Friday, January 11, 2008

The Things I Do For You

Like on Thursday night. I subjected myself to a tape of the second episode of Cashmere Mafia.

Now it is absolutely clear that I am the wrong audience for this show. For one thing I pee standing up and for another my taste in porn features breasts rather than abs. In other words, I am a straight guy. There are certain shows that I find more enjoyable than others. I have never watched October Road or What about Brian? I will admit to watching Sex And The City which may sound like it goes against my stated tastes but I watched primarily in hopes that Cynthia Nixon would show off her goodies, something that happened far too infrequently to be really tolerable. I had to settle for Kim Catrall getting her clothes off in just about every episode. Does it hurt my "man-cred" to say that after a while (a very long while) seeing Kim's boobs and ass and whatever else HBO let her expose got sort of boring? One thing is for sure, I never ever watched for Sarah Jessica Parker. Frankly I could care less about Carrie Bradshaw and Big; for me Chris Noth will always be Detective Mike Logan not the guy who was the obsession of a chain smoking writer. And I don't even really like Law & Order (however I am a fan of Law & Order: Criminal Intent). Now I know that whole thing sounds sexist and shallow and what have you, but I'm willing to bet that if you asked most straight guys who watched Sex And The City they'd give you similar reasons for watching.

I'm getting off track here. I'm supposed to be telling you what I thought about Cashmere Mafia. The thing is that the two shows share a lot in common. Sex And The City was about four best friends who were in influential positions in New York City. It was about their lives and loves and about the fact that when you're a woman and have a best friend she's there to hold your hair when you throw up, and presumably that that's more than you can say for any man except the right one. Cashmere Mafia is about four best friends who are in influential positions in New York City. It's about their lives and their loves and the bond that they share that is bigger than anything that they could share with a man except maybe the right man and even then probably not. I think you're beginning to see a pattern here. Now Cashmere Mafia doesn't have the nudity and frequently dropped "F-bombs" that Sex And The City did but after all this is broadcast television. No vomiting and hair holding yet either, but it is only the second episode.

So who are these women and (almost as important) who do they match up with in Sex And The City. First up there's Mia Mason (Lucy Liu), who probably matches up with Carrie. She's just become the big boss at a major publishing company. All it has cost her was her relationship with her boyfriend in the first episode. He proposed to her at the start of that episode, was pitted against her in a competition to get the big job (and lost), and at the end of the episode decided that she wanted a more traditional wife. I'm just guessing but he probably wouldn't have been as quick to dump her if he had the corner office and she was his underling. Then there's Caitlin Dowd (Bonnie Sommerville). I'd say that Caitlin is this show's answer to Miranda. Like Miranda she's absolutely focused in her work life – she's in advertising while Miranda was a lawyer – but she's confused and almost neurotic in her personal life. Of course Caitlin's confusion is a bit deeper than Miranda's – she finds herself attracted to another woman for the first time ever (Alicia, played by Lourdes Benedicto) which naturally enough comes as a surprise after thirty some years. Zoe Burden (Frances O'Connor) is this show's answer to Charlotte. She's a working mother of two kids who are in a tony private elementary school, totally devoted to them and her stay at home architect husband Eric (Julian Ovenden) and is trying to balance work and home, with less than perfect results. In other words she's trying to have it all. Finally we have Juliet Draper (Miranda Otto). She had it all – or thought she did. Then she found out that her husband Davis (Peter Hermann) is not just having an affair (he'd had them before but kept them tastefully out of town) but was having an affair with someone they both knew. At a black tie event she told him that her revenge would be to have an affair of her own with one of the men in that room.

