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TELEVISION REVIEW

Housewives are really desperate on `Book Club'

Oh the excruciating pleasure! Summer officially begins tonight with what may be TV's most plastic-fantastic reality show in years. Every moment of this repugnant product is absolutely precious, if you have a fetish for counterfeit emotions, Tupperware cheeks, ice-pick fingernails, and ``real women" who can cry on cue -- without spoiling their makeup.

If you like camp, if you love to hate TV's most flagrant absurdities, and if you were born without the shame gene, then you might want to try CBS's ``Tuesday Night Book Club."

Don't worry, shameless ones, the title is ironic, not a grab for the PBS and C-SPAN demographic. ``Tuesday Night Book Club," which premieres tonight at 10 on Channel 4, has nothing to do with the written word, unless we're talking Playboy Advisor , or divorce settlements. It's about a weekly gathering of seven not-so-literary women in Scottsdale, Ariz., during which they discuss their sex lives and sip wine. They're great ``friends," you see, except those who were introduced to the ``book" group by the show's producers. When the narrator tells us, ``Good friends, like good books, are well-chosen," she's probably giving a nod to the casting director.

Clearly, someone used the phrase ``The Real Desperate Housewives" at a CBS meeting, and this is the result. The women, all of whom look like high-class escorts, are at different points in their marital lives. One is divorced, one is thinking of divorce, one is a newlywed, and so on, right down to the token single girl, Sara , who is labeled ``The Party Girl." Poor Sara doesn't get much screen time in the premiere, except to boast about her looseness; the focus tonight is on relationship discord.

And Lynn , ``The Newlywed," is the poster girl for discord. She and her husband, Eddie, have only been married six months, but they fight like pros as the cameras follow them all week long. Usually Lynn humiliates Eddie over money, and he ridicules her gym fixation; but tonight they also battle over a wonderfully symbolic event: Their bulldog, Mr. Butters, swallowed her wedding ring! We actually see the ring on an X-ray at the vet's office, where an angry Eddie announces: ``It's your ring, a ring that cost me a truck and 500 hours of overtime. You're digging through the poop."

It's such a perfect representation of their marriage, and such a convenient little TV anecdote, we have to wonder if that ring was wrapped inside bacon and placed in Mr. Butters' food dish before it took up residence in his tummy.

Pouty Jamie is ``The Conflicted Wife" who's having affairs. She gets her own set piece tonight, as she browses apartment rentals and ponders single life, strutting her minute upon the stage with the grand anguish of a soap actress. Props to Jamie; she's queen of the no-hair-muss hug. Props, too, to Kirin (``The Doctor's Wife"), who dons a sexy biker's outfit to lure her husband away from his beloved motorcycle, and to Cris (``The Loyal Wife"), who is standing by her man despite his addiction issues. Cris is fully supportive of Matthew's sobriety, which must be why she invited a camera crew into their home for weeks on end.

The most happily married woman appears to be one of the quieter club members. Her name is Jenn -- you can call her ``The Trophy Wife" -- and she claims she and her husband have a vital sex life. Of course, they have an open relationship, and in the previews he appears to initiate a key party among the club members and their husbands. Naturally, in a bogus series about the power of female bonding, The Trophy Wife has to take the day.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

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