TV Review: 'Lipstick Jungle'

So, you've seen "Sex and the City," right? And maybe you took a peek at ABC's "Cashmere Mafia"? Then you probably have a pretty good sense of what you'll be getting with NBC's "Lipstick Jungle."

Which is to say, more of the same.

The other powerful-women-and-their-problems dramedy with "SATC" roots hits NBC at 10 p.m. Thursday. The link here is "Sex and the City" author Candace Bushnell, who wrote the novel "Lipstick Jungle" is based on and is an executive producer of the series. (Darren Star, who created the HBO series based on Bushnell's columns, is an exec producer of "Cashmere Mafia" -- and if you believe the gossip, got involved with that show after a falling out with Bushnell.)

The women at the center of "Lipstick Jungle" have bigger responsibilities than their forerunners, both at work (they're all on a magazine power list) and home (husbands and kids), and they don't talk quite as freely about their sex lives (network standards). Still, a feeling of deja vu permeates the show. Some of that is scheduling -- ABC got its "SATC" knockoff on the air first -- but mostly it comes from the fact that there really just isn't much there that we haven't already seen.

Eating-and-drinking scenes where the protagonists discuss and dissect each other's issues? Check. Dalliance with a much younger hottie? Check. A seemingly perfect but occasionally maddeningly frustrating man for one of the leads? Check. Shoe shopping? Check.

We're introduced to movie studio head Wendy (Brooke Shields), magazine editor Nico (Kim Raver) and fashion designer Victory (Lindsay Price) as each is at an important moment in her career: Wendy's trying to nail down Leo DiCaprio for a movie role, Nico is launching her magazine's web site and Victory has a make-or-break show during Fashion Week.

Unfortunately for Victory, it breaks, and the once-hot designer is forced to lay off her staff and work out of her home, where she can't find inspiration. Price, who's arguably the least well-known of the three leads, also has the most interesting story in "Lipstick Jungle's" first three episodes. Shows like this don't deal in professional failure too often, and it's almost refreshing that she doesn't immediately turn to her new man to bail her out.

Because he could. Joe Bennett (Andrew McCarthy, all grown up) is a billionaire who's fond of flying Victory to Paris for dinner. But, wouldn't you know, he's also got a laundry list of quirks, like having his assistant set up dates and not wanting to meet her friends. What pulse the show has, though, tends to come from them.

Shields and Raver are fine too, but they're saddled with awfully predictable characters. Shields' Wendy worries that she's not a good enough mother to her two kids (most evidence to the contrary), and her husband (Paul Blackthorne) complains that he feels like something less than an equal partner in their relationship. Meanwhile, a cutthroat publishing exec (guest star Lorraine Bracco, who at least seems to enjoy her overplaying) is out to settle an old score

Raver's Nico, meanwhile, has fallen into a sexless rut with her professor husband, so when a hot young guy (Robert Buckley) approaches her at a party, she strays. One of her male colleagues (David Alan Basche) is also trying to undermine her and make her look bad in front of the media mogul (Julian Sands, another bright spot) who owns both her magazine and Wendy's studio.

You get the idea.

"Lipstick Jungle" has also gone through several behind-the-scenes changes, and it shows in the uneven town running across the first couple of episodes. DeAnn Heline and Eileen Heisler ("Committed," "Three Sisters") are credited as writers on the pilot, but they were let go over the summer and replaced by "Ugly Betty" veteran Oliver Goldstick, who came on board for the second episode. The third episode feels a little bit more sure of itself, but it's not enough to dismiss the feeling that there's nothing new in this jungle.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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