Last week marked the beginning of the 2011-2012 TV season, and with it my deliverance from the surfeit of sitcom reruns and played-out movies that buzzed on my TV like so much white noise this summer. As always, my menu of mainstays, including "The Middle," "Modern Family," "Community," and "The Office," was sprinkled with fresh new selections. Just as when I'm presented with an updated restaurant menu, I couldn't help but wonder which newbies would become the new mac and cheese, i.e., flavorful, fulfilling, and always a treat, and which would suffer the fate of concoctions made unpalatable by too many or too few ingredients. Here's my take on three of the series debuts I sampled (in reverse chronological order):
Show: "Pan Am"
Time: Sunday, 10:00 pm EST
Despite the scuttlebutt that it was just a "Mad Men" knock-off, I had high hopes for "Pan Am" (pun intended). Like lots of people, I like a good period piece. Stories set in iconic eras can't help but be shrouded in romance, and the admittedly fluffy ABC capitalizes on this phenomenon in its drama showcasing stewardesses of the early 1960s. To be honest, it was slow going at first. The plot centers around four women - each a trailblazer of sorts - which means that there was a bit of back-story to relay. Even so, "Pan Am" has all the hallmarks of a best-selling saga and will probably become more engrossing as the season unfolds.
Time: Thursday, 9:30 pm EST
NBC is known for sitcoms that probe beneath life's underbelly. "Whitney," starring comedian Whitney Cummings, fits right in as the story of a cohabiting, thirty-something couple contemplating marriage. Albeit gentler than the other social commentary-spouting shows in NBC's Thursday night lineup ("Community," "Parks and Recreation," and "The Office"), "Whitney" delivers some trenchant one-liners about love and relationships. Unfortunately, most of them were in the commercials, which somewhat diluted their appeal. Nevertheless, pilots are often iffy, so I remain optimistic.
Show: "New Girl"
Time: Tuesday, 9:00 pm EST
"New Girl" is just the sort of off-beat show you'd expect to see on the network that brought us "The Simpsons." Starring queen of quirk Zooey Deschanel, it centers around Jess, a newly single teacher who finds herself living with three guys she met on Craigslist. Fashion-challenged and in the habit of bursting into song, Jess catapults over Deschanel's resident territory of the unusual headlong into the land of just plain odd. Indeed, her actions are often cringeworthy, particularly when she's hurling herself at prospective suitors. Still, her eccentricities are born of a genuineness that render her as endearing and vulnerable.
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Criticisms aside, I'll continue watching all of these shows. Sweet, salty, or tangy, stories are my favorite snack.