Ellen Gray: NEW ARRIVALS: 'GIFTED MAN,' 'PAN AM'

Posted: September 23, 2011

* A GIFTED MAN. 8 tonight, CBS 3.

* PAN AM. 10 p.m. Sunday, 6ABC.

VIEWERS WHOSE Friday nights haven't been the same since the departure of "Ghost Whisperer" and "Medium" might find a reason to move toward the light of the TV screen again tonight as CBS introduces "A Gifted Man," starring Patrick Wilson ("Angels in America") as a brain surgeon who sees dead people.

OK, technically speaking, Michael Holt is only seeing the one dead person - his ex-wife, a free-clinic doctor named Anna Paul ("Contagion's" Jennifer Ehle) - whose reappearance in his life after an absence of many years isn't the nightmare some men might imagine.

At least not until he realizes she's not actually in her own life anymore and that she's brought along a hell of a honey-do list: She needs him to take on the patients she's left behind.

Yes, it sounds insane (you can't have ghosts on CBS who don't help solve crimes) and like many of this season's pilots, it left me wondering how the show's premise could be sustained for more than a few episodes, much less multiple seasons.

But it's an awfully pretty pilot, thanks to Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme ("The Silence of the Lambs"), who's also an executive producer, and to Ehle's eyes, still as amazing as they were when she starred opposite Colin Firth in "Pride and Prejudice."

Wilson's not exactly hard to look at it, either.

And while Emmy winner Margo Martindale ("Justified") is so far underemployed as the woman who manages Michael's celebrity-friendly practice - maybe she'll get to poison someone by the third episode? - her very presence gives me hope that "A Gifted Man" will somehow find a way to make this life-after-death romance fly.

Speaking of flying - and romance - Sunday brings us the premiere of ABC's "Pan Am," my favorite so far of the fall's two "Mad Men" wannabes and a show with more moving parts than a jumbo jet.

Christina Ricci stars as a 1960s bohemian who might chafe at the rules imposed on the young women who flew for Pan Am in the days of weigh-ins and girdle checks, but who loves the travel as much as her fellow stewardesses, played by Karine Vanasse, Kelli Garner and Margot Robbie. If it weren't for a subplot involving the CIA and the Bay of Pigs, this could be an actual show from the early '60s, a time when "stewardesses" were considered as glamorous as models, pilots were hot stuff and sexual harassment simply went with the territory.

The good old days might not have always been so good for the women passing out the drinks, but the series was inspired by executive producer Nancy Hult Ganis' experiences as a Pan Am flight attendant, which she described to reporters as "an amazing adventure and fun."

And let's face it: It's hard not to be nostalgic when you see the inside of a jet where passengers actually have room to move and no one's fighting to find space in the overhead bin.

Now that's romance.

Back to the 'Boardwalk'

HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" returns at 9 p.m. Sunday with more trouble than ever for Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), who's dealing with a challenge from his old mentor, the Commodore (Dabney Coleman), while trying to keep Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) from retaliating against the Ku Klux Klan's attacks on Atlantic City's black community.

With CBS' "The Good Wife" also back for its third season at 9 p.m. Sunday, it's a good night to have a DVR - or On Demand.


Send email to graye@phillynews.com.

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