Men in Trees triggers a shrug-and-blush response: Women tend to follow a declaration of love for the ABC dramedy with a dismissive ”It’s a guilty pleasure.” Well, stop it. No one should feel guilty about enjoying this smartly written, sunny-sweet show. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to resist. If Ally McBeal jabbed at women’s insecurities (biological clocks, flibbertigibbetism), and Sex and the City captured women’s realities (thriving careers, hungover brunches), Men in Trees is now offering up the lushest postfeminist fairy tale on TV.
Relationship expert Marin Frist (a reassuringly uncrazy Anne Heche) discovers her fiancé is cheating and retreats to tiny Elmo, Alaska. There, she gets to have it all. She sports a series of adorable hats in a soothing, bucolic setting while landing a book excerpt in The New Yorker (big-city publishing careers needn’t be scotched just because you live in a place so remote that cell phones are novel). But it’s the men in Trees that make this little fantasy so au courant. These Alaskan guys are old-school, which is very new-school. They’re not hyper-verbal, super-emo boys. They’re men’s men. Or so we are often told. The wonderfully sneaky thing is that they’re men’s men…designed by women (creator Jenny Bicks, a Sex and the City alum, has updated Big, transferred him to the tundra, and given him a lumberjack shirt).
Marin’s love interest, the comely Jack (the comely James Tupper), is Elmo’s man of fewest words: He’s pretty, a biologist, likes animals, and he lets her do all the talking. He also has had his heart broken. This is a prerequisite for males in Elmo, where women are absolutely in charge. Bartender Theresa (Sarah Strange) dumped sweet husband Ben (ER’s Abraham Benrubi), and recently picked him up again like an old pair of socks. Marin’s Manhattan-based editor (Seana Kofoed) had a fling with an Alaskan hottie, whom she quickly hustled off post-satisfaction. Elmo’s Sheriff Celia (Cynthia Stevenson) is yet another man’s object of affection (good God, these guys can dote!), but she’s so noncommittal, her last name is actually Bachelor. Even the town hooker is picky.
A census survey recently revealed that a majority of women (51%) are living without a husband. Men in Trees, then, is the perfect drama for 2007: a scenario in which ladies are alone because they want to be — and when they don’t want to be, there are a half dozen sensitive-yet-manly dudes waiting to listen to them attentively, and then have great sex with them. Or even just wash their hair. Hmmm…maybe we should feel a little guilty.