Tonight, NBC debuts Lipstick Jungle, its entrant in TV’s burgeoning story-about-rich-and- powerful-women-in-Manhattan-from-someone -associated-with-Sex-and-the-City genre. ABC’s Cashmere Mafia came from SATC producer Darren Star; Lipstick was created by Candace Bushnell, who wrote the column SATC was based on, and wrote the book Lipstick is based on. (Cashmere just-coincidentally-happened to get scheduled on ABC after NBC signed a deal for Lipstick, a fact that Bushnell is none too amused with.)
In the issue of Time that comes out tomorrow I have a longish piece on the two shows, and how–in their very soapy ways–they raise some of the same issues about women and power that the Clinton campaign has people jawboning over. (Biggest challenge: making sure I didn’t type “Cashmere Jungle” or “Lipstick Mafia.”) Comparing the two, I like Lipstick much better–not a high bar, granted, because I think Cashmere is laughably bad and one-dimensional, but still.
Lipstick has its own problems: its storylines are a little predictable, and as I wrote in my story, as with Cashmere it is sometimes a little hard to empathize with fabulously wealthy people who have problems like, “My nanny just wrote an embarrassing roman-a-clef about me!” Both shows expect you to care about and identify with their characters than do straight-ahead soaps–where we follow the troubles of rich people for the schadenfreude–and that can be a reach.
Lipstick has a great edge in its performances, though (especially Brooke Shields as movie-executive Wendy and Kim Raver as magazine-editor Nico), and the general sophistication of its writing. To its credit, Lipstick doesn’t apologize for the fact that its characters are rich urban elites, or try to convince the audience that They’re Really Just Like You. Cashmere Mafia’s idea of wealthy New York is a sort of generic rich-people milieu; Lipstick’s feels more specifically Manhattan, which makes it more in the tradition of SATC.
But its other strength is that–especially as it goes on–it’s not trying to be the next SATC, a trap the networks have fallen into too often with duds like Leap of Faith. Or rather, it’s SATC, but ten years or so later–with women who are not aspiring but already have money, big careers and in some cases husbands and kids. Their stakes are higher, which means that necessarily the show is a darker kind of escapism–though still funny, and with fabulous shoes.
The fact that Lipstick isn’t trying to remake SATC (though NBC’s marketing department would like you to think so) maybe makes it less of a liability that it’s nowhere near as good as SATC. Still, after seeing three episodes, I plan to watch a fourth. Of course, I don’t exactly have the chromosome pairing of Lipstick Jungle’s target audience, so I don’t know if that’s a good sign for the show or not. Can it play to its base?