TV Detail: The Starter Wife review. Series Premiere
When The Starter Wife ran as a six-episode miniseries last year, it garnered 10 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries (Debra Messing) and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries (the delightfully wry Judy Davis). The original ran on the USA network, the home of Friday night's two-hour premiere episode of the new regular-series adaptation.
The show follows Molly Kagan (Messing), newly divorced ex-film-studio-exec power wife. The premise felt a little forced. Molly lived in a world where having a man meant not only financial stability, but also social standing. Part of the reason this condition felt so unbelievable was the rigidity of the construct. In the miniseries, being a "starter wife" signified absolute exclusion, ridicule—an ousting from the world of privilege. It still does, sort of, but the 2008 version has made certain adjustments to better relate Molly's character to the audience.
In the new Starter Wife, her ex-husband Kenny (Lipstick Jungle's David Alan Basche) is no longer the heartless, lechy type. He's a bit of a goofball who's recently lost his fortune and standing with a few bad investments, forcing Molly into a position where she has to make due without the obscene child support checks of last year's incarnation. More than that, the new series has her pursuing a lifelong dream of chick lit-style, bloggy journal writing, and it somehow even manages to make it seem as if financial necessity has pushed her to the fruition of this career move.
The first hour of the episode features an unfortunate sequence of really fakey writing workshops, and the introduction of a leading man whose would-be complexity comes off slimey and boring. But the second half wins the viewer back. The show ultimately works because of Messing: she's elegant, motherly, sexy, sensitive and, of course, spoiled, but we forgive her for that when she passes up the $1,200 boots.
Most important, she's not getting through the divorce with outlandish beach vacations and inexplicably homeless boyfriends. Now, she seems to actually be feeling the effect of the "starter wife" dilemma in a way the audience understands. She's struggling for money and to find her voice as a single woman in the show's greedy, status-driven L.A.