The only real difference between “Cashmere Mafia” and ABC’s already-on “Women’s Murder Club” is the lack of murders. Having tried the gender reverse with “Big Shots,” the Alphabet web trots out another uninspired hour about women attempting to balance fabulous lives and careers with romance, but other than a lesbian liaison, it all feels about as fresh as “That Girl.” Series gets a post-“Desperate Housewives” push before taking up residence Wednesdays, but the first of the dueling “Sex and the City”-like projects to arrive merely fosters appreciation for that earlier hit.
“Look at what a man gives up to be with one of us,” high-powered COO Juliet (Miranda Otto of “Lord of the Rings”) tells her closer-than-kin business-school pals Mia (Lucy Liu), who is facing off with a lover (guest Tom Everett Scott) for a top publishing gig; Caitlin (Bonnie Somerville), who, after a parade of guys, is suddenly attracted to a woman (“The Nine’s” Lourdes Benedicto, a fellow “NYPD Blue” foot soldier); and Zoe (Frances O’Connor), a working mom forced into a competition to nab the right nanny.
Juliet’s observation provides the show’s defining line, but it’s also symbolic of how limited this “Mafia” really is. Each member wrestles with romance, while their frenetically paced careers are wholly nondescript. Beyond the main foursome, meanwhile, the other women in the show are almost uniformly predatory — conniving bitches eager to entice those overwhelmed and emasculated husbands.
Produced under the aegis of Darren Star, the series comes with a backstory that’s actually better and more dramatic than anything in the show: hurt feelings between the producer and Candace Bushnell, his “Sex and the City” collaborator, regarding whether he aped (and thus undermined) plans for her upcoming NBC series “Lipstick Jungle,” also about a small group of influential women.
Strictly viewed on its merits, though, “Cashmere Mafia” suffers from a too-familiar feel — the whimsical music that accompanies virtually every beat, Otto channeling the patrician manner of Marcia Cross’ housewife, the angst over whether women can thrive in a corporate environment without alienating their men and neglecting their children.
“We make ‘stay at homes’ feel inferior … They make us feel guilty,” one Mafiosa says in the second hour, illustrating the on-the-nose dialogue.
Among the central players, only Liu comes off reasonably well, and her storyline — which includes managing a Murdochian boss — proves as stale as that of her mates.
At one point, Somerville’s character even laments, “My life is nothing like a romantic comedy!” And your show, alas, is barely like a tolerable dramedy, demonstrating that at least for viewers, it really can be a jungle out there.