O Sex and the City, what hast thou wrought? Ever since the HBO series went off the air last year, network programmers have clung blindly to the hope that any program featuring four neurotic, man-hungry women, preferably set in the 212 area code, will have viewers salivating like Pavlov’s dogs. Even offscreen, the show’s legacy lives on: I honestly believe that the success of Sex and the City statistically increased the number of unbearable women in New York (and perhaps elsewhere as well). Its sympathetic portrait of a quartet of entitled hotties with expensive wardrobes and significant real-estate footprints has enabled a whole generation to overspend on shoes, spill overpriced cocktails on innocent bystanders at bars, and yammer on their sparkly cell phones in the middle of the sidewalk. Despite the predictable plotlines and the painful puns in Carrie’s voiceover, there was still something irresistible about the life-loving heroines of Sex and the City. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of that show’s army of fictional and real-life fembot clones.
Two new series, ABC’s Hot Properties and the WB’s Related, stick closely to the S&TC formula, placing four attractive females in a hothouse Manhattan environment and waiting for the laughs to roll in. Both shows even boast some parentage with Sex and the City: Related is co-created by Liz Tucillo, a former S&TC writer, and Hot Properties features Evan Handler (who played Charlotte’s devoted husband, the hairless Harry) in a supporting role. But as it turns out, four sets of ovaries pumping out estrogen are not an automatic recipe for TV magic.
Related, a one-hour drama that premiered last Wednesday at 9 p.m. on the WB, follows the travails of the four Sorelli sisters. The eldest, Ginnie (Jennifer Esposito), is a successful lawyer who’s just learned she’s pregnant but can’t find a way to tell her Peter Pan husband Bob (Callum Blue). Ann (Kiele Sanchez), a counselor who specializes in treating transvestites, is having trouble with her distant restaurateur boyfriend Danny (Dan Futterman). Marjee (Lizzy Caplan) is a frazzled party planner who’s just received an eviction notice. And the youngest, 19-year-old college student Rose (Laura Breckenridge), has just switched majors from pre-med to experimental theater.
Related has some strengths, particularly the understated performance of Kiele Sanchez, who was called in as an 11th-hour replacement for Laura San Giacomo when an early screening of the pilot bombed. (What was wrong with San Giacomo’s performance, I wonder? Her down-to-earth sarcasm was the only thing that made Just Shoot Me watchable.) But this show’s downfall is that it hews too religiously to its own sororal typology. Ginnie is the bossy type-A control freak, organizing “phone chains” to alert the sisters to every new family development. Ann is the buttoned-down, analytical one. Marjee is the supposedly lovable drama-queen kook (who, like many such people in real life, comes off instead as a pathological narcissist). And Rose is the unadventurous nice girl, who must be reminded of this trait in every conversation (ensuring, of course, that she will engage in all sorts of tongue-piercing, hair-dyeing mischief by episode’s end.) Related airs in the same time slot as Lost, on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET—given that juggernaut show’s second-season ratings so far, the WB might as well have saved its money by airing a color-bar test pattern during that time.
As for Hot Properties, it’s been handed the none-too-enviable slot between Hope & Faith and 20/20, on Friday nights at 9:30 p.m. ET. Given the shut-in demographic likely to be tuned in at this hour, this sitcom’s rampant raunchiness seems oddly out of place (though it could become a minor cult hit among the Golden Girls/DesigningWomen fan base, where geriatric overlaps with gay camp). Set in an all-female real-estate office in—say it with me—Manhattan, Hot Properties also lays out a strictly delineated foursome of types. Ava (Gail O’Grady) is the Kim Cattrall character, a lusty blonde in her 40s married to a much younger man. Chloe (Nicole Sullivan) is the classic man-hunting sad sack, toting around a copy of He’s Just Not That Into You as she laments her latest unenviable date. Lola (Sofia Vergara) is a spicy Latina with a huge rack who’s constantly affirming her spicy Latina-tude with lines like, “You had me at hola.” And cute, preppy Emerson (Christina Moore) is a virgin who joins the agency as an office assistant after she learns that her fiance—ostensibly also a virgin—has in fact two-timed her with not one but two of the sexy realtors.
Hot enough for you? Well, not really. Despite an abundance of painfully suggestive one-liners (the voluptuous Lola assures one client that she knows a lot about carpentry, having spent her life “surrounded by men with wood”), Hot Properties feels tepid and static. What’s worse for a show designed to appeal to female audiences, it feels misogynistic. The insights of how-to dating guides like He’s Just Not That Into You or The Rules could have been treated as fodder for a wicked parody of contemporary gender politics; instead, they’re respected as holy writ. When women are told for the katrillionth time that all we want is a husband, a baby, and the perfect pair of shoes, it starts to sound less like gal talk and more like marching orders. Sex and the City could be glitzy and occasionally inane, but at least it aspired to be a portrait of the pleasures of female friendship, not just a checklist of gags about biological clocks, boob jobs, and the quest for a diamond engagement ring.