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February 7, 2008 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | February 7, 2008 |

Had I not already used up the conceit, the blank-page review would be fitting for “Lipstick Jungle,” an empty, vacuous vehicle for televised cleavage working under the guise of Candace Bushnell’s brand of female empowerment, which — when transplanted outside of “Sex and the City” and into the corporate world — means taking a certain pleasure in sexing one’s way to the top. These are powerful, successful females, damnit; though, but for their job titles, it’d be hard to tell, since they’re the kind of characters that would cower in the corner if given the lives of Debra Barrone (homemaker, “Everybody Loves Raymond”), Roseanne Connor (blue-collar mom, “Roseanne”) or Lorelei Gilmore (single-mom, small business woman, “Gilmore Girls”), three ultimately more realistic television women who could feed the kids, clean the house, offer sage advice, balance the checkbook, fuck the husband, and put in a hard-day’s work before the women of “Lipstick Jungle” finished applying their goddamn cosmetics.

Not that I wouldn’t appreciate a show that actually tackled women-in-the-corporate-world issues, but what does it say that “Murphy Brown,” a 20-year-old show, was two decades ahead of “Lipstick Jungle” in terms of its depiction of strong-female characters. Hell, even Peg Bundy was a more flattering character than any of the women in “Lipstick” — she’d never try to fire anyone with a goddamn hug, as Brooke Shields’ character does here; Peg would kindly shove her high-heel up an ass and celebrate with a bon bon.

“Lipstick Jungle” focuses on the career and sexual lives of three of New York City’s most powerful women: Nico (Kim Raver), the editor of a hot fashion magazine; Wendy (Brooke Shields), a hot studio executive; and Victory (Lindsay Price), a hot fashion designer with a ridiculous name (and why is it that a show focused on a women’s careers must necessarily focus on their sex lives, as well? Shows about male corporate lawyers don’t insist on parading their lead character out in his Marky Marks, do they?) The three women are older (or, at least, more mature and grown-up) variations on Bushnell’s “Sex and the City” characters, only they lack their charm, wit, and sexual domination.

The main focus seems to be on Wendy, the Miranda-type: She has a career, kids (that she ignores) and a husband who feels emasculated by her success. The first episode starts with her trying to juggle her career and home life while also shopping for a bra; she’s trying to fire an incompetent director; sign Leonardo DiCaprio to a film about Galileo before Dreamworks does; and keep her marriage intact by submitting to her husband’s blow-job demands. I actually like Brooke Shields (for no real reason), but her character here is insufferable — she’s a lousy mom and her “play nice” attitude with her corporate underlings suggests that if you’re hot enough, you can rise the ranks with hugs and thank you cards. (Her embarrassing “I am woman! moment near the end of the episode plays out to a goddamn Kelly Clarkson tune; rawhr).

Nico is slightly more tenable; she’s the Samantha, only instead of sex, she has a voracious appetite for ladder climbing — she’s trying to supplant a male CEO — but even that is belied by her sexual insecurity. When her self-obsessed husband (Julian Sands) ignores her, she fucks a photographer’s assistant to boost her self-esteem, and then cries about it afterwards (ugh). She’s so nuanced, right? Well, fuck me.

Victory, the show’s Charlotte, is unforgivably awful. She cries when her fashion show gets bad reviews, and then cries again when a clothing company rejects her designs. She also submits to the courtship of Joe Bennett, a megalomaniacal chauvinistic twit who “orders [Victory] up like a sandwich.” He tells Victory, after sex, that she’ll never be a billionaire because she’s a woman; Victory cries, runs right out and stubbornly proves all of Bennett’s theories on women correct, and then waits for the sexist ass to save her (he’s the show’s Mr. Big, only less charming and more bigoted; he’s also the only interesting goddamn character in the whole production).

Cosmetically-and-cleavage-enhanced characters aside, the show is obnoxiously lit like a splashy tabloid; the performances are underwhelming; and the writing is deeply stupid, which is somewhat disconcerting given the fact that the series’ writers were also responsible for writing episodes of “Murphy Brown” and “How I Met Your Mother,” though I’m guessing much of the show’s blame lies in the characters that Bushnell created.

As I watched “Lipstick Jungle,” Mrs. Pajiba-hyphenate — an Ivy league law student, by the by — managed to nurse her infant (which she had while attending law school, which doesn’t have maternity leave) and blow-dry her hair simultaneously, and then prepare herself and Lil Pajiba for a five-hour trip to NYC, where she’ll put on a stunning pants-suit tonight and accept a schmancy legal award for basically being her. And I expect she’ll make it through the entire day without once crying, sleeping with a younger man, or breaking down to buy a pink bra (or emasculating me). Not to brag, but that’s an empowered woman, folks: And there’s no one like her (or the millions of other similar women) on television. Instead, we get “Lipstick Jungle.” And “Grey’s Anatomy.” And “Desperate Housewives.” Shows that are almost worse than your regular run-of-the-mill sexist programming, because they still feature women as sexual objects, they’re just sexual objects with high-powered positions.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.

You're in the Jungle, Lady. You're Going to Cryyyyyy!

"Lipstick Jungle" / Dustin Rowles

TV | February 7, 2008 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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