Women Wage Urban Warfare in 'Lipstick Jungle'
From the opening scene of NBC's anticipated "Lipstick Jungle," premiering Thursday, Feb. 7, the camera focuses on three women's feet. Naturally, they're moving fast because this is New York, and everyone except tourists are in a hurry.
The shoes tell a lot about these women before they even say a word. The power heels are on a no-nonsense, fashionable woman who can endure pain. The trendy boots belong to a fashionista and the flats to a practical woman who has to get through quite a day looking professional.
The heels are Nico Reilly's (Kim Raver, "24"), editor of a major magazine. Victory Ford (Lindsay Price, "Beverly Hills, 90210"), a fashion designer, wears the boots, and Wendy Healy (Brooke Shields, "Suddenly Susan") is the movie studio boss in flats.
The drama sets the tone early as a newscaster announces that a publication has named New York's 50 most powerful women, and these three good friends are on it.
"Lipstick Jungle" is bound to be compared to "Cashmere Mafia," another drama about four powerful Manhattan women who are best friends. And it's likely to be compared to "Sex and the City," as that and "Lipstick Jungle" are based on Candace Bushnell books.
"It's a wonderful pedigree because we actually have Candace and because it's in New York City," Shields says of "Sex and the City." "The comparisons basically stop there. Yes, there are multiple women. It's such a different book.
"These women have different needs and wants," she says. "New York is chockablock with one amazing woman after the next."
If the women seem a little young -- in their 30s -- to have such lofty jobs, Shields notes that she knows many that age in similar positions of power.
"When I look at the people I went to school with -- those who graduated when we graduated -- they are all CEOs of major, major companies," the Princeton grad says. "A guy I was in college with has a home decorating line. It is very doable. They were pretty hungry, all of them. In their way, they had passions that were very distinct."
As do these characters.
Shields' Wendy has nerves that would serve any high roller well. Wendy was in negotiations with Leonardo DiCaprio to play Galileo when another studio moves in on him for the same role. Even though she shepherded this deal from the onset, Wendy bluffs the star when he calls to say he's going with the other studio.
Though Wendy's career is in great shape, her marriage is a little shaky. Husband Shane (Paul Blackthorne) does not want to be Mr. Wendy. They have a 5-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, and Shane wants to open a restaurant.
Wendy juggles the madness that is rearing children in Manhattan -- trying to get her son placed in a good private school and dealing with toxic fallout from a former nanny.
As Shields notes, what makes this show work so well is that it doesn't bother with the cliched Mr. Mom jokes. Yes, Shane is home with the kids, but he's good at it.
"It's not the stereotypical, 'Oh look, I am going to a business meeting, and I have cereal on my chest,'" says the mother of two very young daughters. "It's about the balance, about how not graceful it is, but how doable if you put in the effort and the time.
"I don't have to be frazzled at work because I learned to switch it off and then switch it back on. And, I have learned to be really, really present in both of my worlds."
Price's Victory also balances two worlds, though they are different. Her latest fashion line was panned and her assistant quit for another job, stealing designs and even a hairdo.
The role is so juicy that Price says, "This is the first time that I ever had it where my expectations were met or surpassed. It's unbelievably fun, and they keep finding me the most amazing character line. And I love her heart and how she's emotional and in business and a smart, centered woman. She uses her creativity to further her in the business. Sometimes women are faulted for when they have their emotions on their sleeve, and she uses them to her advantage."
And Victory's clothes are so terrific, "every day I go in, and I can't wait to get my own clothes off," Price says.
Besides fabulous clothes, a billionaire, Joe Bennett (Andrew McCarthy), is smitten with her, and because he earns $5,000 a minute, he has his assistant set up the date. That number and the women's jobs contribute to this television season of vicarious viewing of the rich. There's "Dirty Sexy Money," the canceled "Big Shots" and "Cashmere Mafia," all on ABC, and now this.
Admittedly, in the first two episodes, the money is not flaunted, but it's there. Still, the characters are easy to relate to because of their problems.
Victory is being stabbed in the back by someone she trusted. Wendy's former nanny will do something evil next week (though not as evil as what the hairdresser does to Lorraine Bracco playing a nasty book agent). And Raver's Nico takes the cougar plunge with the younger, smoking-hot Kirby (Robert Buckley).
"Oh My God, he takes his shirt off, you could hear jaws dropping to the ground, he is so beautiful," Raver says. "When we are filming, I can't even look at his body, it is so beautiful. I would be distracted."
As she talks, she gives her driver directions. Raver laughs as she realizes how much like Nico she sounds. "I say it a little gentler," Raver says. "She's also editor-in-chief, so there's no mincing of words. She goes right for it.
"She knows everything else in her world," Raver says of Nico, "but she doesn't know what is going on in her personal life right now. And for her not to know is very unnerving."
For the audience, though, it's another reason to watch.