The Weekend's Viewing: New Girl, Fri, Ch4 Stella, Fri, Sky1 Borgen, Sat, BBC4


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

New Girl, Channel 4's big new buy-in, is one of those programmes that should ideally be preceded by an allergy test.

Take the coinage "adorkable", for example, used in an American advertising campaign for the series that led heavily on the ditzy attractions of Zooey Deschanel. Or take Deschanel's own celebrated real-life tweet: "I wish everyone looked like a kitten." How's your stomach feeling now? Warm glow or faint nausea? If it's the latter, then you'd probably be best advised to avoid New Girl, even small doses of which are likely to provoke a cute-reaction. If it's the former, then you're in luck, because Fox's unexpected US ratings hit is essentially a display case for Deschanel's goofy abstracted charm.

She plays Jess, the kind of girl who will unselfconsciously gush out the details of a recent sexual humiliation to the three single men who have a room available. Coming home early to surprise her boyfriend with a striptease routine, Jess was unpleasantly surprised herself to find that she had twice the expected audience, and that the other woman wasn't wearing a lot either. So she moves in with Nick (recently dumped), Schmidt (a heavy contributor to the apartment's douchebag fine jar) and Winston (a fitness instructor). It's their job to exemplify three varieties of male hopelessness, while hers is to say daffy things in an ickle girl voice and push kookiness to the point of pain.

Deschanel is funny, and there's something of Lucille Ball in her readiness to clown for the camera. She mugs sweetly, throws her whole body into the character's eccentricity and – there's no way round it – often looks like a Lolcats kitten, peering through the character's heavy-framed glasses with beseeching eyes. And the comedy itself is smart in that machined American way, full of snappy crash-cuts and zippy verbal caricature. But, if you're at all worried about the sexual politics of the thing, then you may feel that Jess's stereotyping (weeps uncontrollably at Dirty Dancing, is sweetly self-deprecating etc etc) effectively undermines the fact that she's the undisputed star here, and it has worrying weakness for hugs and learning.

Stella, Ruth Jones's new comedy for Sky1, is also built around a female lead, but in this case it's written by her as well, with the result that it has a lot more emotional texture to it. It began with a horribly clunky line of exposition: "I was only 17 when I had you, remember?" Stella told her oldest son as she visited him in prison. "Not much cop, am I?... Past 40, divorced, three kids, haven't had sex for years." After that, though, it just steadily got better – a rueful account of midlife crisis that divides its affections equally between the lead character and the small Welsh town in which she lives. It got better fast as well. "Everything's... still... all right then?" Stella asked her son hesitantly, after bringing him up to date with the number of siblings he has. "I'm not being bummed, no," he replied wearily. Stella's best friend is an alcoholic undertaker, constantly monitoring her ability to drive the hearse with her own breathalyzer and struggling not to get the giggles when her clients' grief finds wayward expression. And the thing is full of moments of untidy, unexplained comedy, such as the sequence when we discovered a male character watching Cranford, approvingly muttering, "Dirty, dirty bitches" to himself.

I have bad news about Borgen, the latest Danish import on BBC4. I'd rather hoped that this account of an idealistic female politician would turn out to be a negligibly niche affair, only for policy wonks and hardcore subtitle enthusiasts, if only because I didn't know where I'd find 10 free hours to watch it all. But, for all my indifference to the niceties of Danish coalition politics, it turns out to be horribly moreish. My resolution to get to bed earlier this year seems doomed.