The Complete Series
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Reviewed by Will Harris
he battle between NBC’s “Lipstick Jungle” and ABC’s “Cashmere Mafia” wasn’t necessarily what you’d call an epic one, but when the two series squared off last season, it was clear that only one would end up as a victor. They were just too similar in concept. The idea of having two shows on the air simultaneously that focused on sexy, smart, and powerful women in the big city was just too much for American viewing audiences to handle, and when the smoke finally died down, the series that was left standing – i.e. the one with the highest overall ratings – was “Lipstick Jungle.” After investigating the seven episodes which make up “Cashmere Mafia: The Complete Series,” however, you may find that the viewers made a mistake.
Yes, I know, it’s so unlikely that you can’t even wrap your head around it. You’re probably also skeptical about trusting the opinion of a man when it comes to discussing the relative merits of two shows that are clearly aimed at women, but if it helps, my wife agrees with me on this matter.
It’s not so startling that both these shows would have almost identical concepts, since “Lipstick Jungle” was inspired by the novel of the same name by Candace Bushnell, who also wrote the collection of essays that was transformed into HBO’s “Sex and the City,” which was executive produced by Darren Star, who also helmed “Cashmere Mafia.” (Wow, is it just me, or was that an incredibly exhausting sentence?) The biggest difference with the characters, however, is that the gang from “Lipstick Jungle” found friendship because of their positions of power, whereas the women of “Cashmere Mafia” have been gal-pals since college. Call it a happy coincidence, but the actresses have better chemistry as well.
Mia Mason (Lucy Liu) starts off the series in competition with her fiancé, Jack Cutting (Tom Everett Scott), for the job of publisher at the Barnstead Media Group, but while she ends up winning the position in the end, it’s at the cost of her relationship with Jack. Zoe Burden (Frances O’Connor) is the Managing Director of Mergers and Acquisitions at the firm of Gorham Sutter, and she’s constantly battling to prove herself as an executive in a male-driven field while still succeeding as a wife and mother. Juliet Draper (Miranda Otto) is the COO of Stanton Hall Hotels and Resorts, but she spends just as much time dealing with her philandering husband and figuring out if she’s capable of enjoying a round of revenge sex. The final member of the foursome is Bonnie Somerville (Caitlin Dowd), the Senior VP for Marketing at Lily Parrish Cosmetics, but while we do see her at her job on occasion, the most notable thing about Bonnie is that, after spending her entire life as a heterosexual, she thinks she’s fallen in love with a woman.
Obviously, it’s a little soap operay. (A little?) But the actresses are capable, and, more importantly, the characters are likeable. You really believe that Bonnie has fallen in love with this woman, and when that storyline comes to a conclusion in the next-to-final episode, it’s clear that she’s unequivocally committed herself to this new lifestyle – even if things don’t end up working out as anticipated. Liu’s character does a lot of soul-searching after her fiancé bails on her, including accepting the accuracy of a new beau’s suggestion that she avoids dating Chinese men as a way of rebelling against her parents. When Juliet’s marriage finally reaches the point of no return, we find that this ball-busting businesswoman is just as shocked as anyone else about how cutthroat divorce proceedings can be, while Zoe’s story proves arguably the most interesting of all, providing effective looks at both home and office.
Given the glut of complete series DVDs being released nowadays, it’s probable that “Cashmere Mafia” will never really develop the kind of cult following that it deserves, but if you enjoy well-written female characters, then you should definitely check it out. Once you do, don’t be afraid to send me an E-mail, saying, “Hey, you’re right: this is better than ‘Lipstick Jungle’!” And after you’ve done that, send one to ABC and ask them why they didn’t give “Cashmere Mafia” more of a chance.
Special Features: You can generally tell how well a show’s creators felt that it succeeded by how much or little they contribute to its DVD, and never is this more evident than when it comes to complete series sets. If a creator feels that his or her work never got the love it deserved, then they’ll offer up all the time and effort in the world to providing bonus material like interviews, audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and so forth. The only bonuses included with “Cashmere Mafia,” however, are four extremely brief featurettes, each focusing on a different female cast member; they hover at about two minutes in length and were quite clearly filmed at the same time as the series itself. I’ve always gotten the impression that Darren Star was a guy who preferred to move on to his next project as quickly as possible, but his lack of contribution here is truly disappointing – much like the run of the series.