Bunnies and Stewardesses: Fall TV’s Racy Slant
With "The Playboy Club" and "Pan Am," skin is in (John Russo/NBC, Bob D'Amico/ABC)
Now, the other news: They appear to have packed pretty light when it comes to wardrobe.
From the tight uniforms sported by the stewardesses on ABC's "Pan Am" and the Alphabet Network's sexy re-commissioned "Charlie's Angels" crime-fighters, to the fluffy-tailed servers of NBC's "The Playboy Club," the fashion trend of the season appears to be flesh, and plenty of it.
Call it the resurgence of Jiggle TV, a titillating genre that briefly blossomed in the 1970s with the original "Charlie's Angels," before giving way with the exit of "Baywatch."
Though none of the series have yet to debut, the trend of new shows featuring female leads in little clothing and subservient positions has already been met with criticism.
Gloria Steinem, who gained notoriety by going undercover as a bunny at the Playboy Club in New York in 1960s and writing an exposé about the working conditions, has said that she's hoping for a boycott of NBC's "The Playboy Club," claiming, "It normalizes a passive-dominant idea of gender. So, it normalizes prostitution and male dominance."
Christine Baranski, co-star of "The Good Wife," has similarly chimed in, telling New York magazine, "I'm rather appalled that they're now making television shows about Playboy bunnies and stewardesses... I think, 'Really? Haven't we gone past that, well past that?'"
Apparently not. But why now, in particular, does there seem to be a resurgence in flesh-centric TV fare?
Certainly, AMC's "Mad Men" seems to have loosened the jar lid with its highly successful exercise in flesh-friendly, misogyny-laced nostalgia.
And it might be no coincidence that the upcoming series — like "Mad Men" — all have retro elements to them. ("The Playboy Club" and "Pan Am" are both set in the 1960s, while "Charlie's Angels" is a revamp of a 1970s Jiggle TV progenitor.)
Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D., the executive director for Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, suggests that, particularly in dour financial times, male viewers — not to mention the overwhelmingly male decision-makers at the networks — might be looking to retreat into less complicated, more comforting times.
"In times of economic and social upheaval and difficulty, nostalgia and a longing for an era when life seemed simpler tend to bloom," Lauzen said.
That could be especially true in an era when men — at least the ones not on TV, anyway — find themselves losing economic and social ground to the fairer sex.
"As women continue to gain economic, social and political power, there is always some sort of backlash, a desire to put women 'back in their place,'" Lauzen adds. "These programs may reflect that type of wishful thinking."
Naturally, those involved with the series have a different take on the matter. At the Television Critics' Association press tour earlier this month, "Pan Am" star Christina Ricci dismissed cries of sexism, claiming that her series provides "a really great message for young girls and women... [Air travel] is something that's exciting for these women. We're as excited as the passengers are."