Hey, it’s summer, so we’re in dire straits for new programming. But even then, hanging out with Mistresses smacks of desperation. The ABC summer series has reached its improbable fourth season, following original series lead and draw Alyssa Milano’s departure at the close of season two, after the show moved to Vancouver and she didn’t want to uproot her family. Jennifer Esposito stepped in last season as a second-rung replacement as fashion maven Calista: It’s hard to top the appeal of Milano, who not only survived being a child actress on Who’s The Boss, but mastered the steamy soap opera as a late-season addition to Melrose Place.

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If only Mistresses boasted any of Melrose’s soapy appeal. It has its moments, as in the season-three finale when Joss (Jes Macallan) was faced with a gun-toting Wilson Corvo, dressed up in drag as Calista. Instead of leading up all season for such a big, nuts reveal, Mistresses should be pulling that off every week. But even this premiere is downright tepid. A forward jump in time a year later shows us that Wilson is on trial for Calista’s husband’s murder, and Joss is in denial about her PTSD after the attack. Yunjin Kim’s Karen is now a successful author who’s about to hook up with her hot manny (Jerry O’Connell) in .02 seconds. April (Rochelle Ayres) and Marc are living together and arguing about their hopes and dreams because they need a storyline. It’s barely more interesting than regular life, and who needs that?

Mistresses still holds some possibilities thanks to the strength of the supposed friendship of the three leads, and it is nice how they’re continually helping each other out, as April and Karen pull Joss from the press pack and April lets Joss use her store for Karen’s book reading. But chemistry is a tricky thing, and without Milano’s Savi (who was a nice, grounded counterpart to flighty Joss), the show lacks female friendship chemistry, which is even more important to this show than its romantic kind. It’s an elusive but vital part of shows like these: Sex And The City definitely had it, as did Desperate Housewives. Cashmere Mafia, not at all. Lipstick Jungle, kind of. Currently, the best example of the female hangout is Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce, but unfortunately that show’s mid-season is winter, not summer. Karen is so tightly wound, April also worrisome and nice, it seems unlikely that the effervescent, funny Joss (who hasn’t seen her paramour in so long this episode, she calls her vagina an echo chamber) would waste her time with them. They’re not opposites attracting (as in the case of Savi and Joss), but opposites totally missing each other.

The menfolk don’t help much, although it’s kind of funny that the hottest pairing on the show is Joss with her sister’s former husband, Harry. Marc is a snooze, whose driving personality force appears to be indirection. O’Connell’s manny is already running out of reasons to be shirtless in episode one. But thanks to the fact that most of us have seen a television before, we can already see how most of this is going to play out: Joss’ PTSD will manifest itself in extreme, self-destructive ways. Karen is going to sleep with the manny, and be subsequently racked with guilt. Here’s my only area of pure speculation: April becomes a famous artist, which will only pull her further away from Marc, who will start drinking again.

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Since it’s been awhile since A.V. Club checked in with Mistresses, I went back and read Carrie Raisler’s original premiere review, which lists many of the same issues I found with the season four premiere: “Sexy and intriguing Mistresses forgot to bring the sex and intrigue.” A few more seasons haven’t raised the Mistresses stakes any further. Actually, they’ve fallen a bit: None of characters are even mistresses any more. But all is not lost for those angling for some fun, frothy, female-based drama: Lifetime’s UnREAL returns for its season two on June 6. You’re welcome.

Stray observations

  • Yunjin Kim is a beautiful woman, but that haircut does her no favors, sorry.
  • I would love to see Jes Macallan on another show. Virtually any other show, she’s great.
  • So will the departed Savi at least get a mention, possibly an email, to let her know that her sister is marrying her ex-husband?
  • I thought about reviewing this show for the summer, but honestly, I’m not sure I can stick with it. May check in occasionally just to see how my predictions play out.

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