What kind of sex problem would you have if you were on Mistresses (the “provocative and thrilling” new summer drama that premiered on ABC last night)? Right now there’s a lawyer with a hot Aussie chef husband who’s having trouble conceiving, a widowed shabby-chic shop owner mom whose dead husband’s ghost (OR IS IT) is trying to keep her from dating, the slutty one who doesn’t want to be her boss’s kept woman and who actually has the line “I’m a free spirit,” and a shrink who had been shtupping her now-dead client and is probably going to shtup her now-dead client’s teenage son. This may seem like four sets of problems, but there are also four sets of solutions. The shrink can be your confidant once you start cheating on your husband and his sad, malformed sperm. The childless lawyer can give legal advice, should you be investigated for malpractice by dosing your now-deceased lover with a shit-ton of morphine. The slutty one can cover you in glitter. The shabby-chic one can sell you a throw pillow.
This show can’t have a blogger, otherwise it just becomes Sex and the City, so I guess if I were a part of their crew I’d want to be a hacker who can find and delete errant incriminating sexts and naked pics for my gal pals once they’ve broken it off with their married lovers. Or maybe I’d be the secret genius billionaire developer of Shagga, the sex app that Joslyn, the slutty one (Jes Macallan), swears by. Every one of the Mistresses is part instigator, part enabler, part expert, and they all work together to create and solve sexy crimes. It would make for a great tabletop RPG.
It’s easy to make a Desperate Housewives comparison to Mistresses — it’s just as death-obsessed and the houses are just as improbable — but since it’s a summer show, creator K.J. Steinberg (who adapted it from a British show of the same name) just took out all the boring parts about motherhood and neighborhood politics and left in all the sex. The result is kind of a Crash of infidelity. In every scene, people get together and talk about who they’re cheating on, or the pitfalls of being the other woman, or who they’re looking to sex next. They also talk about their jobs (all four Mistresses are gainfully employed, so there’s something to be said for that), but mostly as they pertain to their sex lives. The exception is April, the widowed mom (Rochelle Aytes), but — spoiler alert — in the pilot’s last moments it’s revealed that her husband had a kid with another woman before he died. (She’s still the most boring character, and her would-be suitor is so hell-bent on proving how awkward and vulnerable and “not good at this whole dating thing” he is that even though we don’t know what he does for work I figured he had to be a comedian.)
At first I was a little disappointed that Yunjin Kim seemed to have been saddled with the least-sexy story line (she’s the shrink with the dead client) because it’s sort of exciting anytime an Asian actress gets to have a sizable role on a frothy prime-time soap like this. She has one postcoital scene with her patient Thomas before he dies of cancer, in which they engage in some truly amazing fireside pillow talk:
Karen: You’re shivering. Are you cold?
Thomas: No, I’m fine. In fact, I think dying is the best thing that will ever happen to me. [!!!!!!!]
[Karen starts crying.]
Thomas: Do you love me, Karen?
Karen: Yes, I do.
Thomas: Then when it’s time, will you help me die?
I mean, I’ve heard of la petite mort, but this is ridiculous! Karen’s plot seemed to be headed for a lot of sad baths and psychoanalysis, but it got a lot better when Thomas’s son, who is doing his best Ryan Phillippe in Cruel Intentions impression, starts falling in love with her. Most of Mistresses is about the central four women being solicited for sex directly or indirectly every waking hour (there is no unrequited love; that’s one of the perks of being a Mistress), so the only way it’s actually exciting is when the solicitor is half the woman’s age, or, in Joslyn’s case, A CUTE LESBIAN PLAYED BY SHANNYN SOSSAMON! (Sorry, I buried the lede there, I know.)
Alyssa Milano is the ostensible star of the show, the biggest name among the four leads, and the one most noticeably pushing 40. She calls herself an old lady, but she’s still sexually viable — it’s her husband who is biologically not up to the task of reproduction (and who is definitely sleeping with the busty hostess at his restaurant). It seems particularly British to have a show about four women nearing their forties and still ready and rarin’ for sexual escapades with nary a cougar joke in sight. Maybe I watched too much of the British Skins, where all the parents were horny, irresponsible rabbits with very little interest in parenting. Joslyn is supposed to be younger than the others (and Alyssa Milano’s sister, I think?), but Macallan, the actress who plays her, is the only one of the four whose date of birth has been mysteriously wiped from the Internet. Even if there are starting to be more roles in Hollywood for women over 30, that’s probably little consolation for a TV actress celebrating her 32nd birthday.
It’s commendable that Mistresses has a multicultural, non-twentysomething set of leads being promoted as sex symbols, but the season premiere got a measly 1.2 million viewers in the 18-to-49 demo, so this will probably be a fluke. Though superficially it seemed like a logical show to run after The Bachelorette, the title was probably a tawdry turnoff for its marriage-and-family-values-obsessed core audience, who are interested in watching a female heroine be inundated by suitors as long as she’s in her mid-twenties and is very judicious about who she lets into her fantasy suite. Des Hartsock is alone in a sea of men, with only Chris Harrison for a confidant, cut off from any female support. And this time after that (mostly) chaste process is over, there will be no after-party. The Bachelor Pad is shuttered, and I’m pretty sure the Mistresses will be asked to move out as well.