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

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.



NOTES

– 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?

Comments (54)
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i love this show and whoever says different doesnt know shit. Cant wait for the next season, please dont cancel
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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.
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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...
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It was awful. Sorry to say, but I couldn't watch the whole episode cause it was sooo boring.
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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.
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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
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So LIFETIME gave Mistresses to ABC, & ABC gave Devious Maids to LIFETIME. oh I see how that work?
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I like devious maids...
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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:
4 EPISODE TRIAL!!!
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I gave it five minutes. It's not for me.
Maybe Graceland will be something?
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I liked it, it just seemed like a desperate housewives spin off
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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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loved the Pilot, but was not predictable you may have guessed right good for you, but their is plenty of options!!! great cast, nice to see LOSTS Yunjin Kim
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Maybe the writer of this article is smarter than you and that's why you couldn't predict what was coming?
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the more I read your comment above, I have come to the conclusion that you( zoefan1)has no clue in what you are reading, I never said that I could not predict things, I said their was OPTIONS , now do know what that means?? IMO you don't, by your lack of intelligence in your replies!!!
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Oh my; perhaps you ought to clean up your spelling and grammar before commenting?
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highly doubtful!!!
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By that assertion, I'd say there's a solid probability that this writer is smarter.
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Popularity doesn't equal intelligence. Just look at Stephanie Meyer.
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well the Twilight was highly successful, which = popularity= money so I would say pretty intelligent by Stephanie!!!
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Why do you find it so objectionable that other people might be smarter than you? Or is this just collectivistic anti-intellectualism at play?
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dude their is plenty I mean plenty of individuals smarter than me, hell that might even includes you, but at the moment you are just not getting my original point at all!! first of all did you watch MISTRESSES if you did okay, if not STFU I have disagreed with the writers of this site on daily basis, plus I have gotten tons of thumbs up for my comments, so in the tv world I'm pretty smart!!
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Oh really? How many articles have you written?
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writing articles don't mean sh!!T please anybody can watch something see the ending and say OMG I Knew that how so frackin predictable!! my point was which obvious you did not get!!! their was plenty of results, which led to my plenty of options comment!!!!
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there is...
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I'm willing to give it a chance as it may end up improving as it goes along....I hope. I really do feel the show has all the elements to be good trashy fun, but for some reason it isn't. How can something that has hot people involved (always a plus) and some classic soapy storylines (I'm a sucker for soaps) not be exciting and addictive? Maybe the can hire Mike Kelley? He's great with soaps.
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By this article's description, it's taking its characters actions too seriously; it may not have the self-awareness that series like Desperate Housewives or Revenge have.
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All I want to know is how the hell did Yunjin Kim get attached to this?
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WHY!!!!?
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People need jobs, I guess. She's not bad in it.
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So glad I opted to have a Venture Brothers viewing party with friends last night rather than watch this pilot as it aired. Incompelling characters and storylines, horrid pacing and just general disappointment reigned throughout those 43 minutes. I find April and Savvy the most worthwhile stories, but that's not saying much at all, because they're not enough to convince me to switch on the TV next week.
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I love Alyssa Milano too though she just given birth and it seems to show. I come watching the stars and though its predictable, I was not bored by the pilot. Will continue to watch to see how it goes. I almost given out on Defiance which I very much want to like.
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The way you phrased that makes it sound like pregnancy (and showing after) is some kind of flaw on her part. Of course she'd be showing; she's human! Good god, the woman isn't wolverine. Her pregnancy is none of your business.
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I did not meant what you think I meant. Its just that she was my Goddess/Fantasy once upon a time and now she looks different.I was just being honest. Of course many superstars slim down after pregnancy.
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Well, yeah. She got old. People get old and die all the time. Circle Of Life. Hakuna Matata. Ashes to ashes.
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One should definitely watch scandal instead. Damn, that show is on fire! Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope is just amazing. I'm not even sure that I like Liv but boy o boy she brings life to that character. Next season is going to be epic. I plan on watching it while wearing a white hat and sipping wine from a HUGE glass. My fellow gladiators know what I mean. :)
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Er, wrong place for a Scandal love fest., especially when it's utter rubbish aimed at 12 year old's who'd fool for it. Washington was on Bill Maher and demonstrated how in real life she has the political intellect and manners of a naive teen.
Alternately, Alyssa Milano is a kind and generously spirited person who's as pleasurable on the outside as within.
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I'm wasn't referring to my like or dislike for, or the level of intelligence of either actress. I'm talking about the show 'Scandal' being miles more ENTERTAINING than 'Mistresses', at least so far. And from what I recall, when I was 12 i watched shows like 'That's so Raven', 'Charmed', and, 'All That'...
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I'm sure that's what you believe. I'm still sure Scandal is pandering crap to the extent that it's not even cheesey good. And, that my first above point stands. Try, for example, venturing over to, ooh, let's say the Game of Thrones thread and start off with "One should..." and see how well it goes down. In fact try that on every thread until you get the point.
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I love Alyssa Milano. That's all I have to say :)
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If only the ratings were big then I could lead News Briefs with "ABC's Cheating Mistresses Has a Huge Opening If You Know What I Mean."
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is every show an adaptation of a british or australian series? shows that aren't adaptations i'm starting to have a new found respect and admiration for.
this has alyssa milano in it and so i refuse to bad mouth it, i'll never bad mouth one of the halliwell sisters (or leo).
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FOREVER CHARMED!
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you know it!! hehe. :D
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Heavy-handed slut-shaming disguised as risque fun? Sounds like a Tyler Perry movie stretched out to series.
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Had to check in. Attractive people. Well acted. I am not the target audience. Maybe I will try LONGMIRE again.
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I liked Longmire's season premiere last year. As well as all of season 1.

But the episode last night? I did not enjoy. Save for the compost/manure jokes and how Lou Diamond Phillips won't serve Turkey at his place because of its association with Thankstaking (aka Thanksgiving).

The serious / criminal part of the show didn't do much for me last night.
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I remember watching the british version a couple of year back, the show was interresting in the first 2 seasons but after that it just got stale.
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I watched it and didn't think much of it. But I'll at least give it the 4-episodes-test. And, like you said: the bar is set much lower for summer shows. There's less good stuff on, so the not-as-good things slip through the cracks. And who knows, it might get better?
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No surprise here, it's ABC after all
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