September 26, 2008

Lipstick Jungle


Everything you need to know about...


Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell, US network NBC's seven-part comedy- drama Lipstick Jungle began on Monday night on Living. It follows the lives of three career-driven women who are willing to do what others won't to get ahead in business. Wendy, Victory and Nico are already listed among New York's 50 most powerful businesswomen, but our girls didn't get where they are today by sitting back and admiring the view. Hell, no: with lunch to be picked at and an assistant to hold all calls, they're only just getting started.


Brooke Shields plays Wendy with typical charm, leading her character effortlessly back and forth between fraught mom and ditzy (yet brilliant) movie executive. Lindsay Price, a Californian 11 years Shields's junior, boasts perfect features and monstrous heels as the absurdly named Victory Ford. However, the strongest showing comes from Kim Raver (Audrey Raines from 24), whose Nico is the sharpest, yet most vulnerable, of the trio. Man-wise, Andrew McCarthy (yes, that Andrew McCarthy, the former Brat Pack heart- throb), who plays Vic's suitor, is most intriguing. He's Mr Big 2.0, tracking down the foxy designer via Google and regularly opting for IT smart-casual over Wall Street chic.


As a glossy drama, Lipstick takes a while to get going, but eventually finds its stride once we begin to invest in the well- constructed female characters. However, in their quest to make us care, we are left short-changed on the comedy front. Despite the best efforts of the leading women, Lipstick suffers from dialogue that is at best clunky, and at worst toe-curlingly inane. There's a huge surplus of lines in the "don't let them get to you, you're so talented" vein. This leaves us with plenty of hugs, but a dramatic shortfall of sassy put-downs that we might have expected from Bushnell. Then there's the man trouble: while a little boy-bashing could be expected, did all the other halves need to be so flimsy? Wendy's and Nico's husbands lament their career shortcomings, while filthy-rich Joe charms Victory with modest observations such as: "My time is worth about $5,000 a minute."


Just as the Spice Girls gave rise to All Saints, Girls Aloud and The Sugababes, so too have the American television networks sought to pounce on thumb-twiddling ex-SATC viewers. And along with Cashmere Mafia, ABC's take on three thirtysomething New York career girls, Lipstick fails all too often to raise a smile.

The length of the episodes (just under 50 minutes without advertisements) requires substantial plotlines, and this acts to its detriment. Sex and the City benefited from its bitesize duration, allowing potentially weighty issues to be discarded with a cheeky quip from Samantha or a flash of Carrie's PowerBook.

We occasionally wondered how Ms Bradshaw afforded a wardrobe stuffed with $30,000 worth of Oscar de la Renta, but we seldom yearned to see more of her in bread-winning office mode. This is how we find Wendy, Victory and Nico for a decent chunk of episode one - more realistic, perhaps, but is that really where viewers' interest lies?

Mr Big, Harry, Steve and the rest of the men in Sex and the City catered for a diverse audience, but it is hard to see viewers bonding similarly with Joe, Shane and Charles/Kirby. If Shane is the new Steve he is eminently more chippy about his wife's success, and therefore less likeable. Big was a fearful bounder, but you wouldn't have caught him trawling online for dates, nor prattling on and on about his obscene wealth. Not only is Joe grotesquely flash with the cash, he's even cowardly enough to get his assistant to ask Vic, having sourced her from the web himself.


When the show aired in America this year, the critical reception was lukewarm at best. The positive voices proclaimed it fluffy, soapy, and watchable, and The Wall Street Journal said it "has some good things going for it, including actresses in roles that call for slightly more maturity than we're accustomed to." However, The New York Times was less forgiving, calling it a "wooden clog of melodrama squeezed into a flimsy, satin and marabou mule". Written by Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline, the show has done enough in the US to warrant a second series. It remains to be seen how badly British viewers need their lipstick fix.

The cast

Wendy Healy (Brooke Shields)

Occupation: President of major film studio Parador Pictures; spends her days hard-balling Leonardo DiCaprio and firing rogue directors whilst still finding time to play mom. English husband Shane feels overshadowed by her status as New York's most powerful business woman.

Victory Ford (Lindsay Price)

Occupation: Formerly celebrated fashion designer whose latest collection has just received a critical mauling. The youngest of the three main girls and it shows - spends most of the first episode sobbing about her career melt-down - only to be whisked off her feet by trillionaire Joe.

Nico Reilly (Kim Raver)

Occupation: Editor of high-end fashion mag 'Bonfire', Nico has her eyes on the CEO spot. She is as brisk and demanding of her work colleagues as she is caring and supportive of her friends. However, she feels physically unfulfilled by her husband and is seduced by Curby, a young assistant who appreciates her beauty and promptly rips her tights off.

(c) 2008 Independent, The; London (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.