Zooey Deschanel and the twee revival

Her return to public prominence with a nostalgic companion podcast for the TV show ‘New Girl’ coincides with a revived craze for her fashion style of brightly colored dresses, bows, ballet flats, polka dots and prominent bangs

Zooey Deschanel in the seventh series of ‘New Girl.’
Zooey Deschanel in the seventh series of ‘New Girl.’

Actress Zooey Deschanel’s new podcast Welcome to Our Show sees her dissect her own hit show New Girl (2011-2018), joined by cast members Hannah Simone and Lamorne Morris (who played Cece and Winston respectively). The team has released six episodes so far, including a discussion of the show’s pilot episode, the first wedding and a new version of the drinking game “True American” invented for the sitcom.

Coincidentally or not, Deschanel’s reappearance coincides with a return to the twee style that she continues to embody, and which peaked in popularity when the series aired. The style is characterized by brightly colored babydoll dresses, decorative bows, polka dot or animal prints, ballet flats and prominent bangs.

This image was also associated with a certain kind of attitude: eccentric, clumsy, wide-eyed and smiling, the girl who always wants to get along with everyone – basically the personality of Jess, the protagonist of New Girl, who is played by Deschanel. A middle school teacher with horn-rimmed glasses, Jess moves into a shared apartment with three guys after discovering her boyfriend’s infidelity. Of course, her arrival is a bomb of girlishness in this slightly sweaty manhole. But she is so adorable despite her awkwardness that the four end up living together for eight years.

The show garnered numerous Golden Globe, Emmy and People’s Choice Award nominations, and Deschanel won a TV Guide Award and a Critics’ Choice Television Award, while Hannah Simone won a Teen Choice Award. Although the passage of time has not been kind to the first few episodes, the comedy improves in strides as the show progresses – no doubt thanks to the arrival of Kay Cannon to the writers’ room, who was responsible for multiple episodes of 30 Rock.

Zooey Deschanel has remained tied to the twee aesthetic, partly because it appears to be her actual style in real life.
Zooey Deschanel has remained tied to the twee aesthetic, partly because it appears to be her actual style in real life.Steve Granitz (WireImage)

According to Guardian cultural critic Shaad D’Souza, the show became funnier as each character was pushed into caricature: “Jess becomes a delusional smart-ass; Nick starts acting like a curmudgeonly old man in the body of a 30-something; Schmidt, a persnickety, image-obsessed sociopath; and Winston, a moderately dim-witted prankster.” Even the show’s theme song, composed by Deschanel herself, was stripped back to a brief instrumental version.

Deschanel has remained tied to her character’s personality and aesthetic, partly because it appears to be her actual style in real life. A decade on, she still sports the same look and quirky yet forthright attitude, choices that don’t seem to have helped her professional career. The so-called Manic Pixie Dream Girl stock character fell out of favor when cultural critics pointed out its inherent misogyny: she’s a cute, ditzy girl who is just there to fulfill a man’s fantasy. Film critic Nathan Rabin described the archetype as “existing solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” People trace Manic Pixie Dream Girl’s origins to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 film Amélie, and its apotheosis to Summer, the protagonist of (500) Days of Summer, a role also played by Deschanel.

When New Girl ended, the media began to speculate about the reasons for Deschanel’s extended disappearance: was she broke? Tired of acting? Focused on raising the two children she had with her ex-husband, producer Jacob Pechenik? Her current relationship with Jonathan Scott, one of the twins who presents the home improvement show Property Brothers, has once again captured the attention of the press, and it seems her comeback goes beyond her personal life.

 Zooey Deschanel and Justin Long in an episode of ‘New Girl.’
Zooey Deschanel and Justin Long in an episode of ‘New Girl.’20th Century Fox Licensing/Merch

The boom in companion podcasts began with obsessive fans of shows including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the actors themselves didn’t take long to cash in on these extended looks back at the peak of their acting careers. In 2016, The West Wing Weekly, hosted by Joshua Malina (Will Bailey in the show), began airing. There’s also Welcome to the OC, Bitches! with Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke (Summer Roberts and Julie Cooper, respectively) and the recently launched XOXO, which focuses on the original Gossip Girl series and is hosted by Jessica Szohr (Vanessa Abrams).

Will Pearson, chief operating officer of the iHeart Radio Podcast Network – which hosts Welcome to Our Show – says the success of these companion podcasts is driven by the pandemic-induced need for listeners to find “comfort, escapism and a reason to smile whenever possible.” During lockdown and the months of uncertainty that followed, the company decided to play on feelings of nostalgia: “People were looking back at better times, looking for comfort and something to latch onto.”

In September 2021, Deschanel’s band She & Him released three Christmas songs on an EP titled Holiday, and it has just been announced the actress will feature in the live-action adaptation of the children’s story Harold and the Purple Crayon. But unlike actors such as Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker, who turned their careers around to free themselves from typecasting, Deschanel continues to cash in on her twee repertoire.

Zooey Deschanel in 2003, in a look that epitomizes the twee style.
Zooey Deschanel in 2003, in a look that epitomizes the twee style.Donna Ward (Getty Images)

Users of TikTok, the internet’s cultural melting pot, have rescued her style, which did not even disappear that long ago. In fact, many may not even have had time to cleanse their closets of the look before they were forced to reconsider throwing out their twee pieces. Deschanel has since made a video thanking the social network for showing her what twee actually means.

As with all things nostalgic, if there’s one good thing about the cyclical nature of fashion, it’s the new social context that demands a reinterpretation of what is offered from the past. Zooey Deschanel’s podcast could serve to deconstruct her own public persona and show us there is little else to recover from Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

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