Lipstick Jungle - Season One Review

Not having a vagina, I must admit to being outside the target demographic for a television show like Lipstick Jungle. I knew this handicap going in and still managed to tolerate the programme for seven episodes. This is the entirety of the strike-shortened first season, released just in time to coincide with a certain tangentially-related movie hitting cinemas.

Based on a novel by Candace Bushnell of Sex and the City fame, Lipstick Jungle takes a look at three high-powered New York City career women as they try to balance their personal and professional lives while still finding time for afternoon cocktails. You might say it's like Sex and the City with a splash of Desperate Housewives and a healthy shot of ambition. The premise may not seem terribly novel, but try to think of other television women who are situated in positions of corporate power. Then eliminate any that are raving, monstrous bitches and you realise that maybe there is room for a show like this to thrive. At the very least, there should be a place on television where successful female professionals are portrayed in a positive light without tipping the gender scales against males.

Lipstick Jungle, in these few episodes, doesn't entirely get there. Its name alone conjures up an overly clever play between ultra-femininity and a traditionally male-dominated wilderness. That bit of stretching, arguably having it both ways in a society where the mold of success consists of attributes usually associated with men, is too much for a programme like this. When the headlining star is Brooke Shields, it's a good bet that no one involved was looking to make any sort of serious statement on gender politics. The character Shields plays, Wendy Healy, runs a movie studio of indeterminate size, but seems clueless about either business or film. She's married to Shane (Paul Blackthorne) and has two young children. Her friend Victory Ford (Lindsay Price) is an unmarried fashion designer trying to come back from poor reviews of her seasonal clothing designs. She's courted by a modern-day Prince Charming, the billionaire Joe Bennett (Andrew McCarthy). In contrast to Wendy, Victory is slightly frazzled, but extremely dedicated to her profession and she actually likes old movies, as Carole Lombard seems to cameo in every other episode. (Wendy's My Man Godfrey poster isn't fooling anyone, but it's obvious someone behind the scenes is a Lombard fan.)

The third musketeeress is Nico Reilly (these women are named like superheroines), played by Kim Raver. She's a magazine executive whose marriage has stagnated, leading to an unplanned affair with a younger man (Robert Buckley). This infidelity is given a backhanded justification through Nico's sexual frustration with husband Charlie's inattentiveness and in the resulting guilt she harbours after boinking cougar bait Kirby. As the season progresses, the morality of the affair becomes less and less focal. Any responsibility towards that "sanctity of marriage" chestnut is glossed over in favour of manufactured drama and glamourised shots of heavy breathing. The ambiguous conflict as to whether Nico should be entering into an extramarital relationship gets pushed under the rug, instead basically letting her off the hook because her husband seems to be constantly absent and without clean hands himself. She comes across as increasingly unlikable.

Unfortunately, the way both male characters in Nico's life are treated is endemic to the entire subgenre of which Lipstick Jungle is firmly entrenched. It's one thing to portray females in positions of power, but it's quite another to do so at the expense of everyone else. This fantasyland where males are either super rich and fawning or bitterly emasculated essentially marginalises men in much the same way women have been traditionally treated in popular media. Simply reversing the gender roles and substituting an interest in fashion instead of sports doesn't really do anything except justify reverse sexism. The fact that Lipstick Jungle presents these three women as borderline incompetent in their careers helps no one. It damages the perception of females in power and feeds the stereotype that they're emotionally unstable. Nico's affair and sexual harassment charge can be coupled with Wendy's parental breakdown in one episode and Victory's trend of behaving unprofessionally for a laundry list of how not to succeed in business.

Should these and other shortcomings be forgiven because they happen on a television show that initially appears to have something to say but could hardly be more empty? Perhaps. Admittedly, most people will be concerned with acting and plot and the normal things viewers tune in for each week. In this sense, Lipstick Jungle is iffy, but watchable even for those with seemingly little interest in the show. The main characters are, to different degrees, mildly likable, with Lindsay Price's dead-on performance as Victory Ford, seemingly the most shallow of the three, deserving special mention. The bread and butter here is the soapy storyline, which did hold my attention despite reminding me full well how little I cared about these women. Still, it's easy enough to find comfort in the series, either as a fantasy to inspire jealousy or a reality from which to happily recoil. There's not a lot of new ground being broken here, but it's a tad more appealing than the watered-down and drawn out Sex and the City clone it could have been.

The Discs

All seven episodes of the first season of Lipstick Jungle are presented in this R1 double disc set. It's housed in a transparent case with episode descriptions on the back and comes with a red slipcover.

Both discs are dual-layered and all episodes are presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for widescreen televisions. The most striking thing I noticed about the picture quality is the noticeable grain, which is obvious but not distracting. I'm normally accustomed to slightly smoother images on new release titles. I wouldn't put that as a mark against the presentation necessarily, and the episodes look consistently strong. Colours are reproduced well and detail, while being maybe a little soft, is more than adequate. The transfers are progressive and I didn't see any compression issues or other digital quirks.

The only audio option is a solid English Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Aside from a few creeping pop tunes and the occasional car horn, the track is dialogue-heavy. There aren't many, if any at all, instances where the rear speakers are isolated, but the dialogue sounds completely clear and with even volume levels. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are included and are white in colour.

Other than a number of previews on disc 1, the only extra features are deleted scenes (12:42). They're found on the second disc and are of inferior video quality - interlaced, non-anamorphic and generally poor. For fans of the show, it would have been nice to have some sort of indication that a little interest was taken in producing this set. As it is, there are only seven episodes and some sub-par deleted scenes.

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