For all its faults, one of the qualities that has helped make The Simpsons the longest-running sitcom in television history is its uncanny ability to puncture delusions. Take, for example, a 2002 episode that showed Marge's perpetually single sisters Selma and Patti enjoying a program clearly meant to represent Sex and the City. Sitting on the couch in housecoats, legs unshaven, cigarettes in hand, the pair turn to each other after watching four glamorous sex kittens yammer on about their love lives and say, "This is so like our lives. It's like they hid a camera in our apartment."
Clearly Selma and Patti are fooling themselves, and the joke is that so were Sex and the City's millions of fans.
Once a single girl in a large metropolis at the height of Sex and the City's popularity, I can attest that The Simpsons got it exactly right. Part of what drew young women to the show was that they wanted to believe the bed- and club-hopping they were doing in their prime marriage and child-bearing years made them enviable rather than pitiable creatures, made them more likely to find the things they wanted rather than less.
The series at once fed a sour-grapes and fairy-tale mentality, paradoxically suggesting that husbands and kids stifle women, but also assuring them that having uncommitted sex with numerous men was their best chance of getting both. From a ratings standpoint, the formula was a winner, prompting NBC to option another book by Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell to win over an older audience. Unfortunately for NBC, older women aren't as appeased with lip gloss and corner offices.
Lipstick Jungle (Thursdays, NBC, TV-14 for sex, language, adult themes) could theoretically resonate with married mothers by following the same pattern its predecessor did with single women-first appealing to their pride and then alleviating their fears. But Bushnell and her producers don't seem to have any idea of where a mother's ego typically lies nor what makes married women insecure.
Nowhere in the first episodes do they mention the contest for superiority working moms and their stay-at-home counterparts often engage in or the lack of appreciation many wives feel. Similarly, the greatest internal conflict professional mothers say they experience-guilt at spending more time on their jobs than with their children-goes unacknowledged.
The show provides no deeper understanding of what being a mother and wife means than a teenage girl imagining her future would. In fact, it's as if the network handed the creation of the primary characters over to 13-year-olds, so ridiculously fashionable are the lives of magazine editor Nico (Kim Raver), clothing designer Victory (Lindsay Price), and movie studio executive Wendy (Brooke Shields).
If anything, this group of women is even shallower than Bushnell's bachelorettes. At least on Sex and the City, main character Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) felt guilt for cheating on her boyfriend and agonized over when she should have a child. On the premiere of Lipstick Jungle, Nico doesn't bat an eye at betraying her husband and uses her biological clock as a bargaining chip. That might draw viewers looking for a cheap evening soap-opera à la Dynasty or Melrose Place, but Lipstick Jungle's feminist overtones suggest it wants to be taken seriously as an exploration of women's lives.
One comfort NBC can take: Lipstick Jungle will never become a worthy target of The Simpsons.