ABC upfronts: Charlie's Angels, Pan Am, Scandal, Apartment 23, and other upcoming television shows.

ABC upfronts: Charlie's Angels, Pan Am, Scandal, Apartment 23, and other upcoming television shows.

ABC upfronts: Charlie's Angels, Pan Am, Scandal, Apartment 23, and other upcoming television shows.

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May 18 2011 3:42 PM

Pan Am Is Not Jiggle TV!

The so-called "Mad Men in the air" is more interested in Eames chairs.

ABC's Pan Am. Click image to expand.
Christina Ricci in ABC's Pan Am

All you need to make a TV show is three girls and a gun. At ABC's Tuesday announcement of its fall schedule—a presentation streamed live from Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall to the grubby laptops of lifestyle journalists across the country—entertainment president Paul Lee stated that the Charlie's Angels remake will be "pure candy." This was a great relief to those of us worried that its "fun, glamorous, action-packed take on the 1970s smash hit series" might somehow get thematically dark and heavy— Syriana in waterproof mascara.

Your new angels are Annie Ilonzeh, Rachael Taylor, and Friday Night Lights' Minka Kelly, and they work for executive producer Drew Barrymore. We are apparently looking to the upcoming season as a referendum on feminism and femininity, and it will interesting to see what Drew has to contribute to the discussion. If Charlie's is anything like her directorial debut, Whip It (2009), a coming-of-age comedy set among roller-derby chicks, then it will fall somewhere between harmless nonsense and light girl-power fun. Still, one hopes that the Angels' action scenes are choreographed with greater care than was Whip It's listless food fight.

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Pan Am—an hour-long stewardess show set in the '60s—is one of the Mad Men knockoffs that Maureen Dowd describes as "jiggle TV," which is simply inaccurate. For one thing, the clip reel makes it clear that the show is a soap about an in-flight sorority and plainly intends women as its core audience. For another, Pan Am's attention to period detail means that the ladies on the show are wearing aggressive foundation garments; any jiggling is incidental. Speaking of architecture, the show's attention to period design is the most immediately striking thing about it. The pilots' uniforms are radically snazzy. The Pan-Am Building—the International-style octagon at 200 Park Avenue—is lovingly shot. Possibly more interested in Gropius than in groping, the show gives you lots of opportunities to check out the curves of Eames chairs.

Elsewhere, this most gynocentric of networks will present Scandal, produced by Grey's Anatomy's Shonda Rimes, starring Kerry Washington as a D.C. fixer, and radiating the vibe of an upscale take on postmodern-cowgirl cable dramas like The Closer. That one's scheduled to appear at midseason, when it will perhaps replace a pair of manifestly cretinous crisis-in-masculinity sitcoms likely to meet quick deaths. Vulture's Willa Paskin was able to stomach thinking about Man Up and Tim Allen's Last Man Standing long enough to produce disdainful summaries, describing the latter as "a show about what happens when a guy is emasculated by his wife, but thinks that's all her fault."

Still from "Apartment 23." Click image to expand.
Apartment 23

The ABC show I'm most curious about is Apartment 23, formerly known as Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23. It's a New York City roommate comedy about a hayseed (Dreama Walker) moving in with an embittered lush (Krysten Ritter) who has a tongue like a chainsaw and "the morals of a pirate." The humor is friskily bleak and glowingly mean, and the fact that James Van Der Beek stars as himself brings to mind the rather brilliant, rather short-lived It's Like, You Know..., which starred Jennifer Grey as herself, and this in turn makes me fear for the new show's commercial prospects. Creatively, though, Apartment 23 might be the best of a breed that's making its presence felt on the lineup—comedies indebted to the Sarah Silverman school of performative solipsism. (NBC, for instance, is offering one sitcom featuring the alter ego of late-night mean girl Chelsea Handler and another featuring Whitney Cummings, who often helps Handler take out the tabloid trash.) Sitcoms with deliberately unsympathetic leads? These sound like novels without heroes, a fair portrait of vanity.

Troy Patterson is Slate’s writer at large and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.