So there you have the set up. The second episode, which is in most shows is probably closer to what the series as a whole is going to be like, went something like this. As in the first episode there were four story lines that came together because of the relationship between the women. I just wish that most of the individual stories weren't absolutely trite. Take Mia's for example. Having won the big job with the corner office at the expense of her personal life, the big boss tells here she has to find new creative director, which means firing the existing creative director who just happens to be the guy who'd first hired her for the company. Naturally she puts it off and puts it off and then manages to fire him in the most public and embarrassing (to her) manner possible. It sounds familiar because it is – I had seen exactly the same storyline in an episode of How I Met Your Mother a couple of weeks ago, and it was old and trite then (but funnier than when Lucy Liu did it). Caitlin's story was almost as bad. The core of it was that she decided to explore her feelings for Alicia by going out on a date with her only to be accosted by a former (male) lover just when they were sharing a hot kiss. Caitlin's embarrassment at the situation and not immediately blowing the guy off somehow drove Alicia off. This in turn led to a reconciliation in which Caitlin admitted that she sucked at relationships but was ready to try with Alicia. About the only thing new about this story line was that Alicia turned around and told Caitlin that they weren't at the "R-word" stage yet, they hadn't even had a complete first date. And I'm not altogether sure that Sex And The City didn't try that during Samantha's involvement with a lesbian (played by Sonia Braga). Juliet's storyline was slightly more original, but only because of her circumstances. Juliet is frightened about getting a date after so long "off the market" so her friends help her out. That's standard sitcom fare and about the only thing that makes it even a little more original is that Juliet isn't divorced or widowed, she's still married to her husband – but it's the same thing because he's a cheating rat-bastard. Juliet's friends help her by picking out the man she should have her affair with (an old friend of the groups from business school and who Juliet had been attracted to back then). Caitlin gives her an extra push by livening up her look courtesy of the hair and makeup crew on an advertising shoot that Caitlin's working on. The transformation is, quite frankly, spectacular and manages to perk up her husband's interest. But Juliet seems determined on getting her "revenge" and goes to meet the man. Naturally it turns out that all those years ago he was attracted to her as she had been to him and the only thing standing in their way back then was her then boyfriend, now cheating rat-bastard husband.

About the only storyline that really showed any originality was Zoe's. She confronts the "stay at home mom from hell" who has become close with stay at home dad Eric. She seems relentless in needling Zoe about her lifestyle choice, pointing out that only three parents can go on a planned field trip with the class, implying of course that Zoe is so busy with her career that she didn't know enough to sign up weeks in advance. Even worse was when she bought Zoe a "working mom teddy bear" – complete with a Bluetooth headset – that said "not now, I'm on a conference call." It rattles Zoe, and when the woman suggests that she and her husband get together with Zoe and Eric for dinner in a few days, Zoe feels pressured to agree. It turns out to be a ruse – the woman's husband is away on business and just Zoe is arriving – late – the seemingly staid stay at home mom propositions Eric. Once Zoe sits down the woman tells Eric that she wants her him to design a new kitchen for her (and the suggestion of coverage in Architectural Digest as a sweetener to get Eric to accept), as cover. Once they get home, Eric makes it clear to Zoe that he knew exactly what was going on and that unlike Juliet's husband Davis, he wasn't interested in fooling around with another woman. The next day before the field trip Zoe makes her victory complete (her triumph included the other excluded parents and a Grey Lines double decker touring bus and the words "not now, I'm on a conference call."). The storyline isn't that original really, the harried working woman faced with a threat to her marriage from someone who doesn't spend all of their time working, that is seemingly in her imagination but which turns out to be all too real, but there is something about the way that the character triumphs that somehow brings something new to the table.

As you can tell, I was less than impressed with this whole thing. It isn't the acting; for the most part it seems quite good based on what they're given to work with. Lucy Liu has more than a little comedic ability of course, and I was quite taken with Frances O'Connor. Miranda Otto was of particular note when she was transformed from the "ice queen" who was trying marriage counselling with her husband Davis, to the newly revealed "hot babe" ready for vengeance sex and capable of attracting not only a prospective lover but also the wandering eye of her husband. The only one I really felt ambivalent about was Bonnie Sommerville. I just don't feel anything special about her.

No, the discontent I'm feeling is that this whole show just feels like a retread of other things. Darren Starr seems to be quite blatant in trying to create a broadcast-friendly version of Sex And The City, right down to giving the women a regular hangout table in a bar. (That location, one of the few time all four were physically together in the episode, had a couple of cute moments; when the three were trying to pick out a lover for Juliet, and Caitlin revealing her possible change in orientation which led to Mia and Zoe revealing their own experimentation with same sex sex.) I could probably accept that, but what I have too much difficulty in accepting is the way in which the storylines seemed recycled. There seemed to be little or no attempt, depending on the storyline, to turn those elements into something with even the vaguest hint of originality. In truth I expected something better from Darren Starr. From now on I think I'll stick to CSI: New York. But then I may be missing something – after all I'm someone who pees standing up, whose preference in porn features breasts not abs.

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