Think of “Mistresses” as “Sex All Over the City” — a one-hour soap filled with every imaginable permutation on infidelity, with side plots including (but not limited to) assisted suicide, Sept. 11, a previously straight woman’s first lesbian affair, workplace sex and threesomes. Improbably, it all comes together in a pretty irresistibly mindless soap, thanks largely to the strength of its cast, who gradually make you forget the absurdity of their various situations.
There’s not really a new idea anywhere in the first flight of thissix-part series (with a second batch of six more episodes soon to follow), beginning with the quartet of disparate female friends at its core: Katie (Sarah Parish), a doctor who had a longstanding affair with a deceased patient and now must deal with his emotionally vulnerable son (Max Brown); Siobhan (Orla Brady), whose efforts to conceive threaten to ruin her marriage — and lead her to stray; Trudi (Sharon Small), gingerly seeking to date again after being widowed in the 9/11 attacks; and Jessica (Shelley Conn), an event-planning party girl who finally falls for someone — though, to her surprise, this budding flirtation is with a woman (“Fringe’s” Anna Torv).
As usual, these high-powered career women somehow manage to find time to assemble regularly for wine-swilling get-togethers and — their accomplishments notwithstanding — regularly lose their minds (along with their knickers) where men are involved, with each participating in some kind of illicit romance.
Yet as constructed by series creators Lowri Glain, S.J. Clarkson and Rachel Anthony, there’s a strong momentum to the serialized storylines, and the key players are so innately appealing — especially Parish, so good in “Viva Blackpool,” and the equally alluring Brady — that it plays as much like a thriller as a soap, rendering everyone’s motives suspect.
Comparisons to “Sex and the City” (and, to a lesser degree, “Desperate Housewives”) are obvious, but “Mistresses” explores similar territory with a different tone — and significant credit for that goes to Edmund Butt’s mysterious score.
Ultimately, the series won’t do anything more to advance the cause of professional women than have its American cousins. What’s more, the male characters are almost uniformly paper thin, and the sixth episode’s ending could use a bit of work. Nevertheless, the series somehow manages to make sex in a European city nearly as juicy and watchable as what TV viewers have come to expect from the Big Apple and the ‘burbs.