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Television Review

All dressed up with nowhere to go

Slick 'Cashmere Mafia' lacks 'Sex' appeal

Email|Print| Text size + By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / January 5, 2008

It's just like "Sex and the City," except, you know, "Sex and the City" was good. "Cashmere Mafia," the new show from "Sex and the City" producer Darren Star, is a strained attempt to build another hit about four peacocky New York women who sip martinis and use the word "penis" as often as possible. Alas, the Cashmere quartet are no more than fashion-bots whose personality traits seem merely to have been clicked and dragged into categories with their names on them.

Warning: The show, which premieres tomorrow at 10 p.m. on Channel 5, is a very slick, peppy vision of impeccable apartments and pretty people whose endless fingernails never impede their texting skills. It is a seductive fantasy of high-powered life in New York, and it's the kind of eye candy that could put you into a passive glucose stupor. But right beneath the rich surface, "Cashmere Mafia" is all shallow stereotypes and flashy plot twists devised solely to be excerpted for quick commercials. It's a sharp designer bag filled with a whole lot of nothing.

Lucy Liu is the Sarah Jessica Parker type, named Mia, who is the sane center of her group of friends from business school. She wears frumpy-swank clothes and earrings that verge on the ridiculous, but we're meant to think that she can pull it off. She's Lucy Liu! Mia, or Me-Me-Me-a, is engaged to a co-worker at a publishing company, but that great love is in jeopardy when their boss has them vie for the same job. "Cashmere Mafia" is obsessed with the much-pondered notion that successful women may not be able to have it all, and Me-Me-Me-a is the one who may have to sacrifice romance.

British actress Frances O'Connor plays Zoe, an investment banker who may be sacrificing not only her husband but her two kids to a vampiric woman who's trying to charm Zoe's family away from her. Looking Mary Louise Parker-esque, Zoe tries to spare a few minutes for her children in the midst of super-mega-important Wall Street-y deadlines and emergency cocktail meetings with her galpals. Bonnie Somerville plays Caitlin the Bicurious Girl, a flit-about serial dater who has sacrificed her stability to be a top cosmetics marketer. Will a kiss with a female co-worker and exhaustion with single men take her on a lesbian detour? Wasn't this plot ripped from "Sex and the City"?

The fourth Mafiosa is Juliet, played by Australian actress Miranda Otto as a mix between Mae West and Marcia Cross's Bree Van De Kamp on "Desperate Housewives." Juliet is a wife, mother, and hotel CEO who is obsessed with presenting an image of a perfect family to the world. Naturally, that image is about to crack. Of all the characters on "Cashmere Mafia," she is meant to be the most touching, but I found her increasingly hard to watch as she comes out of her shell. Indeed, while all of the actresses are energetic, and O'Connor and Otto get their American accents right, none of them really manages to evoke sympathy or warmth.

Ultimately, "Cashmere Mafia" is more like a female version of ABC's obnoxious "Big Shots" than a clone of "Sex and the City." Most of the humor is built around tiresome cat talk, as the four women quickly skip in and out of bland romantic situations, and none of the dramatic moments feel genuine. After tomorrow's premiere, the show will move to its regular Wednesday night at 10 slot, where it may manage to capture an audience simply because strike-bound viewers are so hungry for new material. But I'm waiting to see if next month's similarly themed "Lipstick Jungle," from "Sex and the City" originator Candace Bushnell, is better. I don't think it could be much worse.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

Cashmere Mafia

Starring: Lucy Liu, Frances O'Connor, Miranda Otto, Bonnie Somerville, Peter Hermann

On: ABC, Channel 5

Time: Tomorrow, 10-11 p.m.

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