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Finely made women in 'Cashmere'

January 05, 2008|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

Say what you will about the "Enjoli" campiness of some of the ads, but I defy anyone to speak slightingly about the cast of "Cashmere Mafia," a female foursome so formidable that two of them are Australian. Not the characters, which are straight-up American power babes, but the women who play them prove once again that limited opportunities for female leads in film are a tremendous boon for television.

There's Miranda Otto, so regal and moving as Eowyn in "The Lord of the Rings" movies, alongside fellow Aussie Frances O'Connor, who has starred in such high-end fare as "Madame Bovary" and "Mansfield Park." There's Lucy Liu, who needs no formal introduction, shoulder to shoulder with Bonnie Somerville, formerly of "NYPD Blue" and "The O.C."

Together, they play four high-functioning, A-list New York career gals who look like supermodels, talk like society dames and still manage to find loads of time for girl bonding. "Sex and the City" meets Edith Wharton by way of "The Devil Wears Prada." Got all that? Actually, you might want to have a notebook handy, not to mention a Valium; while the ABC dramedy is entertaining, it's not exactly relaxing. Watching these gals wield their cellphones, BlackBerries and personal assistants like light-sabers has much the same effect on the nervous system as a triple-shot, low-fat, no-foam cappuccino -- you may be up for hours.

Which doesn't mean they aren't human. Of course they are, and that's where all the fun is. Liu's character Mia, for instance, has just become engaged to her fellow magazine bigwig, only to be pitted against him in a race for publisher. You know, the typical personal versus professional tug of war so many of us face. Otto's Juliet Draper is the CEO/philanthropist with the perfect husband -- ha! Zoe (O'Connor) takes on the Power Mommy dilemma, complete with her own personal nemesis, a stay-at-home mother with eyes toward Zoe's husband -- this devil wears a velvet tracksuit -- while hot young designer Caitlin (Somerville) is wondering if maybe the reason she can't seem to find a boyfriend is because she doesn't really like boys.

Have we got all the psycho-emotional bases covered? Well, no one seems to have a brother or sister in Iraq, but otherwise yes, we do.

Creator Kevin Wade ("Working Girl") and executive producer Darren Star ("Sex and the City," "Melrose Place") are obviously trying to explore all the multitasking, power-sharing, guilt-juggling issues the modern working woman faces but without any of the dreary, suburban, Payless-shopping reality. These women are rich and fabulous, their clothes couture, their hair exquisite, their upper arms toned so beautifully they go sleeveless in winter. They are aspirational marketing made flesh, the women whom magazine editors and ad reps all think so many of us want to be. And if we all keep our wits about us, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Because it's fun to watch the rich and mighty stumble and scheme, which novelists as diverse as William Thackeray and Judith Krantz have long known. In the first two episodes at least, the quality of the acting and the writing brings depth to what could so easily be the fetid shallows of life issues of the rich and famous. Clearly, "Cashmere" is supposed to be a "Sex and the City" all grown up, though its subtext -- women still must juggle career and real life in ways that men do not -- is a bit weightier than the revelation that women like all sorts of sex, and talk about it, often in alarming detail. The idea that a woman can trust only her girlfriends is a bit more disturbing among women approaching 40 when, one hopes, mates and at least a few colleagues would not be adversarial, but in a world where the film box office is dominated by "Enchanted," which celebrates a woman so retro she is literally a cartoon character, who are we to argue?

All is forgiven by keeping in mind that "Cashmere Mafia" is not social satire or even social commentary, but pure social fantasy. Wouldn't it be nice if you and your best girlfriends from college (or, in this case, business school) all rose high and mighty together yet stayed popcorn-night close? Wouldn't it be great to whistle up solutions to every problem by speaking short declarative sentences into a cellphone, then snapping it shut with a satisfied smile? Wouldn't it be terrific to always find restaurant-front parking and instantly appearing cabs, even in Manhattan? You bet it would.

Of course, anyone even approaching the level of ambition embodied in "Cashmere" won't be watching -- none of this fab four so much as glances at a television or a newspaper because, my dear, who has the time? So there is the added bonus of feeling free to shake our heads at women so driven they don't even understand the curative nature of watching such a sprinkle-coated cupcake of a show like "Cashmere Mafia" just to see if it goes anywhere interesting.

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