Yunjin Kim and John Schneider in "Mistresses." (Danny Feld / ABC )
ABC's new nighttime soap "Mistresses," which premieres Monday, is pretty much what we've come to expect from any Americanized version of a British television show that isn't "The Office": lame.
The BBC version, which debuted here in 2009, was the fairly ridiculous tale of a quartet of female besties, each involved in some manner of semi-illicit romantic intrigue or other — a U.K. and middle-aged "Sex and the City," elevated by a willingness to conjure mood and the inevitable Very Fine British Acting.
Creator K.J. Steinberg, grasping the letter yet not the spirit of the thing, appears more interested in replicating plot from the British version rather than character or anything like nuance. With the exception of Jes Macallan, who infuses her free-spirited (i.e. promiscuous) character with humor and a disarming lack of guile, the actors here seem trapped in cardboard boxes created by the writers, the costume designer and the hair and makeup department.
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This would seem a shame, except the plot of "Mistresses" is so absurd and at times offensive that by the end of the first episode it's difficult not to hope for an early demise so these four women can be released to find better shows.
Alyssa Milano, late of "Charmed," plays Savannah, an overcontrolling but still caring attorney who is scheduling sex with her dreamy restaurateur husband in hopes of making a baby. Josslyn (Macallan) is her mirror-opposite sister, a real estate agent whose specialty appears to be intercourse on uncomfortable surfaces — cluttered desks, stainless steel sinks — and a disdain for commitment.
April (Rochelle Aytes) is the grieving widow/single mom everyone is trying to get back in the game and Karen ("Lost's" Yunjin Kim) the shrink who appears to have it all together but who is actually mourning an affair she had with a patient who recently died of cancer.
Although none of them are mistresses in the traditional sense, complications arise, fleet and flat-footed. After a flare-up with her infertility-challenged husband, Alyssa finds solace with a co-worker, while Josslyn, drawn to a client, begins reconsidering her sexual choices. April learns that her beloved husband was not all he seemed, and Karen, for no reason save that it's in the script, becomes involved with her dead lover's son.
Despite having high-power careers, not to mention the logistical concerns of secretive romantic narratives, the women never violate the basic principle of womance TV: Drop everything the moment a friend calls. After each major plot point, everyone finds time to share with all three of her friends.
Oh, the coffees they have and the glasses of wine, not to mention the long moments in solitary and often anguished reflection. That mature women can make the sort of choices and mistakes usually ascribed to youth is a refreshing premise, but "Mistresses" is too concerned with seeming rather than being.
Heavy on the aspirational interiors and revelatory ensembles — after Savannah's dutiful visit to the fancy lingerie shop leads her to adultery, she attempts to regain control by yanking her hair back into a quite unforgiving bun — "Mistresses" plays more like an article in a glossy women's magazine than a television show: "Eight Ways to Tell Your Friend She's Making a Mistake Without Judging Her and What to Wear While Doing It."
When: 10 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-DS (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and sex)
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