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Because one of the perks of being at home is the fact that I can filch stuff from my brother, I spent most of today watching new TV shows. (It also doesn't help that my friends are all at work, so I have nothing to do, LOL.) In particular, I watched FOX's The New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel, and ABC's Pan Am, with Christina Ricci, Kelli Garner, Margot Robbie, and Karine Vanasse. Since these shows are fairly new, I figured I should watch them with a grain of salt.

The New Girl

Okay, I admit - I like Zooey Deschanel's older sister, Emily, more than her. I find that Zooey has a tendency to play one-note characters: the funny, goofy, adorkable waif princess with the big doe eyes and retro skirts. Which isn't to say that is a bad thing, but really - is that all she can do?

The New Girl is no different from her other characters. I suspect she's fallen into the trap of Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and I think it's a great disservice to her as an actress and as a person. Premise: here's this cutesy adorable schoolteacher who wants to surprise her boyfriend by coming home early from somewhere and pretend to be a stripper and roleplay his fantasy. Except that when she comes home, she's greeted by her boyfriend with another woman. Of course, since this is meant to be a family-friendly show, there are no offending bits on display and even Zooey's Jessica Day is covered with an overlarge pillow and a single shiny ribbon. (And if that ribbon's where I think it is, then ouch.)

So of course, she looks to find a new place to stay. But instead of kicking her boyfriend out of the house for being a lying, cheating bastard, she ups and moves to her best friend's apartment for a bit. But even that gets tiring after awhile because her best friend's "a model, and all her friends are models" and so she looks for another room on Craigslist and finds the perfect flat - a fancy loft apartment where three guys are living. 

Confession: my first flat was also populated by boys - well, two men well into their thirties and happy bachelors when I met them. (Not anymore; last I checked, they were both married and their wives are popping out babies and they're living the dream.) But I kept my crazy in my room, and we never said anything more than "Hi" or "What's up?" when we passed each other in the hallways. I mean, they were good guys, and they were willing to kill the occasional cockroach in the kitchen, but I do not think we were friends. More like, close acquaintances. And I liked it that way. I kept my nose out of their business and they kept theirs out of mine. But I digress.

Anyway, so the first episode deals with Jessica living with three guys who conform to various rom-com stereotypes. There's Nick, the kindhearted, heart-on-his-sleeve kind of guy who, at the start of the episode, we learn was dumped by his previous girlfriend, Caroline. Then there's Schimdt, who pretends to talk like a black guy even though he's white, and thinks he's the hottest ladykiller in town. In reality, the ladies would probably rather kill themselves. And then there's the token black dude - Coach, who was done really well by Damon Wayans, but then he had to go do another show, so he was replaced by Winston, who used to play overseas basketball for Latvia. And of course, there's the best friend, CeCe, who's stuck to Jess like glue and threatens the guys with death and disembowelment if they lay one hand on her best friend.

Admittedly, there were a number of funny moments - like Coach trying to explain that he couldn't talk to women because he didn't know how to modulate his voice, the three boys singing the theme song of Dirty Dancing, but it comes across as a shtick rather than being sincere. Zooey plays the ditzy, daft, weird girl very well, but as many weird girls know, you can only pull that off if you actually look like Zooey Deschanel. Let's face is, most of us weird girls who likes singing and dancing and making Lord of the Rings references actually look like normal people; that is, to say, we don't look like movie stars. If I did half of what Jess did while being out in public, I might have either been laughed out of the bar or kicked out by my own friends. 

After seeing three episodes, I'm not sure how long they can sustain the "Jess-saves-the-day-by-making-the-guys-do-dorky-stuff" formula that's being used in place of an actual plot. Also, I'm not sure how long they can make Zooey do those cutesy faces of hers before it starts getting boring and formulaic. Yes, I know it's a comedy, but there are a lot of smart comedies on TV right now -- Community and The Big Bang Theory does intelligent humor and biting sarcasm very well; How I Met Your Mother still manages to be entertaining even after six years. In terms of what it brings to the table, I'm not sure if The New Girl is bringing the sorbet or a really clumsily made dessert that I'm supposed to find palatable.

