girl” didn’t give me as many laugh-out-loud moments as some comedies. But the show delivered something extra that my favorite sitcoms often don’t: It made me feel warm and fuzzy. And like I need to watch “Dirty Dancing” again.

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