When a show revolves around four women’s lives and loves, as does “Mistresses,” the comparisons to “Sex and the City” and “Desperate Housewives” are inevitable.
But don’t look for a Carrie or a Lynette. Rather, the prime-time drama, premiering Monday (June 3) on ABC, features two very different sisters, Savi (Alyssa Milano, “Charmed”) and Josslyn (Jes Macallan, “Justified”), and Savi’s pals Karen (Yunjin Kim, “Lost”) and April (Rochelle Aytes, “The Forgotten”).
Technically, at least in the first couple of episodes, no one is a mistress, in the kept woman sense of the word.
Savi is connected to everyone else. An ambitious lawyer, she’s married to a distant, rather brittle chef, Harry (Brett Tucker). When Savi’s husband ignores her, she seeks attention elsewhere.
“Savi has that moment where, ‘OK, I am going to jump off the cliff right now,’ and lives and has to figure out how to put the pieces back together of her life,” Milano says. “That good girl/bad girl side that we all have and don’t necessarily act on it. And she has to deal with it.”
The show, Milano tells Zap2it, “is exploring everything it means to being a sexual being — temptation, vulnerability.”
Savi has what could be a one-time assignation with colleague Dominic (Jason George, “Grey’s Anatomy”). Usually a rule-follower but going through a rough marital patch, Savi is confused and horrified by her actions.
“She is a good person that made a bad decision,” Milano says. “She is very strong and independent and successful and a very almost Type-A personality, where she seemingly has everything together. Because of this bad moment, where she makes this bad decision, she has never experienced such chaos in her life.”
Savi cannot get a handle on what is happening in her life and shares it with her friends. The friends share their dilemmas and try to help one another.
“I just thought it was a very, very interesting balance between friendship and what goes on outside of that friendship but still affects the friendship,” Milano says, recalling her initial reaction to reading the pilot script. “And I love how flawed my character was, and I love the idea of a really, really good person that makes a really bad decision and that has to live with it.”
“It’s such a different show,” Kim says. “If we have the opportunity to live up to Season 3, we will make the audience care about our characters. It is a very stylish prime-time soap.”
The series is based on a BBC show that ran for three seasons, but Milano had not checked it out.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision, only because I got hired on Thursday and started shooting [the following] Monday,” Milano says. “And once the pilot was shot I could identify with the character I created, and it seemed silly to go back and watch it. I was almost afraid it would change how I felt about the part.”
“The fun thing about ‘Mistresses’ is it focuses on everyday people who make extreme choices,” George says. “They are there to support each other. Dominic is basically her work husband. He’s applying for the full-time position.”
The actors separately talk about how the show examines moral ambiguity.
“When you don’t know people, it’s easy to put things in black and white,” George says. “If you are in love with somebody and you’re married, does that make you a bad guy? If we met in a different time and place? It’s the usual shoulda, woulda, coulda.”
Savi’s sister, Joss, however, is determined to have few regrets, at least not as a result of abstaining from experiences. A real estate agent and free spirit, she relishes breaking rules and has many lovers.
The lone mom in the group is April, who’s also a recent widow. She’s convinced her husband’s ghost is trying to contact her, but she starts to date.
Despite all of this, the most complicated relationship in the first episodes belongs to Karen. A successful psychiatrist, Karen breaks the cardinal rule by having an affair with a patient.
The patient dies, but his son falls for her and starts stalking her.
Sound like a guilty pleasure yet?
“One thing interesting about Karen is she thinks she has it all together, but she doesn’t,” Kim says. “Something is wrong and juicy about her character as the series goes on.”
“Morally, is this right or wrong?” Kim continues. “But it is a question of the heart. What is a marriage? What is infidelity and what is love?”
“What’s nice is we don’t have to solve a case,” Kim says. “Our focal point is the friendship of the four women, and we come together to hash it out and give advice. I am always surrounded by amazing women. To do a show I relate to and care about is a blessing.”