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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
CASHMERE MAFIA (ABC)
(Tuesdays at 9:00/8:00c this January)
The network's description: "Four ambitious and sexy women, who've been best friends since business school, try to balance their glamorous and demanding careers with their complex personal lives in the city that never sleeps. They've created their own "boys club" to protect each other and discuss their ups and downs as they try to have it all. What good is it to break the glass ceiling without girlfriends to share in your success?"
What did they leave out: It's the other "Sex and the City" knock off.
The plot in a nutshell: Meet Caitlin, Zoe, Juliet and Mia - four New Yorkers at the top of their respective professions and best friends since they met at Columbia Business School 15 years ago (or at least, so says our narrator Mia). Zoe (Frances O'Connor) is the youngest managing director at her investment firm and has the perfect, good guy husband in Eric (Julian Ovenden); Juliet (Miranda Otto) is a "goddess of gracious living" as part of her job as COO of a swanky hotel/resort empire; Caitlin (Bonnie Somerville) is a marketing guru working for a cosmetics giant; and Mia (Lucy Liu) is the beautiful tomboy amongst the boys' club that is the media buying business. But as you might have guessed, along with their beauty and success comes their various challenges: Zoe's protege at work Katherine (Kate Levering) is sleeping her way ahead of her; Juliet's daughter (Addison Timlin) hates her while her husband Davis (Peter Hermann) is always distracted by work; Caitlin is unlucky with men, but finds a spark with an unlikely source (Lourdes Benedicto); and Zoe finds her co-worker/boyfriend Richard (Timothy Adams) isn't as cool with playing second fiddle to her success as she thought. Thankfully they have each other to lean on, using their weekly lunches at Max's (Brian d'Arcy James) to collect their thoughts and strategize for the week ahead. It's also where they earned the title "Cashmere Mafia," due to the mafioso-esque way in which people approach them for favors and guidance. Such is the case for Cilla Grey (Noelle Beck), who's hoping a phone call from Caitlin will move along her stalled condo board application. Unbeknownst to them however, Cilla's also having an affair with Davis - a fact soon uncovered by Zoe. She takes the news to Mia and Caitlin whom together decide to tell Juliet. Much to their surprise however, Juliet says it's not Davis's first dalliance, just his first so close to home. This leads to Juliet's sure-to-be-quoted "big speech" about the perilous lifestyle successful women lead, that they rise faster and higher than the men in their lives but with that success comes a shattering of the image the men (whether they admit it or not) grew up with about what a woman should be. Nonetheless, Juliet doesn't take the news laying down and decides to rock Davis's world during a benefit dinner. In the end, the girls make their respective peaces with their predicaments - for better or worse.
What works: Believe it or not, the less like "Sex and the City" the show is - the better it works. "Mafia's" interesting - albeit-slightly-heavy-handed - message at the core of the show gives it a surprisingly richer context than the "beautiful women/clothes/guys in New York" label one will no doubt approach it with. Helping matters is a well-rounded cast, the relationships of which feel more organic than plot driven. Leading the charge are O'Connor and Ovenden, who have a lovely, natural feel about them. One scene in particular, in which Eric turns down a solicited affair (in the form of "What About Brian's" Krista Allen), proves to be sweetly touching without feeling too syrupy. The same goes for Otto, who makes us feel both sorry for and proud of the betrayed Juliet at the same time. Plus there are some solidly funny moments - whether it be a group of men unwisely mistaking Juliet as a low ranking executive or Katherine almost breaking her heel after storming away from Zoe.
What doesn't: On the flip side, the more the show is like "Sex and the City" - the less it works. From its far too obvious opening shot (four women in high dollar gear walking toward the camera, I wonder where that's from?) to Mia's all-knowing narration, all of said elements prove to be distracting and annoying - if only because they take away from what works about the show. The same goes for its far-too-obvious soundtrack, which literally spells out what's happening on screen - "You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman" during Caitlin's first lesbian kiss, "Irreplaceable" during Zoe's discovery of Davis's affair and "Under Pressure" when, hmmm... I wonder where? It's these type of things that undercut the show, just when it starts to work. All in all however, "Mafia" tends to shine past its more egregious moments, rather than be drowned out by them.
The bottom line: It's definitely one I'm on the fence about but it definitely also has the potential to become more than a "Sex" knock off.