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Television: Guilty Pleasures – The Call of the Lipstick Jungle

Sam Brooks journeys deep into the heart of Lipstick Jungle, the lesser-known Candace Bushnell TV adaptation which followed Sex and the City.

If you mention Lipstick Jungle to somebody, you’ll probably get one of two answers:

1. Is that the one with Lucy Liu?

2. What is Lipstick Jungle?

To answer both questions:

1. No! The show you are thinking of is Cashmere Mafia, which is the Star Trek to Lipstick Jungle’s Star Wars. In this metaphor, Sex and the City is 2001: A Space Oddysey.

2. Lipstick Jungle is the second adaptation of a Candace Bushnell novel. It follows Sex and the City, which everybody is aware of, and precedes The Carrie Diaries, which you might not be aware of and is actually surprisingly good.

It is an hour-long network dramedy starring Brooke Shields (that lady from Suddenly Susan), Kim Raver (that lady from 24) and Lindsay Price (that lady from a bunch of shows you have never watched).

The plots revolve around women dealing with work and their challenges and really wondering if they can have it all. This question is never resolved, because this show was made before the 30 Rock finale where we learned that women can definitely have it all and there were no more shows made around this really reductive premise.

Lipstick Jungle is fascinating to me as an example of the kind of show that pops up and is advertised with all the push that networks have behind it – I vividly remember being on buses and seeing billboards for this all over Auckland – only to then be quietly cancelled and forgotten. See also: That Charlie’s Angels remake, 666 Park Street, Last Resort, Witches of Eastwick and countless other shows.

It’s also fascinating to me as a time capsule from when we expected just a little bit less from our TV. To wit, in the pilot episode of Lipstick Jungle, our three heroines (though let’s be clear: Brooke Shields is the lead and the other two are mere sidepieces – if Lipstick Jungle is a reminder of anything it’s of the weird intense charisma that Brooke Shields has possessed since the days of Blue Lagoon) go through these dilemmas:

– Brooke Shields (character name unimportant) has been trying to get a Galileo biopic off the ground for five years, and is just about to lock in ‘Leo’ for the lead role, but – gasp! – Dreamworks has another Galileo biopic in the works (because Lipstick Jungle exists in an alternate universe where this is feasible) and ‘Leo’ is interested in this. Her husband is mad at her because he works for her and that is the extent of his drama.

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– Kim Raver (character name also unimportant) runs a magazine that doesn’t seem to have a defined focus, and is getting forced out of the company by her boss because he is a MAN and she is a WOMAN. She also cheats on her husband with a young guy she meets at a party called Kirby and makes these faces:

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– Lindsay Price plays a character named Victory Ford. Nothing else about this character matters.

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Lipstick Jungle isn’t Sex and the City, it’s not even The Carrie Diaries, but it is a ridiculously easy show to watch – both for the fact that it is as funny as your average hour-long dramedy this side of Desperate Housewives can be, and because nobody is going to spoil Lipstick Jungle for you.

It’s from the era of TV before Ned Stark, Nicholas Brody and the Yellow King. It’s from the era of TV where women shop for scarves in Central Park like this:

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I can’t say I love Lipstick Jungle, but goddamned if I wouldn’t watch it if somebody sat me down in front of it. I would absolutely watch these women try to have it all.


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