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Anthology Series 'Why Women Kill' Weaves 3 Mysteries In 3 Decades


This is FRESH AIR. Fifteen years ago, TV writer, producer Marc Cherry scored a major hit by creating ABC's "Desperate Housewives." Now he's back with a new series exploring similar territory but in a new way and on a new TV delivery system. His new show is called "Why Women Kill." It's an anthology series shifting among three different stories and time periods. And it premieres today on the streaming service CBS All Access. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: In ABC's "Desperate Housewives," Marc Cherry hit a national nerve by telling mostly comic, sometimes uncomfortable stories about suburban women leading lives of quiet desperation. Now, for a new decade, he's back with a new take on a very similar subject. "Why Women Kill," his brand-new show for CBS All Access, is a 10-part series that may as well be considered a mystery series.

Like HBO's "Big Little Lies," all we know at the start is that someone is dead. Not until the end will we know the identity of the murderer or the victim. "Why Women Kill" ups the ante by spreading that formula across three different stories, plotlines and timelines. Each episode of the series bounces among 1963, 1984 and 2019. Each era has its own story and its own female protagonist. The common denominator is the house in which they all live. It's the same lavish Pasadena home renovated and redecorated for each decade.

In the '60s, for example, the new homeowners just moving into the neighborhood are Beth Ann and Rob, played by Ginnifer Goodwin and Sam Jaeger. They invite in the neighbors, Leo and Sheila, for coffee. And the second time Sheila, played by Alicia Coppola, notices something that annoys her, she speaks up.


ALICIA COPPOLA: (As Sheila) Rob, can I say something?

SAM JAEGER: (As Rob) Sure. What's up?

COPPOLA: (As Sheila) If you want more coffee, ask for it.

JAEGER: (As Rob) I beg your pardon?

COPPOLA: (As Sheila) Just tapping on your cup? Come on. That's how you treat a maid, not your wife.

ADAM FERRARA: (As Leo, laughter) OK. See, this is my fault. See, I bought Sheila a copy of "The Feminine Mystique." I thought it was a sex manual. She's been acting militant ever since. Sorry.

JAEGER: (As Rob) Honey, does my tapping offend you?

GINNIFER GOODWIN: (As Beth Ann) Of course not. Rob is such a wonderful provider. I consider it an honor to take care of him.

BIANCULLI: In the '80s, it's the era of "Dallas" and "Dynasty." And Lucy Liu plays her character, Simone, as a rich, pampered socialite. When we meet her, talking to a friend at a posh party she's throwing, Simone is very, very happy, though it won't last long. Katie Finneran plays her society friend Naomi.


LUCY LIU: (As Simone) I feel so badly for Wanda. Why don't I throw a lunch in her honor?

KATIE FINNERAN: (As Naomi) Oh, I don't think that's a good idea.

LIU: (As Simone) I think she could use a show of support from her friends.

FINNERAN: (As Naomi) Honey, Wanda doesn't like you.

LIU: (As Simone) You lie.

FINNERAN: (As Naomi) Remember when we went to Les Domes (ph)? Charles had just moved out the day before. Wanda was crushed.

LIU: (As Simone) And I told delightful anecdotes to make her laugh.

FINNERAN: (As Naomi) Stories about your trips to Italy and your thriving art gallery and how much money you're spending on your daughter's wedding. Misery loves company. You should have just said that your life isn't so perfect either.

LIU: (As Simone) But my life is perfect.

FINNERAN: (As Naomi) That's exactly the type of thing your friends don't want to hear.

BIANCULLI: And finally, from our current timeline, there's a successful lawyer named Taylor who has a very open marriage with her husband Eli. The problems that concern them, though, are fairly traditional. Eli is played by Reid Scott and Taylor by Kirby Howell-Baptiste, who also has a featured role in Hulu's new "Veronica Mars" series.


KIRBY HOWELL-BAPTISTE: (As Taylor) Do you ever wish I were more like this - cooking your breakfast and pouring your coffee?

REID SCOTT: (As Eli) I married a kick-ass lawyer. It's better than having my coffee poured.

HOWELL-BAPTISTE: (As Taylor) Good answer.

SCOTT: (As Eli) How about you? You ever resent me for not bringing home more money? It's been a while since I sold a script.

HOWELL-BAPTISTE: (As Taylor) You're trying.

SCOTT: (As Eli) But the last two years, you've been the breadwinner. That never bothers you?


BIANCULLI: Marc Cherry is as good as ever at creating characters we care about. And by the second episode in, no matter what timeline we're visiting, we're involved in the story and interested in the woman at its center. The acting and the set designs are excellent.

The only part of "Why Women Kill" that throws me a bit initially is that it's pandering to the freer standards of CBS All Access a bit too gratuitously. There are glimpses of nudity and droppings of F-bombs where they don't seem necessary. But these days, that may be the price of being on a streaming service or for persuading people to pay its monthly fee.

The creator of "Why Women Kill" has said that not only will this 10-episode series resolve all three mysteries and storylines, but if it's renewed, he'd like to launch a second season with all-new stories and characters while inviting back many of the cast members. That would make "Why Women Kill" a Marc Cherry comedy equivalent of "American Horror Story." And that does, indeed, sound like something potentially worth paying for.

GROSS: David Bianculli is editor of the website TV Worth Watching. His latest book is called "The Platinum Age Of Television: From 'I Love Lucy' To 'The Walking Dead,' How TV Became Terrific." After we take a short break, we'll remember jazz saxophonist and clarinetist Bob Wilber, who died last week. We'll listen back to an excerpt of my 1988 interview in which he talked about being mentored by Sidney Bechet. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.
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