I gagged over ABC's Big Shots, a male-bonding drama about four competitive business types. But I adore ABC's Cashmere Mafia (Wednesday, 9 p.m.), a female-bonding drama about four competitive business types. Big Shots' macho men are obsessed with sex and success, and so are Cashmere Mafia's career women - but what a difference. Rather than crude and corny, the new series is witty and stylish, with real chemistry among the fast-talking actresses (Lucy Liu, Frances O'Connor, Miranda Otto and Bonnie Somerville). Could this be the long-awaited successor to Sex and the City?
Like its predecessor, Cashmere Mafia mainlines New York City. The characters feed off its energy as they barrel through work and romance with a cell phone in one hand and a BlackBerry in the other. The double-espresso editing keeps the pace brisk, and the careening camera knocks you back on your heels. Just like the characters, you sometimes have a hard time keeping your balance.
"Never use the 'R' word," a male says to another who's about to marry one of these superwomen. "'Relax.'"
It's true that Cashmere Mafia's women never relax. But the production does. Every once in a while the pace slows for a poignant moment, introducing an authentic emotion into the whirlwind. We learn that the characters have mixed feelings about what they call "that having-it-all thing."
I'm tempted to use the "M" word: masterpiece.
Kids Pick the President
Friday, 7 pm (Nickelodeon)
Nickelodeon invites kids to participate in their own election for president. The year-long campaign includes three TV specials hosted by Linda Ellerbee and an online election website (www.nick.com/kpp).
If the Supreme Court doesn't approve of the kids' ultimate choice for president, I assume it will swing the election to a candidate more to its liking. Then the kids will get a real education in America's democratic processes.
Sunday, 8 pm (WHA)
Masterpiece Theatre is presenting adaptations of all Jane Austen's major novels over the next few months. The series started shakily with last week's Persuasion but finds its stride with Northanger Abbey.
Unlike Persuasion, Northanger Abbey has fun with the source material. Austen's book is a satire of her era's gothic-novel craze, which touched off an epidemic of heaving bosoms. Wide-eyed Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) is addicted to these tales of kidnapping, seduction and murder, and soon she gets to have a gothic adventure of her own. She's invited to stay with friends in Bath, where she's swept up in romance, betrayal and heartbreak.
Jones makes a fetching Catherine, and her flirtation with the equally fetching Mr. Tilney (JJ Feild) steams up the screen. Even though their love affair is played for laughs, my own bosom heaved for the entire 90 minutes.
Tuesday, 7 pm (Fox)
I keep telling myself not to watch American Idol. Each year I say, "I'm just going to watch the early audition rounds, to laugh at the bad singers." I always mean to bail out when the finalists are chosen, because by then I start to take the damn thing seriously and root for the best contestants to win. And I'm always shattered when America picks a forgettable singer like Jordin Sparks, or a singer you only wish you could forget, like Taylor Hicks.
This year, I swear I'm not going to watch American Idol. Well, maybe just the early audition rounds....
The Millionaire Matchmaker
Tuesday, 10 pm (Bravo)
Patti Stanger is an L.A. matchmaker who supplies dates for millionaire men. Is it a prostitution ring? Not according to Patti. "I'm not Heidi Fleiss," she says.
That's true - she's worse than Heidi Fleiss. At least Heidi was honest about her goals. Patti couches her escort service in platitudes about true love, all the while parading women before her millionaires like so many products.
"Men have this thing about redheads," she tells a prospective date. "They're not the freshest produce in the aisle."
Patti is nothing if not blunt, ordering one woman to drop the "Dr." from her name. "If you lead with your business foot, a man's ding-dong-danger goes down. He doesn't want to compete in the bedroom."
I predict that The Millionaire Matchmaker will have an adverse effect on ding-dong-dangers nationwide.
Pioneers of Television
Wednesday, 7 pm (WHA)
This week's episode delves into the history of TV game shows. In the 1940s, they were merely an extension of radio game shows, focusing on the contest rather than the contestant. Then came the innovations. Mark Goodson's Stop the Music introduced big prize money (up to $30,000), and Ralph Edwards' Truth or Consequences deemphasized the contest in favor of people having fun in silly situations. What's My Line offered the first panel, merging the game show with the talk show.
It's a fascinating story, but PBS botches the tone. The program is solemn, with stately music and a straight-faced narrator who seems to think he's describing tales of World War II heroism. Meanwhile, Chuck Woolery and Bob Eubanks somberly discuss their philosophies of game-show hosting. Is this really the right approach for an art form in which people dressed up as frogs to tell Monty Hall that they were "Hopping to Make a Deal"?
Informative as you are, Pioneers of Television, I can't give you a good review. But I will send you off with a set of Samsonite luggage and other lovely parting gifts.