Must-watch TV?

It doesn’t seem like it’s too hard to get your hands on a DVD of an upcoming movie or TV pilot. It creates what seems to be an informal, word-of-mouth form of publicity for the movie or TV show. In some cases, this is very well orchestrated behind the scenes to get in front of  the right influencers’ eyes, and in other cases someone knows someone who works for a studio or a media outlet and shows it to a couple of friends.

The latter was the case Sunday night when four friends got together for dinner and had a very informal viewing of four TV pilots coming soon to your television lineup. Here are my very informal reviews:

Pan Am: Pan Am, which airs Sept. 25 on ABC, wants to capitalize on the success of “”Mad Men.” It’s the 1960s, but instead of an advertising firm, it’s an airline. It’s a good premise: At a time when women were just expected to get married and stay home, the show is a character study of why women (and what kind of women) would want to be stewardesses on the principal international air carrier. (The best scene is when one of the women is seen fleeing her wedding in a convertible to go be a stewardess.) There’s intrigue: It’s the 1960s, after all, and Russia is still a threat. But the storyline for each girl can get confusing, and the male actors lack any trace of depth. What the incredibly expensive pilot lacks in substance, it makes up for with tons of style. It gets points for using “Mack the Knife” in its closing scenes. And,  if it lasts past the first season, this show, like “Mad Men,” will help inspire a revival of ’60s cocktails and fashion trends, including the iconic Pan Am luggage bag.

This sci-fi drama might be one of the most anticipated new shows of the season, though you’ll have to wait until next year to watch the premiere on Fox. J.J. Abrams’ follow-up to “Lost” and “Fringe” follows the successful formula of  “Fringe” and “Alias” with a strong female lead: Sarah Jones as a police detective. “Lost’s” Jorge Garcia plays a geeky Alcatraz expert. Sam Neill as a federal agent and Robert Forster as the detective’s uncle make for a strong cast. The premise is that the prisoners on Alcatraz were not reassigned when the maximum-security prison closed in 1963, but mysteriously disappeared. Almost 50 years later, they are returning. The  history of Alcatraz is fascinating, so it will be interesting to see what Abrams does with this island.

Apartment 23
  This comedy is about a naive blonde from the Midwest who moves to New York, which could easily be a blonde Southern girl who moves to Los Angeles. She’s 20-something and just starting out. The funniest part is James Van der Beek, who gets to make fun of himself while playing himself — the good-looking good guy best known for being Dawson, while all his co-stars have moved on. This irreverent show, originally named “Don’t Trust The Bitch in Apartment 23,” is the kind of show you turn on for 30 minutes, enjoy with a glass of wine, and laugh and relax. No one is going to discuss the plot turns the next day, and it probably wouldn’t matter too much if you missed an episode or two. It’s a guilty pleasure that can be just as easily enjoyed with your girlfriends or your boyfriend or husband. It airs on ABC in 2012.

Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea
Laura Prepon, from “That ’70s  Show,” plays comedian and talk-show host Chelsea Handler, who also appears in the pilot, playing her pregnant sister. The guys who were screening this with me said it’s a female version of “Two and a Half Men,” but I am among the minority of TV viewers who never watched that show. The set reminds me of the bar from “Cheers,” but you are better off going to your neighborhood bar, watching reruns of “Cheers” or rereading Judy Bloom’s classic, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”


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