While watching “Mistresses,” ABC’s new Monday night sheet-steamer about a quartet of women living and lusting on the edge of whatever, my mind drifted briefly to some other place. (Trust me, yours will too.)
Instead of wondering how soon Alyssa Milano’s unhappily married attorney character Savannah (“Savi” to all her pals, pronounced — ick — savvy) will fall into the arms of a hunky colleague (Jason George) at the firm, I kept thinking about how much I’ve heard the word “trash” come up lately when people talk about television’s iffy future.
When disenchanted viewers tout the virtues of on-demand streaming (and cancelling their cable or satellite services) they say it’s because they are tired of all the trash. By not being able to subscribe to networks a la carte or pay only for the kind of shows they prefer, consumers feel overwhelmed by junk on channels they detest (and detest paying for). Newfound freedom is closely related to escaping TV’s omnipresent trash. Trash, trash, trash.
“Mistresses” certainly is trashy — or an attempt at a kind of art that repurposes leftover trash. Imported from Britain and tweaked for an American market in a brain-dormant summertime run (scheduled to air after “The Bachelorette”), it’s the sort of trash that reminds us that a work should not be dismissed only for being trashy; plenty of people enjoy exactly the thing “Mistresses” offers. Adhering to the critics’ golden rule, you should judge a work by how well it’s doing the thing it’s trying to do, and not, say, against “Masterpiece Theatre.” Shonda Rhimes’s “Scandal” is the current best example of trash accomplishing exactly what it aims for and pleasing viewers in the process.
Yet so much comes down the chute now that looks and acts like “Mistresses” — a surfeit of glossy little passion plays about women in their late 30s or early 40s wearing designer heels and committing designer adultery. These shows add little to the genre, except to offer more unnecessary proof that no matter how sleek and clean your kitchen is, there must always be some unhappiness downstairs.
Milano’s Savi and her restaurateur husband (Brett Tucker) are busy with the sorry task of trying to conceive a little too close to their sell-by date. When a doctor tells them her ovaries are fine but his sperm lacks oomph, he sulks; it’s all but fated she’ll have an affair. And because “Mistresses” transacts entirely in plots that even your dog can guess, it won’t be long before savvy Savi is buying a home-pregnancy test.
That’s why you gotta have friends: Savi’s include a therapist named Karen (“Lost’s” Yunjin Kim, pathetically miscast here) who unwisely helped a terminally ill (but still hunky!) patient work through the acceptance stage by having an affair with him and supplying him with hastening meds; now she’s dallying around with his grieving son.
Another friend, April (Rochelle Aytes), is a widow who owns a fancy pillow boutique and is thinking about dating again when she discovers that her perfect husband secretly fathered a love child. And Savi’s younger sister, Josslyn (Jes Macallan) is a sexual libertine who sells high-end real estate. Frankly, I’ve already forgotten what Josslyn’s crises are, but I know she has some.
And there you have the real problem. When it’s working, trash shouldn’t just sit there like this. It should be memorable (even memorably awful could suffice). “Mistresses” is more vaporous than vapid; its meticulously styled sex scenes wind up seeming antiseptically dispassionate and too serious by half. The story “Mistresses” is selling — giving into shameful temptations — is far less convincing than the ads for milk chocolate that will probably accompany it. Some trash tries very hard but still deserves the curb.
(one hour) premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on ABC.