Friday, February 08, 2008

Lipstick Cashmere Jungle Mafia: A Comparison

PhotobucketWe now have not one but two series about accomplished women navigating the high-end social and professional worlds of Manhattan. Thank goodness Lipstick Jungle and Cashmere Mafia aren't on opposite each other. But if you've only got an hour a week to devote to TV fluff, what to do?

Rather than do a dry point-by-point recap of another episode of Cashmere Mafia I'm going to take the suggestion of our editor-in-chief and put the show up against NBC's Lipstick Jungle, which premiered last night. The shows have plenty of superficial similarities, but different visions of what it's like to be a woman in a fast-moving, mostly male world.

For a Lipstick Jungle roll call, let's start with Wendy (Brooke Shields). Wendy is a movie studio exec whose duties include trying to prevent Leonardo DiCaprio from taking a role with a competing studio and firing a director who has made the hero of his hetero romantic comedy gay. At home, Wendy's husband (Paul Blackthorne) is trying to get a restaurant project going and dealing with some issues about being less famous than his wife. Nico (Kim Raver) works in magazine publishing, she's competing with a male colleague for a promotion and dealing with a boss (Julian Sands) afraid women he puts in power jobs will leave for motherhood. Nico is married to an tweedy academic who seems to have wandered in from another show; no wonder her head is turned by the younger Kirby (Robert Buckley)Fashion designer Victory (Lindsay Price)has a collection flop with potentially disastrous consequences. Consolation arrives in the form of a billionaire (Andrew McCarthy) who may have more to him than first impressions indicate.

The women of Cashmere Mafia have their troubles, but to varying degrees they're all settled in at work. After Mia (Lucy Liu) lands a promotion over her fiance in the pilot, there isn't much at stake over what will happen to any of the characters professionally. I still don't understand what Frances O'Connor's character does, but she makes deals and has her own driver. Wendy, Nico, and Victory appear to have won some respect on the job, but are one ambitious male colleague away from professional reversal. (Or in Victory's case one rival designer)

On the home front, the Cashmere marriage of O'Connor's Zoe to Eric (Julian Ovenden) feels the most lived-in. Lipstick is mining the same territory with Wendy; both marriages involve Type-A partners having a genuinely hard time balancing career, family, and who's the breadwinner issues. Nico's affair with Kirby is born out of genuine sexual frustration; far superior to the Cashmere plotline in which Juliet (Miranda Otto) tries to get revenge on her husband by arranging an aborted hookup with an old business school classmate. That story arc took too long to unfold and felt emotionally hollow.

The one area in which I give a clear edge to Cashmere Mafia is dialogue. No, Aaron Sorkin isn't writing either of these shows. But the Lipstick ladies are too often in a binary state; either struggling for purchase at work or speaking in blunt, position-paper sentences about how women are held to a different standard in the workplace. This may be a situation that will be improve in subsequent episodes, but Cashmere prefers to make its points through behavior as opposed to talking.

The verdict: I'm giving a slight edge to Cashmere Mafia, but more exposure to Lipstick Jungle could change my mind.


Todd said...

I didn't really like EITHER show, but one thing I'm troubled by in today's TV world is the sort of blatant glorification of the rich, who are protectors and champions of the poor (I must admit that this becomes FAR more apparent in the second episode of Lipstick). In Dynasty, et al., the rich were campy folks to make fun of. In Dirty Sexy Money, they're campy folks with recognizably human problems (in the Donald Sutherland character's case). Here, we're expected to SYMPATHIZE with how hard it is to be rich. It's, like, no offense, ladies, but I'd take millions of dollars. I'm sure problems come with it, but it would solve others too.

TV's essential abandonment of the working class is something that's becoming more and more irritating to me. Though Friday Night Lights gets abysmal ratings, so maybe they know what they're doing.

Simon Crowe said...

To be sure, I'm not making a strong case for either show as great. You're correct to point out that having so much money might be presented as a little more fun. I suspect Lipstick Jungle will turn out to be the slightly better show in time....

trace said...

I agree with both of you that money does not suck. Who do these shows think they're fooling? If anything, it enables you to cope with the overbearing boss, the cheating husband and the ever-confusing sexuality. Imagine having lesbian flings while being broke. As if. What irks me most about both of these shows is the complete rip off that they are of Sex and the City. Is Darren Star really okay with simply renaming a show and chucking it back on the air? My girlfriend favors Cashmere, and so I must, but at least once an episode I shout something profane regarding how much I miss Samantha's crassness and nudity. There, I said it. Network television just can't do justice to this type of show.