Saturday, August 17, 2019

Why Women Kill S01E01: Murder Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry

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Marc Cherry returns in great form
by Chuck Duncan

Way back in 2004, Marc Cherry became an overnight sensation when his new TV series Desperate Housewives premiered on ABC. The show was a rating smash and garnered its share of controversy with conservative groups who felt the show was immoral and launched boycotts of Disney and the show's sponsors. Cherry and Company got the last laugh as the series went on to a successful eight season run, ending in 2012. Cherry then created another show for ABC that seemed like another surefire hit, Devious Maids, but the network eventually passed and the series found a savior in the Lifetime cable network where it ran for four seasons beginning in 2013. It's been a couple of years since Cherry has had a new series on the air but he's back and firing on all cylinders.

Why Women Kill premiered on subscription service CBS All Access this week and it was a fabulous debut. The women of the title are played by Ginnifer Goodwin (Beth Ann), Lucy Liu (Simone) and Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Taylor), wives living in the same house in different eras: 1963, 1984, and 2019 respectively. Beth Ann and her husband Robert (Sam Jaeger) have just moved into a mansion in Pasadena, something they can now afford thanks to his job with NASA. Beth Ann feels terribly out of place and isn't impressed with her loud Italian neighbors ... but she puts on a good face.

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Simone and her husband Karl (Jack Davenport) live in the same mansion which has just been redecorated in stereotypically (but normal for the era) gaudy 1980s style and Simone is ready to show the place off to her friends. She's taken aback though when she learns one of her 'closest' friends doesn't really like her and has not come to the party. In 2019, Taylor and her husband Eli are in the process of remodeling the mansion again -- and Taylor is not putting up with any of the contractor's shenanigans. This couple has an open marriage and Taylor is bisexual, having a female lover on the side. Their agreement is that neither will bring their hook-ups to the house, but an emergency call from Taylor's newest fling Jade (Alexandra Daddario) makes it necessary for her to have a safe space to get away from a stalker ex.

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Of course with a title like Why Women Kill, there must be some reason that each of these women are the focus of the show. Beth Ann accidentally overhears her neighbor Sheila (Alicia Coppola) telling another woman at the grocery store that her husband saw Robert kissing a cute blonde waitress at the local diner. Beth Ann doesn't want to believe it -- he'd never do that because of what happened to their daughter, she tells Sheila (but we don't know what happened at this point) -- but she drives to the diner after Robert calls and says he has a late business meeting, and she sees him kiss the waitress. She confides in Sheila, who tells her to confront the girl, and Beth Ann finds the courage to do so ... and finds that she's really a sweet girl. Does she know Robert is even married? Beth Ann almost runs but April (Sadie Calvano) sees something is bothering Beth Ann and convinces her to sit and talk while it's slow at the diner. Beth Ann decides that April will be her new best friend ... but how will she deal with Robert, questioning aloud when he will die during an evening dinner of meat loaf.

Simone, after learning of her friend's hatred of her, finds an envelope on the dining room table with her name on it. Inside are a strip of photo booth pictures with Karl and ... another man. Not wanting to cause a scene, she drags Karl to the bathroom and shows him the photos, then realizes this is not a one-time thing. She tells him to discreetly go upstairs and begin packing while she makes an excuse that he's taken ill, and then he can leave after the party ends. But she later finds him in a stupor having taking a bottle of pills. She calls for an ambulance and while the neighbors gather she tells them all he fell and hit his head. But she sees the now former friend Wanda and realizes it was she who gave her the photos. A catfight breaks out and the EMTs have to break them up. Later, her friend Naomi's son Tommy (Leo Howard), who was a waiter at the party, came to check on Simone and admitted he saw the photos. She was horrified but broke down and he consoled her, giving her a tender kiss and telling her he'd been wanting to do that since he was 13. She asked how old he was now and he said 18 ... in two days: 'As much as it would cheer me up to commit a felony, I think you should go.' But Tommy assured her that he is ready to show her the love she deserves (in more vulgar and direct words). But she's still got Karl to deal with.

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Taylor has a slightly different issue. It's not that her husband is cheating on her, but when she brings Jade home he is firm that she can stay a night, or the weekend, okay until Labor Day which is Monday. But Jade is stunning and it's obvious he's attracted to her ... and Taylor isn't blind. When they wake up the next morning, their disaster area of a house -- clothes are strewn everywhere -- is spic and span and breakfast is waiting. Eli is kind of enjoying having a 'wife' who actually cleans and cooks. Taylor is a lawyer and barely has time for anything while Eli struggles to write a new script. Jade, it turns out, is a huge fan of his movie and that only makes her more attractive to him. His friend says Eli needs to bring up the idea of a three-way with Taylor since they're both into Jade. Eli isn't sure Taylor would go for that but the notion is enticing. So far we don't know yet what exactly pushes Taylor to 'kill mode' but it's coming.

The episode opened with The Husbands giving their recollections of how they met their wives, talking about how happy they were until ... and the episode ended with The Wives questioning why a woman kills, and who does she kill: the other woman or the man who wronged her, perhaps the friend who exposed a dirty secret? And do we condemn her or sympathize with her? And most importantly -- does she get away with it? All good questions that will unfold over the next several episodes.

I wasn't sure how the show would be from watching the trailer which I felt was a bit flat, but the first episode was a hoot, blending that patented mix of drama and comedy Cherry does so well. The show also looks fantastic, presented in an extreme widescreen image, looking like a 1950s Technicolor CinemaScope 'woman's picture' by Douglas Sirk (Imitation of Life, All That Heaven Allows) accompanied by a whimsical musical score by Mateo Messina that feels heavily influenced by the work of Danny Elfman. The writing and the cast are all on point making Why Women Kill one of the most entertaining new shows of the year and I am fully on board for the rest of the ride.

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