“Lipstick Jungle” is the superior product of this winter’s “career-woman pals try having it all” dramedies, but that’s not an especially esteemed sorority. Those dueling projects remain so similar that only their parents would immediately know them apart — which is fitting, since “Jungle” matriarch Candace Bushnell teamed with “Cashmere Mafia’s” dad, Darren Star, on “Sex and the City” — and NBC should face an uphill climb getting its got-their-second hour sampled. Nevertheless, there are shreds of humanity to latch onto here if the network can lure enough women in to inspect the merchandise.
Three high-powered women share “Jungle’s” sisterly bond, all with glitzy media-centric jobs: Wendy (Brooke Shields) runs Parador Pictures, but must satisfy a demanding Murdoch-type mogul (Julian Sands); Nico (Kim Raver) is a magazine editor caught in a passion-free marriage; and Victory (Lindsay Price) is a fashion designer prone to fits of tears, who begins dating a carefree billionaire (Andrew McCarthy).
Like ABC’s “Mafia,” it’s all fairly surface-oriented stuff — grappling with ruthless bosses (who, in Sands’ case, always seem to know the gossip first), fending off ambitious underlings and solving other problems particular to the filthy rich, like getting kids into a prestigious private school or having the former nanny pen a tell-all book. (That last plot, in episode two, introduces “The Sopranos'” Lorraine Bracco as a cartoonishly venomous publisher.)
The strongest and one redeeming storyline involves Raver, continuing her network series lap from “Third Watch” to Fox’s “24” to ABC’s “The Nine” and back to the Peacock again. As Nico, she displays genuine emotion, pain and longing, hinting at a real person underneath the designer frocks, which is more than can be said for most of the characters in either of the two new programs.
Beyond that, alas, “Lipstick Jungle” exhibits many of the same familiar flourishes as its unwanted sibling, punctuated by moments where the women supportively unite in moments of crisis, commiserating over how difficult it is to manage their fabulous lives. Nothing wrong with that per se, except that “Sex” did it better already, and the dialogue about double standards women face has all the subtlety of a Cosmo cover.
“You’re punishing our son because you’re not the one writing the tuition check!” Wendy snaps, in one example, at her husband (“The Dresden Files'” Paul Blackthorne), after he misses a private-school interview.
The plots regarding Shields’ movie exec also sprinkle in Hollywood name-dropping — Leonardo DiCaprio bailing on a Parador Galileo project and signing with DreamWorks? — but it’s a thin look behind the velvet ropes, especially compared with “Entourage” and its ilk.
“Lipstick Jungle” will air opposite another new drama, ABC’s “Eli Stone,” in what amounts to a last gasp if the networks hope to come away from this strike-impacted season with something to show other than a surplus of reality TV.
Perhaps an acceptable audience will pucker up, but “Lipstick” will likely discover what “Mafia” has already learned — that for this season’s girl-power fare, it really is a jungle out there.