Adapted from the British series of the same name, Mistresses aspires to follow in the steps of the ABC’s guilty pleasure Desperate Housewives, but this tacky, unattractively soapy drama stumbles hard out of the starting gate. The series focuses on four women entangled in a number of adulterous relationships, but their ill-considered liaisons rarely supply the dramatic tension necessary to hold our attention beyond the softcore sex scenes. Whereas something like the so-screwy-it’s-fun Scandal uses its serpentine, ludicrous plotting to its advantage, suspending the disbelief of its audience long enough for them to forget how silly the material is, Mistresses’s writers take a different approach, frontloading its first few episodes with a slew of daytime-soap scenarios and run-of-the-mill twists, the monotony of which results in a revolving door of thoroughly dim-witted extramarital affairs.
The majority of Mistresses’s titular ladyloves posses the chronic inability to handle the unfortunate consequences of their carnal misdeeds, which ultimately leads to many instances of awkward weeping and prolonged, depressed gazes into space. Savannah (Alyssa Milano), or Savi, as she’s affectionately nicknamed by her companions, is an up-and-coming lawyer whose marriage to successful chef Harry (Brett Tucker) is on the precipice of failure due to his inability to produce healthy sperm. The couple has been struggling to procreate for quite some time, putting a damper on their professional careers, and the most recent attempts to conceive have been so lacking in spice that they’ve resorted to clumsy roleplaying. Throughout the pilot, Savi and Harry grow further apart, and by the end Savi’s doing the dirty deed with a partner at her law firm, the relentless Dominic (Jason George), who’s been trying to get in her pants for a while. In the aftermath, Savi is seen crying in the bathroom, and soon her duplicity threatens to cost her an important promotion. Rather than sympathizing with her moral dilemma, the audience is more likely to point and laugh, as she made the hasty choice to cheat without an ounce of insight into what kind of trouble her infidelity might cause.
From the outset, Mistresses refuses to present its tawdry hanky panky in a compelling manner. The performances are uniformly passionless, especially the perpetually lethargic one given by Lost’s Yunjin Kim as Karen, a therapist who fell in love with a married, cancer-stricken patient and finally begins to feel homewrecker’s remorse after her secret suitor has perished. Savi’s younger sister, Josslyn (Jes Macallan), is a party-girl realtor who willingly jumps from fling to fling, and then mopes when she can’t find someone to settle down with. The paranoid April (Rochelle Aytes) is a widow who’s convinced early on that her late husband is making phone calls to her from beyond the grave, provoking an intense fear of commitment to any prospective mates. She’s the only main character who doesn’t actively engage in scandalous acts; instead, she’s left damaged by the ones of her late husband (the “ghost” caller turns out to be an ex-lover of his who he impregnated while married to April). All of this sustained nonsense is underscored by a bland visual palette (the characters’ living quarters look like spreads ripped from the pages of Better Homes and Gardens) and an unfitting selection of radio-friendly pop music looping in the background. Quizzically, for a series that deals mainly in touchy transgressions and dubious betrayals, Mistresses is awash in a yawn-inducing flatness as thick as its quartet of cracked concubines.