'New Girl' more cute than funny; old formula guides 'Harry's Law'

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Fox's "New Girl" is cuter than it is funny, but when it does conjure laughs, its style of humor is reminiscent of ABC's "Happy Endings" -- and not just because "Endings" star Damon Wayans Jr. is in the "New Girl" pilot.

But the No. 1 reason to watch "New Girl" (9 tonight, WPGH) is for star Zooey Deschanel (sister of "Bones" star Emily Deschanel), whose Jess is the textbook definition of oddball adorable.

When Jess catches her boyfriend cheating on her, she looks for a new place to live and finds it with three guys: womanizer Schmidt (Max Greenfield), still-pining-for-his-ex Jake (Jake Johnson) and loud personal trainer Coach (Mr. Wayans).

At first, the guys aren't sure what to make of Jess, who is often awkward and weird, sobbing over "Dirty Dancing," smiling "like a hungry badger" and singing her own theme song aloud. Schmidt promises to be her guide to finding a rebound guy.

'New Girl'
  • When: 9 tonight, Fox.
  • Starring: Zooey Deschanel.
  • 'Harry's Law'
    • When: 9 p.m. Wednesday.
    • Starring: Kathy Bates.

"Like Gandalf in Middle-Earth?" Jess replies, employing a "Lord of the Rings" reference.

That's one of the funniest moments in the "New Girl" pilot episode, which overall is more charming than hilarious.

As a series, "New Girl" is particularly difficult to judge because next week Coach will be gone. (Mr. Wayans is still on "Happy Endings," which returns Sept. 28 at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.) Next week on "New Girl," a new character, Winston (Lamorne Morris), returns from playing basketball in Latvia and reclaims the bedroom he was subletting to Coach. How the roommate dynamic works with a new character remains to be seen, and how far a comedy can get on its cuteness alone is an open question.

'Harry's Law'

Based solely on the phone calls and email questions I receive, NBC's "Harry's Law" has quite a strong following in Pittsburgh. The series, starring Kathy Bates as a perpetually scowling Cincinnati lawyer, returns for its second season at 9 p.m. Wednesday on WPXI.

"Harry's Law" was a moderate hit for NBC last season: It garnered a good number of viewers, but they tended to be older, which is not what most networks want. But these days low-rated NBC can't afford to be choosy.

As the new season begins, "Harry's Law" creator David E. Kelley is returning to his old patterns, bringing on new young characters who are the definition of generic. Meanwhile, some of the older characters, including guest star Jean Smart as an overreaching district attorney, are more colorful. Mr. Kelley fell into the same trap on "Boston Legal," where younger characters came and went until there were only the more interesting, older characters left.

One legal case arcs through the first three "Harry's Law" episodes -- Alfred Molina ("Law & Order: Los Angeles") plays a man accused of murdering his wife -- and Harry takes the case with a former co-worker, Oliver Richard (Mark Valley, "Human Target"), who will eventually join Harry's law firm, which has moved into a loft space above the shoe store that used to be Harry's office. (The new office has a lot of exposed brick, a nod to the "Ally McBeal" workplace, perhaps?)

Harry's assistant, Jenna (Brittany Snow), is in the season premiere but will soon depart along with young legal student/assistant Malcolm (Aml Ameen). Outrageous Tommy Jefferson (Christopher McDonald) now shares office space with Harry.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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