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Television Review

'Lipstick' needs to lay it on thicker

Email|Print| Text size + By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / February 7, 2008

There's a TV Land parody of "Sex and the City" floating around the Web, and it stars Charlotte Rae, Katherine Helmond, Sally Struthers, and Bea Arthur, who is seen pouring Metamucil into a Cosmopolitan. The punch line: Abe Vigoda as Mr. Big.

That viral snippet has more going on in its luridly painted little fingernail than the entirety of "Lipstick Jungle," a new NBC "Sex and the City" clone that premieres tonight at 10 on Channel 7. If I'm going to watch an obvious impersonator, I want camp excess - seedy wigs, Raggedy Ann rouge, Struthers with a fake Samantha mole - and not slavish imitation. "Lipstick Jungle" is a dull knockoff of a true original, despite the fact that it has been created by "Sex" writer Candace Bushnell based on her book. The show has as much vitality and personality as a wax mannequin.

The backstage gossip is that "Sex" team Bushnell and Darren Star were making "Lipstick Jungle" together, until Star signed a deal for the almost identical "Cashmere Mafia" with ABC. Whatever. The two shows about urban women friends that resulted from that un-pairing are unworthy of both of them. "Lipstick" is less irritatingly madcap than "Cashmere Mafia," but it's just as freighted with clichés about fashion horses who "have it all," including forced you-go-girl camaraderie. Brooke Shields, who stars as a film studio executive, is the only tolerable element in this facsimile, even though her weak-husband plotline is painfully familiar.

Shields's Wendy has two best friends, Kim Raver's magazine editor, Nico, and Lindsay Price's fashion designer, Victory. Together, this trio of types use New York as their catwalk. See Wendy, Nico, and Victory. See them meet over drinks. Listen to their derivative problems. Natter, girls, natter. Nico's cold husband doesn't notice her, but a young hottie does; neurotic Victory is being courted by a billionaire, played by one-time Brat Packer Andrew McCarthy. Meanwhile, Wendy is totally freaking out because Leonardo DiCaprio might be leaving one of her studio's movies.

Raver, from "24" and "The Nine," plays the aging editor as if she's starring in an amateur production of "Lady Chatterley's Lover." When she's with her bushy-browed stud at his crummy apartment, she pants as if she's just finished a long treadmill session, or as if she's about to sneeze. But her Nico is fierce in the workplace, lest we think the show doesn't have some kind of feminist something or other going on: "When a woman expresses her concern that an important business matter be dealt with correctly, she's not throwing a fit," she snaps at a co-worker. "She's just doing her job."

That kind of self-conscious dialogue runs amok on "Lipstick Jungle." In between all the tears and melodramatic relationship fluff, the script regularly delivers Big Statements about the glass ceiling, as if to say: This isn't just a cockamamie soap opera, people! This is about Women in Today's Culture! You don't need to feel frivolous while you watch! We're meant to think that these three power-listers represent American women, despite the fact that they're swimming in money and glamour. When Nico has her chauffeur drive her to her slummy little love nest, it's anything but an Everywoman moment, especially in the current economy. If the "Lipstick Jungle" trio convey anything significant to female viewers, it has more to do with how unenviable and tedious the fast lane has become.

There's only one character in this stilted series who offers a glimmer of entertainment value. Next week, Lorraine Bracco shows up as Wendy's archenemy, and she plays the role to the hilt. As Shields whines to her about some offense, Bracco, who played Tony's therapist on "The Sopranos," says scornfully, "You must have me confused with your shrink." Perhaps she does, but there's no confusing "Lipstick Jungle" with anything approaching good TV.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

Lipstick Jungle

Starring: Brooke Shields, Andrew McCarthy, Kim Raver, Lindsay Price

On: NBC, Channel 7

Time: Tonight, 10-11

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