By Dan Snierson
Updated September 14, 2011 at 10:27 PM EDT
Credit: Autumn Dewilde/Fox

If you were five-alarm charmed by Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer, there’s one day on the fall calendar you might want to circle: Sept. 20, when New Girl debuts on Fox. (For the more impatient, you can download the first episode from iTunes for free right now.) The blue-eyed indie film vet stars as Jess, a freshly dumped but adorable she-nerd who moves in with a trio of dudes, and it turns out everyone has a lot of learning to do about the opposite sex. EW spoke with Deschanel and series creator Liz Meriwether about their twentysomething comedy.

On signing on to the show

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: “I don’t think there are that many awesome roles out there, whether we’re talking about movies or TV. It’s rare that you read something this funny and well-written. And if I had read this character in a movie script. I would’ve jumped on board immediately, anyway…. [Liz] can write this character and I can play this character. We both get this weird girl who’s not exactly like your average woman. I grew up the type of person where I always thought I was being normal and everybody else would think I was being weird all the time. I like that [Jess] is completely herself and unabashedly emotional, but not in an obnoxious way. She means well but she just messes up sometimes…. It felt really like a very easy decision to say yes to.”

On the show’s themes

LIZ MERIWETHER: “I didn’t want to lean too heavily into the battle-of-the-sexes part of it, but it’s definitely part of it. I’ve always been interested in gender roles, but not a necessarily straightforward version of that…. This show is about four weirdoes living together. Each is at a moment where they’re rebuilding their life or choosing a path. It is that mid- to late-20s moment where you’re like ‘Oh, s—. This isn’t cute anymore.’ In one episode, they all go to a wedding and there’s some sense of ‘What’s wrong with us that we’re the four weird, damaged people at the wedding?’ Our goal is to make every episode like a little John Hughes’ movie or something — just this idea of a band of outsiders.”

On Deschanel’s style of comedy

LM: “She has this individual, amazing way of playing a scene where it’s not about the classic setup-setup-punchline, because she doesn’t come from the world of standup comedy. And she has this really interesting feel for the rhythms of a scene. She’ll glance off of a joke in a way that makes it 10 times funnier because she isn’t selling it in a cheesy sitcom way. She just makes it feel real and that makes everything 10 times funnier because you actually believe that it’s happening and you believe in the person saying it.”

On Jess’ social skills

ZD: “Because she doesn’t exactly fit in, she’s always trying to do the thing that’s going to make her fit in, but she has the wrong instincts…. She’s trying to fit in with these guys but she has a completely different idea of what men are than what they actually are. Her version of guys is Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in sailor suits dancing around. You have a lot of comedic moments to be had out of this disconnect.”

On Jess’ penchant for breaking into song

ZD: “Every moment when she sings, she’s trying to express herself in a different way. She’s trying to connect to the moment through that. It’s not like she’s singing all the time because she thinks she has a good voice. I think the world in Jess’ head is different from the world that you actually see in the show, which is another really fun thing to play. She’s like, ‘Ooh, this is like a heavy metal song, right?'”

On the show’s Douchebag Jar, to which Jess’ roommate Schmidt (Max Greenfield) will be contributing frequently

LM: “The essence of Schmidt is that he wants to not be a douchebag, that he’s in a constant process of trying to prove himself and stop being so douche-y. And it actually buys us the room to make him as douche-y as possible, because he’s always trying not to be. One of the [upcoming plots] came from the prop guy, who put a fake $50 bill in the Douchebag Jar when we were shooting. And I was like, ‘That’s an episode!’ It’s like, ‘What did Schmidt do to put $50 in the Douchebag Jar?’ There is just something about [Greenfield] that he’s able to make you love him no matter what he does, which is a rare quality. And we’re having fun exploring all of the outer boundaries of what being a douchebag means, all the different layers of douchebagginess that can happen.”

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New Girl

Zooey Deschanel plays lovable Jess, who is plodding through life with a good group of friends.

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