LOS ANGELES - At the start of this TV season, critics were drooling over Zooey Deschanel, but while her sitcom "New Girl" generates laughs, her "adorkable" act is getting old. There are only so many times a person can bat her eyes, growl a silly song and still get our heart racing.
Time to spread our affections elsewhere, on an actress not gracing magazine covers, not hosting "Saturday Night Live," not getting a Golden Globes nomination.
It's time to fall in love with Jane Levy.
As the sarcastic, sassy and often sullen Tessa Altman on ABC's "Suburgatory," Levy is giving teen angst a new heroine, one who's been forced by her overprotective father to live in a New York City suburb populated with the kind of people who end up as "Real Housewives" on reality TV.
"I'm from the suburbs, and I definitely relate to thinking some of the stuff that goes on is ridiculous," said the 21-year-old actress, who grew up in Marin County, north of San Francisco. "Like moms at Whole Foods racing you to get the last organic products. I totally understand, and I think it's funny."
Before the show premiered, Levy insisted that although early episodes would focus on her character's relationship with her father, played with surprising vulnerability by former "Law & Order" tough guy Jeremy Sisto, the series would develop into a true ensemble piece.
This is something every performer says in public while secretly negotiating for the cast's biggest trailer. But in this case, Levy and creator Emily Kapnek have lived up to their word, providing depth to the supporting cast, something "New Girl" has yet to accomplish.
Among the highlights: "SNL" veterans Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell bouncing nicely off each other as the "power" couple across the street; Allie Grant as their neglected daughter, doing a heartbreaking impression of a wounded sparrow, and Cheryl Hines as a mother of a Paris Hilton clone, more interested in being her child's friend than her parent. It'll be interesting to see what the writers come up with for Alicia Silverstone, who will guest-star on several future episodes.
"We never want to lose track of what got us here, which is that relationship between a father and a daughter," Kapnek said last month from the schoolroom set of the series. "But our cast is too strong not to write to those characters and have them grow. I think that's what has given this show legs."
It certainly helps to air in ABC's Wednesday lineup, sandwiched between "The Middle" and "Modern Family."
"We fit in nicely," Hines said. "There's a DNA running through these shows. They're driven by kindhearted characters. They're strong family shows -- and not family values in an icky, freaky sense."
A juicy time slot doesn't guarantee success. Just ask the gang at "Better With You," which occupied the same space last season before being canceled. So far, "Suburgatory" is averaging 8.44 million viewers. That's 32 percent higher than "Better" and double the number of "Are You There, Chelsea?," the NBC sitcom running against "Suburgatory."
Maybe there's room for this "new girl," after all.
"You can launch it. You can hammock it in the best place possible. You can do as great a marketing campaign as you can," said ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee. "But in the end, it's all about the show. 'Suburgatory' has earned its place."
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