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Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle deal with work, relationships, and fashion without typecasting their Asian American female leads. But perhaps exploring their Asian-ness could make them more interesting?
As I watched Lucy Liu stride through Manhattan arm and arm with her fabulous girlfriends, also known as the Cashmere Mafia, I couldn't help but wonder…
Likewise, when I spotted Lindsay Price sipping cocktails with the rest of the Lipstick Jungle gang, I did a Carrie Bradshaw-style eyebrow arch…
How would race play into these Sex and the City takeoffs? Would they address being Asian, or would being Asian be simply for looks?
Carrie and the rest of Sex and the City's fab foursome were all Caucasian. In fact, there was nary a person of color in the whole series -- even though New York is one of America's diversity capitals. Now, Sex and the City creator Candace Bushnell and producer Darren Star are each trying to rework the female friendship formula with Lipstick Jungle and Cashmere Mafia, respectively. And part of the new formula is integrating Asian Americans into the cast of powerful, stylish and beautiful women “at the top of their game.”
Here's the good: Liu and Price are not playing stereotypes. Magazine publisher Mia Mason (Liu) and fashion designer Victory Ford (Price) are well-rounded characters. Or, they are at least as well-rounded as female characters can be on shows with the words “cashmere” and “lipstick” in their titles. Mia and Victory laugh, argue, get upset and bounce back.
Cashmere Mafia initiates the race dialogue when Mia's mother sets her up on a blind date with a Chinese guy she promises is a doctor... and handsome -- in that order. Jason Chun (Jack Yang) pleasantly surprises Mia when he lives up to the description. He also surprises her when he says “I don't date Chinese.” Mia is momentarily taken aback before she rethinks the dating prowess and sex appeal of Asian men. Mia and Jack share some of the rare kisses onscreen between an Asian American woman and an Asian American man. The television viewers are invited to change their perceptions along with Mia, which goes to show how far unexpected TV moments can go.
However, Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle lack the most compelling aspect of Sex and the City: the sex. Being on HBO allowed the series to talk about sex frankly, show it explicitly, and put it boldly out there in its very title. The new ABC and NBC shows revamp or actually, de-vamp Sex and the City for network television. The raciest it gets is Brooke Shields straddling a rumbling clothes dryer. But mostly you see her feet. Take out the sexual revolution, and all you have left is a parade of crazy outfits.
Speaking of which, Cashmere Mafia has the benefit of Sex and the City's kooky costume designer Patricia Field. The “Cashmere Mafia” beats Lipstick Jungle in the wardrobe department because the outrageous outfits (think oversize belts and fur) provide the show's biggest laughs. The powers behind Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle push the clothes as a reason to tune in. Cashmere Mafia has its own “eMagazine” where you can learn how to dress like the gals. Likewise, Lipstick Jungle has special promotions during its commercial breaks: “how to get Wendy's look” with Maybelline cosmetics. It's not surprising that Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle prioritize fashion and product promotion. Unfortunately, the spirit of superficiality loses its fun when the clothes are more up-to-date than the storytelling.
The woman whose demanding job puts a strain on her family life, the preppy ice queen whose perfect marriage is falling apart, and the woman who is exploring lesbianism late in life are all stories that have been played out on Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, and various Lifetime programming. If the shows want to differentiate themselves from Sex and the City and from each other, they should stop relying on hackneyed plots. Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle have stepped into Sex and the Ctiy's Jimmy Choos, but neither knows how to walk in them yet.
One way to make Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle more than sex-less Sex and the City knock-offs is to insert smart dialogue on race. Mia and Jack's relationship had the beginnings of a clever look at race in the dating world, but was dropped with Jack's departure from the show. Here you have two successful and articulate women of color as main characters, so why not explore how being Asian affects their careers, their family life, and their relationships? That would be going where very few shows have gone before -- a real reason to strut down the street with pride.
Date Posted: 3/7/2008