Pan Am

Since I'm not a fan of Mad Men and The Playboy Club has suffered an unfortunate demise, I ended up trying out Pan Am and finding myself remarkably surprised by the show. Granted, there were parts that made me raise an eyebrow - like when Christina Ricci's character, Maggie, was flown out by helicopter to the airport so she could make it to the flight - but otherwise, it seems like an interesting ensemble drama that colors the world in nostalgic hues.

The show follows the lives of four of its stewardesses during the Golden Age of airline travel: strong, independent, fiercely intelligent Maggie; headstrong Kate, who was secretly recruited during the beginning of the show as a spy for the CIA; her younger sister Laura, who ran away on the day of her wedding because she wanted to see the world; and Colette, a French-American whose empathy and kindness balances out everyone else's stubborn natures. 

There's been a lot of observations and criticisms about the show not being "realistic" enough, and not depicting the era in a faithful manner, but as someone who isn't an American and who didn't grow up in the US, I find this a refreshing change of pace. It's consistent in a way that few shows aren't, the CGI effects are used lovingly and sparingly, and the production and design team must've had a grand old headache sourcing everything from dresses to girdles to vintage cars and set decorations. I find that the places recreated - London, Paris, Berlin - while small and intimate (a lot of hallways and corners and darkened interiors), are also very evocative of the times.

I also enjoyed the way these characters are starting to build themselves onscreen. A lot of people are complaining that they seem cookie-cutter stereotypes, but I think that in this case, these stereotypes are played for a reason. Maggie's thumbing her nose at the system at an age where women's rights aren't particularly respected, where gender roles are a lot of boxed and rigid, and she tries to defend and protect her colleagues while going on a grand adventure. The sisters Kate and Laura are a mixed bag of love and annoyance, as sisters are - older sister Kate tries to defend Laura from their overbearing mother, while Laura tries to find her own feet and stand by her decision to leave her boyfriend and travel the world instead. Kate also has another storyline running through her - she was recently recruited by the CIA as a spy, since her position as a Pan Am stewardess meant that she had the opportunities to see things and able to slip in and out of situations that many of the official agents couldn't access. And finally, Colette seems to be the mother hen of the group and tries to take care of everybody, despite the fact that she had just learned that the man she'd been seeing had a wife and child. 

Unlike The New Girl, I can see that Pan Am has a lot of stories it could tell, shrouded in glamour and history and travel, and if I were to cross my fingers and hope which one would take off, then I'm putting my bets on Pan Am

Date: 2011-10-10 08:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] phoenikxs.livejournal.com
Totally agree with your opinion on New Girl. I only watched the first episode, but really see no need in watching any more of it. Typical predictable Zooey Deschanel typecasting and stereotypical characters. There really are a lot of better, more intelligent and interesting Comdy's out there at the moment (you forgot the brilliant "Parks and Recreation" in your list!!).

Haven't watched Pan Am yet, but your review makes me want to check it out. Unlike you, I love Mad Men and need something to fill the void :D

Date: 2011-10-10 08:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tala-hiding.livejournal.com
I don't have Parks and Rec, which is why I didn't include it in the list, and mmm, I've heard of Mad Men and what it does but am not sure where to start with the show. :)

I'm trying to get a copy of the third ep of Pan Am, so you should be able to start with the show quite early on.

Date: 2011-10-10 08:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] phoenikxs.livejournal.com
You should definitely give Parks and Rec a try. Don't let the first season (which is very short) disuade you. The show didn't find it's tone until the second season.
And I guess Mad Men is one of those shows you either love or hate. If you want to start watching it, you have to start at the beginning or it won't make any sense.
Let me know if you need help finding any of the episodes, as I have them all on my harddrive.


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