Girls rule TV's new fall lineup
The fall TV season's biggest trend is an overwhelming display of gender domination, from "Pan Am" to "New Girl."
AP Television Writer
Tonight in Prime Time
NEW YORK — It's ladies first on the vast majority of new network shows this fall — an overwhelming display of gender domination and easily the season's biggest trend.
A debate already rages whether females are liberated or demeaned on certain new shows, namely ABC's "Pan Am," with all those sleek stewardesses, and NBC's "The Playboy Club," with its satin dolls.
But that's an argument as old as the term "jiggle TV," harking back to the original "Charlie's Angels" — which, 35 years later, returns to ABC in an updated but no less jiggly version starring Annie Ilonzeh, Minka Kelly and Rachael Taylor.
In fact, it's an argument as old as television itself.
Premiering 60 years ago this fall, "I Love Lucy" became TV's first enduring scripted series, and it continues to serve as the classic template for sitcoms, despite conflicting views on whether Lucille Ball's zany housewife was a victim of domestic oppression or — as she schemed to break into show biz or expand her world in some other novel way — a pre-feminist subversive.
In any case, women rule on "Pan Am" and "The Playboy Club," which portray the fairer sex in two high-profile jobs that called for beauty, performance and impeccable service, even while offering women a chance to get ahead.
"Pan Am," set in 1963 and starring Christina Ricci, is a melodrama that focuses on stewardesses in their snugly tailored blue twill at the dawning of the jet age. "The Playboy Club," set in 1961, is a swanky soap centering on the cotton-tailed, look-but-don't-touch waitresses in the original Chicago club.
Neither series has hit the air ("Pan Am" premieres Sept. 25; "The Playboy Club" Sept. 19). But already both shows have been called upon to justify themselves as if, by telling these tales from a half-century ago, they are violating contemporary norms and dealing a retroactive blow to the women's movement.
More girl power
Among the crop of new shows, there are many other varying explorations of girl power, including two series with "girl" in the title.
The CBS sitcom "2 Broke Girls" stars Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs as two struggling but plucky waitresses in a downtrodden Brooklyn diner. The Fox sitcom "New Girl" stars Zooey Deschanel as a kooky lass who moves in with three single guys.
Even CBS' "A Gifted Man" — which stars Patrick Wilson as a brilliant but all-business surgeon — has a woman at its core: the doctor's dead ex-wife (Jennifer Ehle), who tries to teach him a new brand of compassion from her perspective as a lovely apparition.
Sitcoms, songs and dinosaurs
Mind you, every new show isn't supercharged with estrogen.
• There's a romantic comedy: NBC's "Free Agents," starring Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn.
• There's a parenting comedy: NBC's "Up All Night," with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett.
• There's a family-that-travels-back-to-prehistoric-times-and-hangs-with-dinosaurs adventure: Fox's much-anticipated "Terra Nova," with Steven Spielberg among its credits.
• There's Fox's "Allen Gregory," an animated series about a precocious 7-year-old being raised by his father and his father's male life partner.
• There's a gritty, paranoia-inducing crime thriller, CBS' "Person of Interest," which stars Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson.
• The elusive nature of manhood is the focus of three new sitcoms: ABC's "Man Up!"; "Last Man Standing," with Tim Allen; and the CBS sitcom "How to Be a Gentleman."
• And in a category of its own, there's Fox's "The X-Factor," the Simon Cowell-produced singing competition.
Fairy tales and fantasy
The world of fairy tales has inspired not one but two new series: NBC's "Grimm" is a police procedural where the bad guys are mythological creatures. In a much different vein, ABC's "Once Upon a Time" has a fantastical, wondrous tone, and a decidedly woman's touch: Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) squares off against the Evil Queen (Lana Parilla), who has put a curse on the characters of the fairy-tale world.
The CW's set-in-Washington "The Secret Circle," too, is sparked by the supernatural (See story, Page H1). Also on The CW, Sarah Michelle Gellar (formerly Buffy the Vampire Slayer) returns to series TV in "Ringer," and that network's third new series, "Hart of Dixie," stars Rachel Bilson as a brand-new doctor who moves from New York to a tiny Alabama town.
CBS' "Unforgettable" stars Poppy Montgomery as a police detective with a rare condition that imprints every detail of her life into her memory — this is a help in crime solving, but otherwise a mixed blessing.
Girls, girls, girls
Talk about girl power! Not only is Whitney Cummings a co-executive producer of "2 Broke Girls," but this young writer-stand-up-comic is also an executive producer and star of her NBC sitcom, "Whitney."
In the ABC soap "Revenge," Emily Van Camp plays a scheming young woman who returns to the Hamptons to settle a score.
On the ABC comedy "Suburgatory," 16-year-old Tessa (Jane Levy) is whisked from the temptations of New York City to a new life in the suburbs by her protective father (Jeremy Sisto).
The generation gap, female style, is explored in the Fox comedy "I Hate My Teenage Daughter," starring Jaime Pressly and Katie Finneran.
And Maria Bello stars as New York City homicide detective Jane Timoney in NBC's Americanized "Prime Suspect," whose 1990s British original, starring Helen Mirren, remains one of TV's best-ever dramas.
Just one of the TV sisterhood awaiting viewers, she has plenty of company this fall.