Mistresses: Mondays at 10p.m. Eastern on ABC
When reviewing shows, I often look not only in terms of the show itself, but at the identity of the network (or in context of the specific evening of a network if it’s one of the big four). I often do so because as much as a show’s quality and ratings will determine it’s first-run lifespan, how a given show fits within that networks brand identity will in turn often affect it’s ratings. For example, a show like Happy Endings was excellent, but it also stuck out like a sore thumb amid ABC’s proclivity for soapy prime-time dramas, family oriented comedies, and Dancing with the Stars. Their newest show Mistresses, however, seems to fit firmly within this identity.
Mistresses follows the story of four lifelong female friends and their personal and professional struggles. Savannah Davis (Alyssa Milano) is an ambitious lawyer who also wants a child, only to be stifled by her husband’s fertility issues. Her sister Josslyn (Jess McCallan), meanwhile is a real-estate agent whom is more interested in hooking up than any sort of long term relationship. Together with their close friends: the recently widowed April (Rochelle Aytes) and unethical therapist Karen (Yunjin Kim), they navigate the complex web of deception they’ve created.
We open with Savannah running into her husband in a hotel bar and demanding he pop back on his ring only to lead to a bunch of random shots of torrid major network broadcastable sex intertwined with a bunch of shots mocking the sudsiness that comes from romance movie cliches. Savi and Josslyn then have a snippy conversation about Savannah’s fertility issues. She then runs into Karen at a funeral for one of her clients (whom she had an improper relationship with). Our four principal leads then rendezvous at April’s house where they catch up during a birthday party for her daughter.
After the party, Karen receives a call from her clients’ son Sam, asking to talk to her, before seeing he is at the front door. Savannah and Harry find out that the medical issues were related to Harry’s sperm. Karen arrives to work only to find that Sam has made an appointment and is confronting his issues about his father’s affair. Meanwhile, a mysterious and handsome stranger enters to ask out April and buy throw pillows. Savannah meanwhile has a disagreement with Harry after visiting him at work, and gets recruited by April to babysit, while receiving bawdy texts from Dominic.
All of these proceedings are brought to a screeching halt with the arrival of a distraught Karen. Karen took the opportunity to finally open up to her friends about her illicit secret, only to be advised to continue lying. When ultimately confronted, she continues to live the lie, solely for what she feels is Sam’s sake. Meanwhile, Savannah takes in Josslyn before ending up in a full blown argument with Harry.
We return to check in on all of our plot lines. April finds out what happened to her mystery date and that her ex-husband had been sleeping around. Josslyn struggles to move a seaside house to an uncertain couple. Karen is panicking about a potential malpractice suit involving her former client and is shredding documents. Last but not least, a distraught Savannah gives into temptation and does something she never thought she’d do.
As one could probably see above, the show juggles a number of plot lines and manages to do so pretty deftly considering that our principle four ladies are kept fairly separate. Where Mistresses truly thrives though is in its’ lighter moments, where it provides the right amount of snark to elicit the occasional chuckle (particularly with Joss, who gets the lion’s share of catty lines).
The show however, struggles with the drama and particularly with the tears. Over the span of an hour, a lead character breaks out into hysterics 7 times. None of them look the slightest bit believable. This is made worse when you consider that the game changing last ten minutes of the show have characters taking seemingly irrational actions in relation to the characters we meet in the first 50 minutes (Savannah deciding to hook up with a coworker, Karen coldly shredding documents, April learning about her husband’s love affair and Joss managing to not make a snarky comment).
Another issue the show struggles with are the often very one-note characters. While this is particularly prevalent with the male characters whom are generally background, it seems even more egregious when you consider that the main characters are as flat. For example, if I were asked to describe April’s character to a potential watcher, the only words that would come out are “mother” and “widow”. Considering that the writers are clearly wanting for us to root for Savannah throughout the show (she doesn’t really possess a negative trait until about 55 minutes in), this is a huge problem because it doesn’t allow for the sort of organic plot development that is necessary to create serialized drama.
The Final Verdict: Mistresses is the sort of show that could have been so much more if it had taken the “Sex And The City-lite” track it seems to take over the first few minutes over the awkward drama-laden train wreck that occurs over the course of the episode. While it tends to generally act like a pedestrian prime-time soap, it’s final act leans heavily on a suspension of disbelief but ultimately fails due to a seeming lack of internal logic (the natural response to obvious workplace sexual harassment is not to sleep with the harasser a couple of days later when stuck late at work). This lack of build to what should be major plot points ultimately makes it very difficult to emotionally invest in characters whose actions become morally questionable in a hurry. I’d recommend skipping this one unless you really need something to fill an hour on a Monday night.