By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 5, 2008
It's been four years since the gals of "Sex and the City" slipped on their last pair of Manolo Blahniks and downed their final cosmopolitans, but Hollywood still can't get over its "Sex" obsession.
"Cashmere Mafia," premiering tomorrow night on ABC, is the latest network series to try, and fail, to replicate the charm of that brilliant HBO series.
The list is long, but some of the canceled copycats have included "Hot Properties" and "Emily's Reasons Why Not" on ABC and "The Bad Girl's Guide" on the now-defunct UPN. Let's hope "Cashmere" meets a similar, swift fate.
Producer Darren Star, who brought "Sex and the City" to HBO, created "Cashmere," so you'd think he could make this work.
But no. The show centers on four high-powered executives and best friends trying to juggle their high-paying, stressful jobs and often-complicated social lives. Watching the characters interact in tomorrow night's pilot episode reminds us of one very important thing that made the characters on "Sex and the City" so fun to watch.
The characters of "Cashmere" are utterly lacking in that quality, and it's not long before their self-absorption and selfishness become unbearable.
There's Mia (Lucy Liu), a publishing executive who is up for the same job as her fiance and engages in a nasty week-long power struggle to make sure she wins. Zoe (Frances O'Connor) is a mother of two who's brokering big financial transactions and dealing with the loss of a nanny. Juliet (Miranda Otto), probably the most insufferable of the group, is a hotel chain executive who is also dealing with a philandering husband.
Only Caitlin (Bonnie Somerville) demonstrates some humanity -- in a side story that has her dealing with her own sexuality.
If these women were pure villains, in the vein of Glenn Close's riveting character on FX's "Damages," the show could have had a certain viperous appeal. But that never materializes. And attempts by the writers and producers to give the characters warmth and humor are dashed by clunky dialogue and cliches.
"That whole having-it-all thing? I think it's a crock," laments Zoe in one of "Cashmere's" many cliches.
There's also a nothing-new-to-see-here feel to the hour-long drama about women in the workplace. A highly improbable scene early on features some thuggish businessmen mistaking Juliet for the gal who fetches their coffee, not knowing that she's the COO.
We've seen this scene before.
There's certainly nothing wrong with a series that portrays four women on top -- it's overdue, in fact. It's just that these characters are so over-the-top with their BlackBerry fiddling and power statements ("Go big or go home!" says Zoe) that it's hard to like them.
Even ABC's underrated drama series "Big Shots," about four male executives, gives its characters some depth.
The search for a successful "Sex and the City" successor continues next month with "Lipstick Jungle," which was created by Candace Bushnell, the writer whose columns inspired "Sex and the City." (Star and Bushnell, who were once close, are reportedly at odds because Bushnell felt blindsided when she learned that Star had developed "Cashmere" while she was working on "Lipstick.")
Let's hope that Bushnell's "Jungle" is a more pleasant place to visit than Star's new planet.
Cashmere Mafia (one hour) premieres tomorrow night at 10 on Channel 7 and moves to its regular time slot Wednesday at 10.