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Why Is TV Suddenly Overstuffed With Buxom Bunnies, Sexy Stewardesses, and Charlie's Angels?

With a fleet of "Mad Men"-esque shows glamorizing the "good old days," retrograde sitcoms, and fewer women in the writer's rooms, the TV lineup is discouraging at best.
 
 
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Here are some images that sum up much of what's disturbing about this fall's new television lineup.

Buxom Playboy bunnies entertain suited, whiskey-swilling men at a private club. Lithe stewardesses offer men drinks as they fly the friendly skies. Charlie's angels suit up in skin-baring outfits yet again, ready to take their boss's calls and do justice in style.

These retrograde images from new shows "The Playboy Club," "Pan Am" and "Charlie's Angels" are the staples of a new season of television in which a post-"Mad Men" old-school aesthetic seems to pervade everything, but without the critique that darker, more nuanced show contains. "Mad Men" (for the most part) warns viewers that underneath the glamour there was a world of gross, painful injustice. These new shows at first glance seem to be imitating the fashion without delving into the finer points.

Those are this fall's big dramas. On the comedy side of the dial, the situation looks better on the surface due to a spate of women-centric shows, but is it?

Two of the big comedy centerpieces of the networks' new sitcom lineups, "Whitney" starring Whitney Cummings, and "New Girl" starring Zooey Deschanel, are basing much of their humor on tired typecasting. As Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams notes, "more clichés about how supposedly hilarious our gender differences are." Men and women: will we ever understand each other? And isn't it hilarious when we don't? these series seem to ask.

A third show, "2 Broke Girls," attempts something more interesting, with titular characters from different sides of the tracks and jokes that aim to expose more about class than gender, but after a rocky pilot punctuated by a diner filled with racist stereotypes and bad ethnic accents, it has yet to prove its bona fides.

Television critics have been having a field day writing think-pieces about what all this means, repeating the common refrain that tough economic times led us as a culture to take refuge in looking back at yesteryear.

TheNew York Times' Alessandra Stanley believes this television lineup reveals a perverse longing for a time when the problems facing women were easy to identify--and when women viewers today can consider them (for the most part) solved:

These shows traffic in nostalgia for a past that was flawed but fixable, and above all familiar. Particularly when our own epoch seems so uncertain and diminished, it’s all the more gratifying to look back at a more navigable time. We can envy earlier generations’ confidence and optimism while gawking at their primitive social mores and constrictive clothing. 

At the Washington Post, Hank Stuever warns us that this nostalgia-fest is in fact perilous for the culture's ability to grow and adapt to our present reality and says the TV lineup is so bad he's inspired to take up feminist arms himself:

Retro is an addiction that rages out of control in a recession; the more we drink it in — the more times we remake “Charlie’s Angels” or wish for a return of stewardesses and other clear-cut visual cues of gender rigidity — the less able we are to move forward and come up with our own ideas.

He also argues that the contemporary-flavored sitcoms are hardly an improvement on the good-old-bad-old-days tone of the dramas: "Whitney and the two broke girls could be the granddaughters of the bunnies and stewardesses, but I doubt the older generation would be all that impressed with what they call progress."

Perhaps, though, there is a reflection of reality in all these shows--the reality of writers' rooms. Although there are a dozen or more prominent female writers whose work features on television this season, overall the representation of women has dropped dramatically, from a place of inequality to start with.

 
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