For months now, the USA Network has been running ads for the The Starter Wife. Seeing these ads over and over again, I realized three things:
1. It’s really hard to get “I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow out of your head.
2. Debra Messing’s delivery of “I live in a crazy world” is almost as ridiculous and over the top as the infamous “You’re risking a patient’s life!” line from the pilot episode of House.
3. Because it looks like the most clichéd chick show ever, I had to give The Starter Wife One Shot …
The Starter Wife – “The 40-Year-Old Virgin Queen;
Diary of a Mad Ex-Housewife”
(USA Network – Fridays at 10 p.m.)
This past Friday must have been my lucky day because the USA Network gave me not one, but two episodes back-to-back of this show. Since the two episodes were intertwined, I had no choice but to review them both. So technically I got a “double shot” of this show, but I won’t tell if you don’t.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this show, the concept is pretty simple. Debra Messing plays Molly Kegel (okay, that’s not really her last name, but it’s close enough – besides, I heard her character likes to exercise). Molly Kegel was married to a big shot Hollywood producer, but he dumped her once he made it big because she was just a “starter wife.” Apparently, in the miniseries that preceded season one, Molly met some other guy, but he dumped her too, so she is single once again at the start of this season. Luckily, she has her sassy gay friend (sadly, it’s not Will) and a poor man’s Shirley MacLaine to lean on.
Overall, the show is about what you would expect from a chick show (if you are wondering how long it took Molly to try on shoes while exchanging witty banter with her friends, the answer is six minutes). Allow me to give you a recap of the show’s major plot points …
Molly’s douchey ex-husband (who is so douchey that he wears a Bluetooth headset at all times, lest you forget for one minute that he is, in fact, a douche) has all of his money tied up in his movie Blood Canal. He has so much money tied up in it that he starts bouncing checks to their daughter’s private school. He eventually sells his house and moves into an apartment, but he needs Molly’s help to move, because he is so horribly inept at life. She constantly has to coddle him through every little thing he does.
Douchey ex-husband’s movie is a complete flop. The test audience hates it. The ex begins to sulk, but Molly gives him a pep talk telling him that he is a great producer and he can sell the movie, even if it is a steaming pile of shit. After all, he gets a large share of the money made in foreign markets, so all he has to do is retool the movie so that it sells overseas and he will make money.
Molly’s sassy gay friend is an interior decorator (because he is incredibly clichéd). He falls for one of his clients, a large black action movie star. Sassy gay friend assumes that the guy is straight, but the action star ends up banging him once they are alone together. Afterward, the action star makes it clear that he’s not gay; he’s a straight dude who just happens to like banging guys.
Poor Man’s Shirley MacLaine
Poor Man’s Shirley MacLaine is a recovering alcoholic, so she decides to work at a posh celebrity rehab center. She is sent to the airport to pick up a washed up alcoholic actor, but he continually tries to ditch her on their way to rehab. She eventually gets him checked in.
Later, Poor Man’s Shirley MacLaine tries to do a sexy dance for her husband, but he is unimpressed (in fairness to her husband, her “sexy” dance contained some of the most awkward and unsexy dance moves I’ve ever seen). Her husband tells her that he’s lost all interest in sex, since he is so old and decrepit now, but if she is still interested in getting some, she should bang other guys. Her husband believes that since he has absolutely no interest in screwing her, she must whore around town to save their marriage. For some reason, she is offended by this idea. Gee, I can’t imagine why.
Now that we got the subplots out of the way, let’s get into the main story …
In the beginning of the show, Molly decides to swear off men, since her last two relationships were so disastrous. But, of course, she meets a handsome gentleman who immediately makes her swoon, so being chaste is going to be harder than she thought.
Molly writes children’s books. The man she meets is also an author and he hosts a writers’ group (we’ll call him The Writer). Molly attends the first group meeting, but the other authors tackle more adult subject matter and are underwhelmed by her children’s book.
She contemplates quitting the group, but instead decides to bring her personal diary along to the second meeting and reads from that instead. The other members of the group are amused by her diary entries, which recount the exploits of the rich housewives that Molly knows. The Writer is so impressed with her work (a.k.a. he wants to bang her) that he invites her to a party at his house. The party will be filled with powerful people in the writing industry and he wants Molly to bring her diary along so that he can help her land a job as a columnist.
At the party, Molly tries to pitch the column to a magazine publisher, but she wants to change the names of the women mentioned in the diary entries. The publisher insists that she use the actual names of the women she is writing about, so Molly reads him an excerpt about his wife, who pulled a Winona Ryder and stole jewelry from a Barney’s counter.
Molly storms out of the party, but she accidentally leaves her diary behind. When she returns the next day to look for it, it’s nowhere to be found. What she does find is that The Writer hooked up with a random blonde chick, who walks around the apartment naked while Molly is there.
Molly eventually discovers that someone stole her diary and that person is selling excerpts of it to a gossip blog. Whoever is selling the excerpts uses the pseudonym “The Hollywood Ex-Wife.” The Writer shows up to her house with a guest list from the party, so that she can try to track down who stole it. He and Molly bond some more.
The first story that appears on the gossip blog is about the wife of a LA Dodgers player. Molly and the Dodger wife became fast friends and the Dodger wife confided in her that she once paid a waitress to flirt with her husband so that she could find out whether he was cheating on her or not. Molly wrote about the story in her diary and whoever stole it sold that entry to the gossip blog. The Dodger wife is horrified that the story got out and Molly feels so guilty that she ends up confessing that she is the Hollywood Ex-Wife. Unfortunately, some other chick overhears their conversation, which is undoubtedly setting us up for future shenanigans.
Final Thoughts: While the show wasn’t outright terrible, it was definitely your standard chick show. There were lots of talk of shoes and clothes and lots of high society parties and get-togethers. The sassy gay friend and aging Shirley MacLaine-type are characters that have been seen a thousand times before. The men in Molly’s life all act exactly how you would expect them to.
Ultimately, the characters and situations have a “been there, done that” feel to them. There isn’t much originality to the show at all. The one thing I will give them credit for is having Molly’s diary get stolen and the information leaked out over the Internet, since I thought for sure the show was just going to go the Sex and the City route and have Molly become a columnist.
One other way the show tries to be original is by having strange fantasy sequences that parody famous movie scenes. When Molly decides to be chaste at the beginning of part one, she has a dream sequence where she is Cate Blanchett’s Queen Elizabeth from the movie Elizabeth. When Molly gives her ex a pep talk, there is a black and white Frankenstein parody. As Molly searches for her diary, they lampoon the same Mission: Impossible sequence that everyone lampoons (Tom Cruise being lowered into the room from the ceiling). Once the diary entries begin to get posted online, we are treated to a Raiders of the Lost Ark parody, where people’s faces melt off once the diary is opened.
While I appreciate the fact that they were trying to mix things up, all of these movie parodies felt really flat. Not a single one of those movies is less than a decade old and the sequences didn’t really have any new jokes to offer. Instead the writers seem to be using the Seltzberg school of thought – instead of coming up with a punchline, simply reference things we are all already familiar with.
Overall, the show lived up to what it promised – Debra Messing does indeed live in a crazy world. Unfortunately, it’s not a world I want to revisit any time soon.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.