In The Name of Smart & Sexy: ABC’s “Mistresses” Pilot Review
Mistress \ˈmis-trəs\ (noun): A woman who has power, authority or ownership; a woman who has achieved mastery in some field; a woman who has the power to control or dispose of something at her own pleasure; a woman, other than his wife, with whom a married man has a continuing sexual relationship
Up to now almost everything we’ve seen about Mistresses, from its titillating promos to its sultry images, has suggested the show’s main focus lies heavily with that latter definition; home-wreckers, adulterers, the “other” women. Don’t let ABC’s marketing fool you. Despite the romantic entanglements, the series has substance and heart.
This tantalizing new show from K. J. Steinberg surprisingly, delightfully, and cleverly incorporates each definition of the title. The end result? A sizzling summer soap with the perfect balance of smart and sex(y). Based on the U.K. series of the same name, ABC’s Mistresses stars Alyssa Milano, Yunjin Kim, Rochelle Aytes, and Jes Macallan as four very attractive, but multifarious friends who are grappling with how to handle the word’s role – and its various connotations – in their lives.
The pilot’s first moments are incredibly deceiving and you may feel the urge to turn the channel. Fight that urge. It will be rewarded with some real life humor and later on some well-written drama. In these early moments we experience our first character introductions, as we see the show’s sister duo Savannah Davis (Alyssa Milano) and Josslyn Carver (Jes Macallan) in “action.” Shortly after this we meet the other half of the dynamic group, which includes Karen Kim (Yunjin Kim) and April Malloy (Rochelle Aytes). The chemistry between these four actresses is strong out of the gate. Their scenes together are the most honest and revealing for the characters. They also feel the most natural and believable, showcasing the strength of the show’s writing and cast. This is not Days of Our Lives folks. The world of our mistresses’ is shrewd and authentic.
Savannah, also known as Savie, is a married attorney working her way up the ladder. She’s also trying to conceive with her husband Harry (Brett Tucker), a successful chef with his own restaurant. They hit a wall, however, when they find out that Harry’s sperm isn’t ideal for conception. Feeling inadequate, Harry distances himself aggressively from Savie at a time when what she wants the most is to reconnect. Jossyln is on a different end of the spectrum character-wise. The first time we see her is in a tryst with her immediate boss. Jossyln is an agent for a large Realtor, and spends her down time getting down with men better kept at working relationship distance. She’s smart, but a risk taker; the free spirit of the bunch. While Savie’s power comes from the control her professional life affords her, Jossyln’s is derived from her sexuality.
Karen’s story is the most complicated of the four. She is a psychiatrist, but was having an affair with her patient, Thomas Grey (guest star John Schneider). To make matters worse, she is close to his family. When he dies Karen is thrust into their mourning process which forces her to confront her reality as the other woman. Karen’s situation goes from bad to near uncomfortable when Thomas’ son, Sam (Erik Stocklin), approaches Karen for counseling and falls for her. April is probably the most conventional of the group. She, like Karen, is mourning the loss of a love, but her husband died 3 years prior. She is still fighting with herself about whether it’s okay to move on. Karen’s story takes an interesting turn when she discovers that the man she was faithful to – even in death – was having an affair. To add fuel to the fire, he had a child she never knew existed.
Milano does an excellent job as the clear-headed woman of the group. She also gives a pretty strong performance as an empathetic adulterer. Savie is losing her power; she cannot control how her husband feels or the disconnect growing between them. Understandably, she turns to her desire to connect as it’s something she can control. Josslyn, on the other hand, moves out of a relationship she has lost control of and into one where she may hold all, if not most, of the power. One can only assume that her suggestive comment to Alex (Shannyn Sossamon), one half of the lesbian couple she is helping pick a home, means she’s making a move. This has the potential to be one of the more interesting relationships on the show if it does come into fruition. Despite both women having very different personalities, their connection is pretty organic.
Kim was a scene stealer in her softer moments, and her character’s storyline may be host for the show’s most provocative on screen moments. Battling the necessity for professionalism while her own romantic desires possibly grow for another client (and younger man) should be great fodder for her character development. April’s storyline will prove to have its own unique challenges, but it has already set itself apart from the other three characters’; April is the only person who has not or is not currently engaging in infidelity. She is the victim of it. Hopefully the writers take this opportunity to create some solid dramatic tension for Aytes. April fighting with her own feelings, while trying to support friends doing the very thing that hurt her, is something a lot of people can relate to.
None of Mistresses‘ women are perfect, but that’s what makes this show so compelling. You know these women, if you don’t already feel you are one of them. Even if you don’t connect on a personal level, you at the very least sympathize. Relationships are never easy, but infidelity makes love harder. Each of these women in their own ways is trying to keep the love they have, whether they are the woman or the mistress. A smart, engaging, and well-written look at women, love, power, and the interconnected relationship between all three, Mistresses is certain to appeal on some level to (nearly) every woman.
Mistresses premieres Monday June 3, 10:00 – 11:00 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.