Haven’t got time for more than one retro-fitted, pseudo-feminist “Mad Men” rip-off?
Eleven new scripted series make their network debuts this week. Here are my recommendations, based entirely on first impressions. (ABC’s “Charlie’s Angels” wasn’t available for review.)
Bunnies, Stews, ‘Revenge’
If forced to choose, fly “Pan Am”. ABC’s Sunday night (10 p.m. New York time) soap about the secret lives of 1960s-vintage stewardesses is as garish as a color Polaroid, but at least has some fun stocking its friendly skies with runaway brides, Cold War spies and a winning Christina Ricci.
NBC’s “Playboy Club” on Monday (10 p.m.) is dead serious, whether pitching Bunnyhood as feminist empowerment or Eddie Cibrian as an off-cable Jon Hamm. Filled with mob guys and cotton-tailed dolls, this humorless drama robs itself of the “Showgirls”-style kitsch that might have been a saving grace.
ABC’s “Revenge,” on Wednesday (10 p.m.), shows no such restraint, and easily tops “Pan Am” and “Playboy” in guilty pleasures. Loosely based on “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Revenge” feels closer to “Dynasty” than Dumas. Emily VanCamp plays a Hamptons arriviste with a secret agenda to settle old scores. Madeleine Stowe, in a role Joan Collins would have poisoned for, is the new girl’s moneyed nemesis.
Cummings or ‘New Girl’
Whitney Cummings, a comic of the brash Chelsea Handler school, has two sitcoms debuting this week -- and barely a solid laugh between them.
Cummings co-created (with “Sex and the City” writer Michael Patrick King) CBS’s “2 Broke Girls,” a Monday night entry (9:30 p.m. this week; 8:30 thereafter) about the odd couple friendship between a hipster waitress (Kat Dennings) and her Paris Hilton-like coworker (Beth Behrs).
Set in Brooklyn’s trendy Greenpoint neighborhood, “2 Broke Girls” couldn’t seem less of the moment. Its vulgar “Two and a Half Men” style of comedy relies on broad class and ethnic stereotypes.
Cummings makes a better impression as the star of NBC’s “Whitney” on Thursday (9:30 p.m.). As a young couple struggling to keep romance alive, she and her laconic co-star Chris D’Elia have a droll appeal. When they role-play a sexy nurse and patient, Whitney hands the boyfriend a stack of insurance forms.
Unfortunately, “Whitney” surrounds the couple with a clique of abrasive friends.
Fox’s “New Girl” on Tuesday (9 p.m.) has a more welcoming bunch. Zooey Deschanel stars as Jess, a dorky indie girl heartbroken over a recent breakup. She shares a loft with three newfound male buddies, sobbing, singing off-key and watching reruns of “Dirty Dancing.”
Deschanel’s strenuous attempts at adorableness wear thin, but compared to Whitney and the broke girls, she’s a catch.
‘Prime’ or ‘Person’
Maria Bello might have the least enviable job on TV this fall. Starring in NBC’s remake of the excellent British crime series “Prime Suspect,” Bello takes on the detective role made famous by the incomparable Helen Mirren.
She doesn’t better Mirren -- who could? -- but she holds her own as a woman battling both crime and the resentment of male co-workers. “Prime Suspect,” airing Thursday (10 p.m.), is a smart, gritty cop show for grown-ups, and the week’s most promising drama.
CBS’s highly touted “Person of Interest,” also Thursday (9 p.m.), is a disappointment. The brainchild of “Dark Knight” screenwriter Jonathan Nolan and “Lost” producer J.J. Abrams, the series stars a glum Jim Caviezel (Mel Gibson’s Jesus) as a broken-down ex-CIA agent pulled back into crime-fighting by a mysterious billionaire with a future-predicting computer.
The post-9/11 security state premise is intriguing, and Michael Emerson, Abrams’ old cohort from “Lost,” brings his familiar creepiness to the wealthy software genius. Judging by the first episode, that might not be enough to energize this downbeat, convoluted show.
‘Unforgettable’ or ‘Gifted’
CBS offers two entries in the category of do-gooders with gimmicks. Tuesday’s “Unforgettable” (10 p.m.) features Poppy Montgomery as a New York City detective who uses her hyperthymesia, or super memory, to recreate crime scenes with near-miraculous precision.
The network’s “A Gifted Man” on Friday (8 p.m.) stars Patrick Wilson as an ambitious Manhattan surgeon persuaded by his ex-wife to help an impoverished Bronx clinic. The ex happens to be a ghost.
Wilson’s unsentimental performance keeps the fantasy grounded. He trumps Montgomery’s mental nitpicker, by a shade.
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)