Monday, October 6, 2008

TV Review: The Starter Wife-- Series Premiere


Think of it as Desperate Housewives meets the Cashmere Mafia—Hollywood style.

Fans who tuned in last year for Fried Green Tomatoes director Jon Avnet’s popular miniseries based on the bestselling chick-lit novel by Hollywood insider Georgianne Levangie Grazer (wife of producer Brian Grazer), will be delighted to discover that The Starter Wife is back to prove once again how much life there is after wife. Nominated for seven Emmys and garnering one for its brilliant supporting player Judy Davis (in one of her wittiest turns since Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives), the true saving grace of the admittedly superficial guilty pleasure is Grace herself. Of course, I’m talking about Debra Messing, who reminds us once again why we all fell in love with Grace Adler on NBC’s smash hit Will and Grace.

A versatile comedian, Messing is alternately sexy and funny and always willing to make a fool out of herself for a laugh. In Starter, she plays Molly Kagan, the ex-wife of a prominent Hollywood player who she mothered, loved, and partnered with to such an extent that even after he left her for a Britney Spears-like pop princess in the miniseries, she continues to look after him along with her seven-year-old daughter, Jaden.

Bright, silly fun that’s as breezy and addictive as a beach read—although I’d highly recommend Avnet’s original miniseries to get the full background, fortunately USA Network brings viewers up to speed with a recap narrated by Messing that runs roughly ninety seconds (additionally more videos are available here).

The Recap

The Series Preview

Having been virtually blacklisted and shunned by the community of wealth and silicone, Molly makes a decision early on in the delightful first episode to swear off men in “The Forty Year-Old Virgin Queen.” And especially as her ex-husband’s latest Hollywood blockbuster continues to die in test screenings, she start trying to carve out a living for herself.

Instead of the traditional Hollywood wife eight a.m. school drop-off where women are exquisitely attired in Dolce, Jacobs, or Chanel in order to essentially pitch themselves like a spec project to a room full of execs, we encounter Molly readying herself “to face the day in machine-washable clothes” as a crossing guard at her daughter’s ridiculously expensive private school. Although young Jaden pleas for a Blackberry since all the other elementary school kids have one, she tries to navigate her life living in such a surreal town by keeping herself grounded with a diary (where she works out her feelings on such crazy events) along with her two best friends, Rodney (Chris Diamantopoulos) and Joan (Judy Davis).

While one friend and two old love interests have been dropped from the miniseries-- possibly due to scheduling conflicts as one ended up starring in ABC’s short-lived Cashmere Mafia--luckily the Emmy-nominated writers from the original consisting of Josann McGibbon, Sara Parriott, Gigi Levangie Grazer, and Debra Messing all return as executive producers. And although the unimaginative Desperate Housewives-inspired version of movie-star paper-dolls opening credit sequence and the annoyingly forced spoofs of Hollywood films have survived the jump from the mini to the series, October 10’s premiere two-part pilot is filled with engaging subplots and surprises that can only strengthen with each passing week.

Just like Molly must try to face new adventures like living on a budget or attending a writer’s group led by a hunky single dad to try and jumpstart her own career, Rodney struggles with mixing business and flirtation when he forms a crush on the handsome actor who hires him, and Joan continually grapples with the twelve steps, volunteering three days a week at rehab.

Mining through contemporary headlines and trends for storytelling as Davis’ Joan finds herself babysitting a British version of Mel Gibson while trying to deliver him at rehab following an appalling arrest-- Starter Wife even addresses the Hollywood impact of the rough economy as Molly’s ex uses his own credit cards to play with his increasingly expensive turkey Blood Canal.

However, like Sex and the City was only as strong as the plot of its main character Carrie Bradshaw, Starter’s Carrie—Messing’s Molly Kagan discovers that she’s become an accidental gossip girl when her humorous and revealing journal finds its way online in the second hour of the premiere entitled “The Diary of a Mad Ex-Housewife.”

And even when the show teeters on the edge of outrageousness as those familiar with the “homeless love interest” plot of the miniseries can attest, it’s ultimately the endearing and likable Messing who keeps us watching the sometimes ridiculous and self-involved events that occur in a town so out of touch with the rest of America, it almost feels like another planet. Yet, The Starter Wife is never science fiction—just easily winning, end-of-the-week, laugh-out-loud, lose-yourself-in romantic comedy fiction and if the opening two shows are any indication, we’re in for a treat with its ultimately ten episode run.

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