09/20/2011 08:54 am ET Updated Nov 20, 2011

Network fall TV 2011: DOA

Is it too early to call the new fall TV season a wash-out?

Having watched the pilots for most of the network shows, I've come away with that sick feeling in my stomach you get after eating too many empty calories of something that wasn't all that tasty to start with.

For starters, let's officially declare the Mad Men wave as DOA. It took this long for the networks to catch up with AMC's Emmy-winning drama and they still missed the point. ABC's Pan Am and NBC's The Playboy Club want to be retro while mocking retro at the same time. Meanwhile, the writing on both shows is so lazy that you wonder why they bothered.

The reason Mad Men is a critical hit and an awards magnet (without actually drawing a true mass audience) is that it's intelligent enough to challenge the viewer's assumptions about what a TV drama can be. It's not audience-friendly in the sense that it doesn't explain itself or necessarily focus on sympathetic characters. But mostly it's smart, something that very few major network series seem to be (with rare exceptions like Lost and Modern Family).

The Playboy Club, on the other hand, is not only formulaic - it's dull. Here's a show that practically cries out to be on pay-cable: a show about Playboy, for pete's sake, and there's no skin. Meanwhile, the characters are cookie-cutter figures out of a soap opera and so, for that matter is the plot.

Pan Am, meanwhile, wants us to long for the glamorous days of yesteryear in airline travel. Never mind that today's audience only knows air travel as the cattle-cars of the sky that it's become. "Pan Am" wants to celebrate the airlines - and to make us alternately laugh and shudder at what these poor girls were put through in order to keep their jobs. OMG - they had to wear girdles! Do the guys who own Hooters know about this?

The sit-com lineup is worse, starting with the awful New Girl starring Zooey Deschanel.

This commentary continues on my website.

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