What the New TV Lineup Says About America's Beliefs on Money, Sex and More

Pop culture can give us an intriguing window into how our attitudes as a nation are shifting. In the roster of new primetime TV shows premiering in the next few weeks, weighty issues abound. On the whole, it looks like we're getting more relaxed about gay marriage, more supicious of the wealthy, and more uncertain about our country's future. Is anyone in Washington paying attention? We'll find out soon enough.


Here some new shows that appear to be tuned in to the issues of the day:

"The New Normal"

How do we define the word "family"? What exactly is "normal"?  As Americans are becoming more aware of issues surrounding marriage equality and more accepting of gay marriage, that shift is being reflected and pushed along by primetime televison. Joining the look at "nontraditional" families popularized to great acclaim and success by "Modern Family," we have Andrew Rannells (“The Book of Mormon,” “Girls,”), Justin Bartha (The Hangover) and Ellen Barkin teaming up for this show about a gay couple, the surrogate carrying their baby, and her small-minded grandmother. Gay Marriage, surrogacy, homophobia: there’s a fearlessness about hot-button issues here that’s both intriguing and admirable and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out in a comedy format. I’m also counting the minutes to once again see Andrew Rannells, whose performance as Elder Price in “The Book of Mormon” was outstanding and whose turn on “Girls” was pitch-perfect. Premieres Tuesday, September 11, 9:30pm on NBC.

"Go On"

Gather ’round. In the new Matthew Perry vehicle, our erstwhile “Friend” plays a recent widow made to attend group therapy for his grief.  I like the synergy of an actor well known for his trips to rehab playing out scenes he may well have lived through before. Yes, there will be a zany cast of characters and backstories. But what might be most interesting here is a look at good old-fashioned talk therapy at a time when many time- and cash-strapped Americans are a lot quicker to take a Xanax than traditionally talk it out. In times of eonomic recession, therapy is often seen as a luxury and for many people one of the first targets of personal cutbacks. Slashes to state and city budgets mean that low-priced therapy services are less available to those who need them. From job insecurity to worrying about our children's prospects to divorce, many Americans find themselves in need of serious emotional support. A show focusing on just that could be an interesting reflection of the collective unconscious -- and maybe it will lessen our inhibition about seeking the help we need. Premieres Tuesday, September 11, 9pm on NBC.

"666 Park"

1 percenters as minions of the Antichrist? With its Invisible Hand and dark market forces, capitalism certainly seems to have a supernatural dimension. And the rich definitely have a knack for making things disappear -- like your money, for example. In ABC’s new supernatural drama set on New York City’s Upper East Side, Terry O’Quinn (formerly John Locke on “Lost”) and Vanessa Williams play the owners of a building where evil apparently knows all the resident’s names.  Whether or not O’Quinn is in fact the devil remains to be seen, but I’ll be tuning in to see how this show handles the twist on the age-old New York real estate question: how much would you pay for the perfect apartment? And in the larger sense, how far will people go to get what they want? Both scary and timely as so many Americans are as skeptical of the rich as they are fearful of declining economic status. Premieres Sunday, September 30 ,10pm, on ABC.

Special mentions to shows returning in 2013:

"Smash"

Sean Hayes (the much beloved Jack from “Will and Grace”) will be joining his former co-star Debra Messing on NBC’s show about a Broadway show. Tune in for Hayes’ meta multi-episode arc as a television star making his Broadway debut and stay for the fact that in this time of proposed cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts, it might be a good idea, or even karmic, to support theater and the arts in any form. And when times are tough, everyone could use a little show-stopping entertainment. There's a reason why folks flocked to see extravagant musical spectacles during the Great Depression; a little song and dance makes you forget that the rent is due. Season 2 premieres in 2013.

"Downton Abbey"

“Are you really telling me that all the money is gone?” the Earl of Grantham asks in this preview of the eagerly anticipated third season of Masterpiece Theater's wildly sucessful look at the lives of an aristocratic Yorkshire family and their servants during the reign of King George V. “I’m afraid so,” comes the reply. Most unfortunately, while it premieres this fall in the UK, “Downton” won’t reach our shores until 2013. But I'll be looking forward to how America's own anxieties about declining empire and dwindling fortunes play out in this clever drama. Will we greet our future with despair or ingenuity? Will we wax nostalgic for what has been lost or be energized by the challenge of what is to come? The characters will provide clues as to how we envision the unknown path ahead. Premieres Sunday, January 6, 2013 on PBS.

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