Tuned In: It's a jungle out there

Two new shows set in New York and Hollywood are not likely to survive

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Thoroughly average and unfailingly adequate, NBC's "Lipstick Jungle" (10 p.m. Thursday, WPXI) is easier to like than ABC's cold, cynical "Cashmere Mafia," but that's like putting lipstick on a pig, albeit a pig dressed in couture.

Wendy (Brooke Shields, "Suddenly Susan") tries to balance family life with a job running a movie studio that's owned by demanding media baron Hector (Julian Sands). He also owns a magazine edited by Nico (Kim Raver, "24"), who's frustrated by the lack of passion in her marriage to a preoccupied college professor. Fashion designer Victory (Lindsay Price, "Beverly Hills, 90210") is the final member of the trio. Her business falters at the same time she begins a tentative romance with a wealthy eccentric (Andrew McCarthy, "Pretty in Pink").

"Lipstick Jungle" is based on the novel by Candace Bushnell, whose writing also inspired "Sex and the City." Producer Darren Star, who adapted "Sex and the City" for HBO, sought to obtain the rights to "Jungle," and, failing that, created the similar "Cashmere Mafia," which is also about women juggling personal and professional obligations.

Actually, "Mafia" bears more similarity to "Sex and the City" than "Jungle" does. "Mafia" used similar music and shots of its stars doing a power strut in its premiere. It's also faster paced and more bracing.

Yet I prefer the pokier "Lipstick Jungle." The characters, with the exception of Victory, reveal more dimensions and their problems are more relatable. "Cashmere Mafia" treats infidelity as something to be taken lightly, just another fact of life, like death and taxes. On "Jungle," when Nico contemplates an affair with a younger guy (Robert Buckley, "Fashion House"), she's hugely conflicted and wracked with guilt. That distinction alone gives "Jungle" broader appeal.

The show's biggest bungle is its use of the Big Apple or, rather, the lack thereof. Although filmed in New York, too much of the show is shot indoors (at lower cost, no doubt) for "Jungle" to evince much local flavor. It could be set in any major metropolitan area. "Mafia," which also shoots in New York, manages to create a more believable New York vibe

"Jungle" is the better show on most counts, but it still fails to create a clamor for more. It's a show that makes you think, "Well, that's fine," and then never tune in again. In TV's crowded landscape, that's simply not good enough.

'Welcome to the Captain'

If the writers strike means viewers will be spared more unfunny comedies like CBS's "Welcome to the Captain" (8:30 p.m. Monday, KDKA), then maybe there is something good to come out of that labor dispute.

Another single-camera comedy that fails to provide any laughs, this "Captain" is in command of a sinking ship. Actually, there is no character in the show who is an officer. "The Captain" is the nickname of a Hollywood apartment building that aspiring writer/director Josh (Fran Kranz) moves into at the behest of best friend Marty (Chris Klein).

Josh is mauled by resident cougar Charlene Van Ark (Raquel Welch), an aging former prime-time soap star, and flummoxed by has-been sitcom scribe Uncle Saul (Jeffrey Tambor) and doorman Jesus (Al Madrigal). Josh quickly develops a crush on accupuncturist-in-training Hope (Joanna Garcia).

As Marty, Klein seems to be aping Neil Patrick Harris' Barney from "How I Met Your Mother," but he comes by it through the script, which requires Klein to say Josh is about to start "a chapter called awesomeness," a total Barney-ism.

Discerning viewers will say good riddance to "The Captain" soon enough.

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Ask TV questions at post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A. First Published February 3, 2008 5:00 AM


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