Mistresses Series Premiere Review: You Have Seen This Show Before (And Not Just Because It's an Adaptation)

By Cory Barker

Jun 04, 2013

Mistresses S01E01: "Pilot"

Mistresses is extremely predictable. You might think that the premiere episode of ABC's new primetime soap never ventured outside much-covered territory because the show is an adaptation of a British series that ran from 2008 to 2010. But even though this new version of the story appears to be on a very similar trajectory to that of its BBC One forebearer, that isn't really much of a problem so far. (I haven't seen the original, just researched it.) No, Mistresses is predictable all on it own, independent of its source material. Its pilot offered nothing new whatsoever, not even to ABC's brand of female-targeted soapy offerings. By the time it ended and I saw the "This Season On...," I'd predicted every single plot point that made an appearance in the clips. Characters made bad choices that were telegraphed from miles away, and at times, it was hard not to roll my eyes at some of the slow-motion "intimacy" and bad puns. 

The thing is, predictable isn't always bad. Many shows telegraph story points and follow familiar rhythms; it's up to the cast and crew to make their version of the recognizable formula compelling and watchable. Despite some of the leads' best intentions, Mistresses failed to accomplish that with the pilot. 

ABC promoted this show as some sort of lust-filled sex romp, but that's not entirely true. While two of the four lead female characters are in fact mistresses (Yunjin Kim's Karen and Jes Macallan s Josslyn), neither is really satisfied with her romantic choices. Shrink Karen is depressed because she had a torrid affair with a dying, married patient (John Schneiderand supplied him with the morphine that allowed him to end his life. Now, she's trying to hide the affair from the patient's young son, who is also romantically interested in her. Josslyn is supposed to be the flirty wild child of the group, yet already in the pilot she was disappointed with the lack of fulfillment her casual sexual experiences afforded her and was considering a lesbian relationship. Meanwhile, Savannah (Alyssa Milano) is stuck in a sexually frustrating relationship with her husband, a relationship that got worse once they learned that it's his "fault" they can't conceive. After a fight with her husband, Savannah decided to give in and have sex with her tremendously forward co-worker Dominic (Jason George, from every ABC show ever) Finally, April (Rochelle Aytes) is still struggling to get over the death of her husband and start dating again, a process that's going to get much more difficult now that she's learned that he had a love child with another women. 

There's no real reason to trust a network publicity department, but this is not the show ABC has been selling . The characters aren't happy in their lives, nor do their various versions of adultery help them grow happier. While I didn't expect this series to be totally pro-cheating or anything, I was surprised at how quickly Mistresses fell right into the rhythms of all the comedy-light Desperate Housewives knock-offs that ABC has aired since 2004. This pilot wasn't as bad as something so tonally deaf as GCB, but it also didn't provide interesting insights into any of its characters' relationships. Someone clearly made the choice for the show not to be too celebratory about being a mistress, but from the jump, we saw unhappy women being unhappy. No one's circumstances seemed remotely enjoyable. If there's nothing inherently interesting about the premise, why not try a more detached, comedic version of this story? ABC's female-heavy audience probably wouldn't accept that, but it's not like characters on Desperate Housewives or Grey's Anatomy were/are perfect. 

The cast is top-lined by some people who you definitely recognize and maybe even like, and they're trying their hardest to bring real pathos to the show's various romantic melodramas. Kin is saddled with the most ridiculous of the stories—going from the now-dead father to the grieving son is quite the journey—and she's morose enough to almost make it work, but Karen's choices were so poor that it's going to be tough for people to root for her. Milano is part of the most realistic of the pilot's storylines, and I actually thought she did fine enough embodying Savannah's frustrations with her husband. However, George's character is such an obnoxious creep that a successful woman like Savannah would be much better off filling a sexual harassment suit than giving in to his constant barrage of uncouth comments. I get it, she's lonely and wants to be sexualized, but yeesh. Macallan and Aytes are less familiar to me, which is maybe why I didn't even give their characters any benefit of the doubt as I watched the premiere. Their respective stories were definitely lower-billed, but also not given enough time to come close to interesting.

The drab tone and passable performances were mediocre in their own right, but they certainly couldn't overcome the show's seemingly unlimited number of blatantly obvious story points. My partner and I had called every single development shown later in the season-long trailer by about 15 minutes into the episode. Every pregnancy, lesbian make-out session, fist fight, and creepy doctor-patient encounter was clearly plotted out in the pilot. This wouldn't've been as problematic if there'd been something else keeping Mistresses above water. But there wasn't, at least in the pilot.

I'll be interested to see how this show performs for ABC. The network has done solid business with summer Canadian co-productions like Rookie Blue, but this project is ABC's alone, and presumably more expensive. The post-Bachelorette timeslot is theoretically the most valuable spot for a new soap in the summer, so maybe it'll succeed. There's usually a sense that for scripted summer shows on broadcast, the bar is much lower, but even with those diminished expectations, I'm not sure that Mistresses is worth the 13-week investment. It's not remotely good, nor is it especially bad. It's just exceptionally dull, and would be completely lifeless if not for a few decent performances. If you're itching for a watered-down version of the kind of soap ABC has been doing for nearly a decade, maybe this is worth a shot. But you could also just watch old episodes of Desperate Housewives, or even Grey's Anatomy or Scandal on Netflix, and be much more entertained.


