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Can Mafia take on the Jungle?

By sriktemp

Section: Arts

February 8, 2008

Unlike their strong-willed, independent female characters, NBC’s Lipstick Jungle and ABC competitor Cashmere Mafia fail to show who’s boss.

Premiering Thursday night, Lipstick Jungle follows the lives of three female friends, as they fight to maintain their positions in a male-oriented business world. Brooke Shields is the show’s celebrity draw, playing movie studio executive Wendy Healy. She is joined by Kim Raver as ballsy magazine editor-in-chief Nico Reilly and Lindsey Price as bubbly fashion designer Victory Ford.

Based on Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell’s novel of the same name, Lipstick Jungle provides plenty of what the HBO hit had: fashion, attractive men, empowered women. However there is a twist. While Carrie Bradshaw struggled for power in the dating world and got her way at tables for two across Manhattan, Lipstick Jungle’s power players gain their victories in the boardroom.

While this distinguishes Lipstick Jungle from Sex and the City, the more pressing concern is whether it succeeds in setting itself apart from Sex and the City executive producer/writer Darren Star’s Cashmere Mafia.

There are slight differences between the two shows: Lipstick follows a trio, Cashmere a quartet; in Lipstick, one of the leading ladies cheats on her husband, in Cashmere, a main character is cheated on (even though she does swear revenge, of course). However, it is unlikely that anyone, not even the most devoted Sex and the City fan, will think these differences are significant enough to warrant following both shows.

The debate over which is the better show comes down to a trade-off and may even be a matter of which has the most episodes in the can to see the ongoing writers’ strike through. Both shows have their share of pros and cons and even have some flaws in common, such as the character of the carefree single friend.

In Lipstick Jungle, Lindsey Price’s character, Victory Ford, is the only unmarried one of the group, which apparently goes hand-in-hand with insecure and wimpy. While the pilot episode shows both Wendy and Niko successfully defending themselves and their careers, Victory is bombarded with bad reviews of her fashion show, which leave her shrieking and weeping on the couch.

Victory’s Cashmere Mafia counterpart is cosmetic company marketing executive Caitlin Dowd, who has passed through a series of quick relationships, i.e. one-night stands, finally coming to question her sexuality and whether or not she is really interested in men.

While Caitlin’s relationship with a lesbian makes for an interesting story line, it is overshadowed by Bonnie Somerville’s twittering, scatter-brained portrayal. Instead of empathizing with Caitlin, the audience finds themselves hoping that she just deal with it quietly.

However, both shows also bring new actresses to the small screen. Cashmere Mafia’s Juliet Draper, the Chief Operating Officer for a major hotel chain is played by Miranda Otto, who up until now is probably best remembered for her performance as Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Co-star Francis O’Connor, who has been in a range of films from The Importance of Being Earnest to Brendan Fraser flop Bedazzled, also stands out as investment banker Zoe Burden. What these two actresses bring to the screen is the collected, yet fierce nature expected of their businesswoman characters, as opposed to the lack of confidence and maturity epitomized by Caitlin or Lipstick Jungle’s Victory.

This injection of fresh actresses is not enough however to distinguish Cashmere Mafia from Lipstick Jungle. While one show about women trying to push aside society’s male breadwinner model on their way to the top may prove interesting, two shows on the same topic is downright redundant.

Only time will tell which of these shows will come out on top. However, once the writers’ strike ends and the TV networks can afford to cut lagging shows from their line-up, one of these will surely meet its demise. After all, as these shows prove, even two can be a crowd.

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