Corsets, Cleavage, Fishnets
By MAUREEN DOWD
The remake of “Charlie’s Angels” that ABC is adding to its fall TV lineup is a masterpiece of subtlety. It takes at least 15 minutes before the three girls get wet.
The “Playboy Club” pilot on NBC’s schedule is also a stirring moment in feminism. Set in mobbed-up Chicago in the ’60s, the script glories in “chasing Bunny tail” and opens panting: “The Door Bunny at the entrance to the Playboy Club. The ears. The tail. The satin. The breasts.” Bunny Janie’s “cleavage could pick up a salt shaker.”
Our leading lady, Maureen, a Cigarette Bunny in corset, fishnets and stilettos, is described this way: “20, Norma Jean before she was Marilyn, an untethered, unconscious sexuality.”
In one scene, naked bunnies cavort in the pool with “men watching them as if at Sea World, only much, much better.”
Variety reported that the “Playboy” actors had to sign a clause agreeing to nudity “and/or simulated sex acts.”
ABC picked up “Pan Am,” about stewardesses in the ’60s, harking back to the good old days when women didn’t sit in first class, they simply served the men who did. “They do it all — and they do it at 30,000 feet,” ABC crowed.
Just as the bunnies have to be checked by Bunny Mother to make sure they show enough cleavage and leg, the blue-suited stews on the trans-Atlantic Clipper must be weighed in, wear girdles and hose, and quit when they marry or turn 32. Sixties-era crooners sing “Around the World” and “Mack the Knife” on the “Pan Am” soundtrack, and a sexy British stew wrapped in bedsheets coos to a handsome pilot getting dressed: “Didn’t I just get you out of that uniform?”
“Wonder Woman,” a David E. Kelley redo of the campy ’70s Lynda Carter show, was so embarrassingly breast-
centric that NBC executives used the Lasso of Truth to strangle it.
The networks have picked up an extraordinary number of shows by and about strong, modern women — vehicles for Christina Applegate, Zooey Deschanel, Debra Messing, Katharine McPhee, Maria Bello, Chelsea Handler, Ginnifer Goodwin, Kristin Chenoweth and Whitney Cummings. In addition, ABC ordered a new Tim Allen sit-com, “Last Man Standing,” about a man who feels threatened in a world ruled by women, and a show called “Work It” about two men who have to dress in drag to get jobs as pharmaceutical reps.
But Hollywood is a world ruled by men, and this season, amid economic anxieties, those men want to indulge in some retro fantasies about hot, subservient babes.
“It’s the Hendricks syndrome,” said one top male TV producer here. “All the big, corporate men saw Christina Hendricks play the bombshell secretary on ‘Mad Men’ and fell in love. It’s a hot fudge sundae for men: a time when women were not allowed to get uppity or make demands. If the woman got pregnant, she had to drive to a back-alley abortionist in New Jersey. If you got tired of women, they had to go away. Women today don’t go away.”
A top female entertainment executive says “it’s not a coincidence that these retro shows are appearing at the same time men are confused about who to be. A lot of women are making more money and getting more college degrees. The traditional roles of dominant and submissive roles are reversed in many cases. Everything was clearer in the ’60s.”
Summer movies are testosterone-fueled, with superheroes like Thor, the Green Lantern and Conan the Barbarian. Even the latest wedding saga, “Bridesmaids,” produced by Judd Apatow and starring Kristen Wiig, is a “Hangover” spin on a chick flick, with farting, pooping, vomiting and raunchy humor designed to draw in guys.
The nostalgic TV shows try to put a feminist spin on the jiggle.
Sure, the angels of Charlie (Robert Wagner) look hot in thigh-high black boots, red vinyl minidresses and devil’s horns. But they have skills, like building car engines, cracking safes hanging upside down after drinking two Cosmos, and putting “the cat in cat burglar.”
Kelley made his Wonder Woman a high-powered executive. The bunnies, it is made clear to surprised, martini-slurping male customers, are not hookers. A pipe-smoking Hef offers aspirations: “Here, we only look up to the sky.”
The “Pan Am” producers, Nancy Ganis, who was a Pan Am stewardess 30 years ago, and her husband, Sid, a former head of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, have a couple of their multilingual stews moonlighting as spies. In the one uplifting moment that doesn’t involve a bra, a little girl with shining eyes watches the stews wiggling in tight skirts across the tarmac.
They are, a pilot says admiringly, “mutations,” like the organisms that crawled out of the primordial soup. They’re “a new breed of women, they just had the impulse to take flight.”
“So don’t,” he warns a co-pilot, “try to ground them.”
Unless, of course, they refuse to wear girdles.