Let me tell you a little story.
Recently I decided to clean out our pantry. My husband who hates to throw anything away was inspecting everything I was discarding. “That is expired pancake mix. Stop it,” I quietly seethed.
So, suffice to say Why Women Kill, the new CBS All Access drama premiering Thursday, speaks to me. We all get so annoyed with our life partners. Not annoyed enough to kill them, of course, but I relate to the tongue-in-cheek title, reminiscent of series creator and executive producer Marc Cherry’s other series Desperate Housewives, at a visceral level.
But murder doesn’t happen over expired food items (usually). So Why Women Kill follows three women who all live in the same Pasadena, California house in different decades. In 1963, housewife Beth Ann (Ginnifer Goodwin) moves into the lush home only to soon discover her husband Rob (Sam Jaeger) is having an affair with a waitress. In 1984, Simone (Lucy Liu) lives in the same house now ostentatiously decorated only to discover that her third husband Karl (Jack Davenport) also has a wandering eye. In 2019, Taylor (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) is in an open marriage with her husband Eli (Reid Scott) and, well, turns out three’s a crowd. By the end of the pilot, we learn that a murder has occurred in each era. But who was murdered by whom (and why) will unfold over the ten-episode first season. “Marriage is harder than it looks,” the crusty old neighbor intones at the start of the second episode.
Recently my sister found the listing of our childhood home. As I scrolled through the pictures and saw the gleaming new fixtures, fresh paint and modern décor what struck me is that the bones of the house remained the same. I have vivid memories of Christmas morning in the living room, watching reruns of Laverne & Shirley in the family room and all the neighborhood dads setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July on our front walkway. It made me think of the stories houses could tell about the people who live in them. That paint colors and décor may change but the essence of marriage and family (no matter how it’s made up) is timeless.
Why Women Kill gets this and weaves in and out of the decades with aplomb. The Mad Men era ‘60s is full of bored housewives without much to do while their husbands are at work. The gaudy ‘80s is the era of more is more in terms of decorating, hairstyles and clothing, but it’s also a time when it was very difficult to show your true self to the world. And the current “anything goes,” let’s-live-our-lives-for-social-media era definitely has its drawbacks.
The tongue-in-cheek tone can be tricky. But beginning with the opening credits, which is set against the Frank Sinatra classic “L.O.V.E.” and pulpy comic book scenes, Why Women Kill gets the tone just right. Cherry knows how to make social commentary while making us laugh and take a discerning eye to our lives. The series is funny. When her best friend’s son Tommy (Leo Howard) propositions her, Simone says, “That was a lovely speech Tommy. Next time try it without the skateboard.”
And the stellar cast pulls it off. Liu is pitch perfect as the Dynasty-era wife. Her eye makeup alone is reason enough to watch the series. “You think you are going to get out of this by dying? Fuck you,” she says to her philandering spouse. Goodwin is terrific as the mousy housewife, who has a history of profound loss and isn’t quite sure how to keep her husband interested. She gets a sex how-to book from her neighbor Sheila (Alicia Coppola) and it doesn’t go as planned when she tries to implement the book’s advice. “I was cut to shreds moments after my wife turned into a French whore,” Rob laments.
And Howell-Baptiste, who also co-starred in the current season of Veronica Mars, is having a hell of a summer. On paper Taylor and Eli have the most modern of marriages. They are both able to see other people, and Taylor is in a relationship with Jade (Alexandra Daddario). Things go south, though, when Jade temporarily moves in with the couple, breaking their number one rule: “You don’t bring hook-ups into our house.”
When CBS Access first started I thought “why would anyone want to pay for yet another streaming service?” But with shows like The Good Fight and now Why Women Kill the network is proving it’s worthy of your money. It’s not to die for yet, but it’s close.
Why Women Kill premieres Thursday August 15 on CBS All Access.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).