– This show was originally developed at Lifetime a handful of years ago, and it shows. No disrespect to Lifetime, but Mistresses' lack of zip and more straightforward approach to the primetime soap would be a better fit there.

– I'd be interested to hear how this pilot stacks up against the British version of the series. As I noted, it seemed pretty similar based on plot descriptions I found on Wikipedia and IMDb. This show could easily stray from that one's stories, but it doesn't seem like it will.

– This cast is weirdly filled out with familiar faces: Penelope Ann Miller! Shannyn Sossamon!

– Cherlie Nowlan's directing was fine. This was certainly a bright affair, and some of the locations were interesting. But it still looked like every ABC drama pilot you've ever seen.

What'd you think of Mistresses' series premiere?

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  • Sarah54755 Sep 11, 2013

    i love this show and whoever says different doesnt know shit. Cant wait for the next season, please dont cancel

  • briankearns7 Jul 03, 2013

    I was watching until the joke about punching the Pope in the face. I was offended. It was not PC at all. We don't make jokes about race or sexual orientation, so why about religion?? No place for it at all. On my trash tv list now.

  • kinghutty Jun 18, 2013

    It is like a bad accident! I am keep trying not to watch it because it is a terrible show, but I can't help it! Yunjin Kim (Karen) is stupid! Like she is so lifeless, she's annoying and is just so stupid, she talk funny does she even have a green card? and she isn't worth two dead flies! She can't even act! She is so mono tone!

    Rochelle Aytes (April) has her priorities back wards... like how are you mad at your best friend cause she married and she cheated? So what that is her business not yours, besides she can help maybe give you inside as to why your husband cheated? And not the the other one who was sleeping with a married man? What? Then you let this white women terrorize you? Because? You need to put her in her place? Beat her ass! and why her husband have to cheat on her with a white woman? Are black women not good enough is that the message abc is trying to send?

    Alyssa Milano (Savannah) who I love I mean I ain't even mad the playette! She wrong for cheating on the Australian hottie, but she has good taste so, I can't knock her! But she wrong for not wanting to have a baby with her husband...or at least trying to put it off, honey you pushing 40 which is damn near close to 50 around that time women go through the change, do you really need to be putting it off? Go have the baby you dumb ass! Then you get pregnant and don't know who the father is? Really?

    My favorite Jes Macallan (Josslyn) ahe is a women who knows what she wants and goes for it, she doesn't take no for an answer! She likes what she likes and makes no qualms about it! She is the only one I don't hate! I respect her!...only strong woman, the others are to co-dependent...

  • AngelikaMenak Jun 06, 2013

    It was awful. Sorry to say, but I couldn't watch the whole episode cause it was sooo boring.

  • eric770 Jun 05, 2013

    As a TV/movie fan I am disappointed that with so many smart intelligent actresses and therefore writers out there that we get no better choices to base a show around other than Desperate housewife type retreading! This show offers absolutely nothing new that we had not already seen. From Desperate Housewives, Cougar Town, to other shows such as Californication and Shameless that seem to offer less in the substance department and much more in the exploiting, objectifying arena. We have Devious Maids and Betrayal coming up and I just can't help but think that some of these shows sound better as an episode theme for an existing show and not a stand alone premise for a show of its own. Hey, make all the drivel you want just don't try to convince me that its cinematic greatness or even something new when we have too many examples of how it was done better, or done already, and perhaps done too much! Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I just believe that there are other stories that can be told involving these beautiful and talented women that goes far beyond the tired old typecast that is adulterous wife/mistress.

  • kit__kat88 Jun 05, 2013

    Have you actually seen Cougar Town, or are you just judging what it's about based on the title? It's really funny, and isn't like Desperate Housewives whatsoever

  • expo359 Jun 05, 2013

    So LIFETIME gave Mistresses to ABC, & ABC gave Devious Maids to LIFETIME. oh I see how that work?

  • CynVB Jul 20, 2013

    I like devious maids...

  • vcivi Jun 05, 2013

    I am going to give it a chance....loved the cast. Was not predictable for me. Of course i am a huge Phoebe Halliwell (Alyssa Milano) fan...so dedicated to her, i have to check this series...and i love that her husband is the doctor gys from Mcleod's Daughter which i loved also very much...it have potential...if the writers don't screw it up....Iam going to give it the:

  • Diflas Jun 05, 2013

    I gave it five minutes. It's not for me.
    Maybe Graceland will be something?

  • anon_ef588025308d0923730b8a3e3d0bae82 Jun 05, 2013

    I liked it, it just seemed like a desperate housewives spin off

  • akyag Jun 05, 2013

    Did anyone else mistook Jes Macallan for Ana Torv? or is it just me who is seeing Ana everywhere since Fringe ended?

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