It's ladies first on many new shows as TV's fall crop celebrates girl power
NEW YORK -- Viewers, it's time to make way for girl power!
Among the two dozen shows premiering this fall on the five major networks, women will be standing tall.
Of course, a debate already rages whether females are liberated or demeaned on certain new shows, namely "Pan Am."
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 in an updated but no less jiggly version starring tough-but-tantalizing 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. (Maybe both?)
In any case, it's ladies first on the vast majority of new shows this fall -- an overwhelming display of gender domination and easily the season's biggest trend.
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 rare chance to get ahead.
"Pan Am," set in 1963, is a melodrama that focuses on stewardesses in their snugly tailored blue twill at the dawning of the jet age. It stars Christina Ricci, Kelli Garner, Margot Robbie and Karine Vanasse.
Neither series has hit the air. 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 -- as if any of that were usually a standard against which TV shows are measured.
Many questions on this topic arose at the recent Television Critics Association conference in Los Angeles. In one response to eye-rolling reporters, Heard said, "I think it's just chauvinistic to deny women their sexuality."
Defending her show, "Playboy," and its women characters, she continued, "It comes down ultimately to choices. And just like anything else, if there are choices available and they're making the choice, they're not being exploited."
On the New York set of "Pan Am," Garner had a similar message.
"Men and women are equal in so many ways," she said, "but if there's a way that women have a bit more power over men, it's the power of their sexuality if used smartly. And I just wish more women would be OK with that."
Both series celebrate the good life -- enjoyed even by those who helped serve it up -- and celebrate escape, even for those women.
But whatever the similarities that have linked them thus far in the audience's mind, "Pan Am" and "The Playboy Club" are pretty different from one another. And among the crop of new shows, there are many other varying explorations of girl power, including two series with "girl" in the title.
Mind you, every new show isn't supercharged with estrogen.
There's a romantic comedy: "Free Agents" star Hank Azaria gets equal time with Kathryn Hahn as emotionally damaged co-workers who may or may not fall in love.
There's a parenting comedy: "Up All Night" stars Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as the working mom and stay-at-home dad of a new baby.
And in a category of its own, there's "The X-Factor," the Simon Cowell-produced singing competition.
The elusive nature of manhood is the focus of three new sitcoms.
The three chums of "Man Up!" are happy enough with their comfortable middle-class lives. But they want to reclaim the manliness of their forefathers as they reinvoke their inner Iron John.
"What do you get a kid turning 13 that says 'I'm a man'?" worries one of the friends, whose son is facing a rite of passage into teenhood.
Suggestions from his pals: "What about a couple of hookers? Or a trash bag full of chicken wings?"
The world of fairytales has inspired not one but two new series.
"Grimm" is a police procedural where the bad guys are mythological creatures recognizable as nonhuman only by special criminal profilers such as Nick Burkhardt, a homicide detective in Portland, Ore. (When Little Red Riding Hood goes missing, Nick, played by David Giuntoli, is specially equipped to track down her nonhuman abductor.)
In a much different vein, "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 fairytale world by imprisoning them in the modern real world -- namely, the town of Storybrooke, Maine.
There, "time will stop and we will be trapped," Rumpelstiltskin warns Snow White. "No more happy endings." At least, not until yet another woman, Snow White's daughter, shows up to help.
"Unforgettable" stars Poppy Montgomery as a police detective with a rare condition that imprints every detail of her life into her memory, where it's available for exact, instant retrieval. This is a help in crime solving, but otherwise a mixed blessing.
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 sitcom, "Whitney," which is billed as "a hilarious look at modern-day love" centring on her and co-star Chris D'Elia, "a happily unmarried couple."