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'A Girl Thing' wastes talented cast

By ERIC DEGGANS

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2001


On paper, it looked like a landmark TV event.

Consider the cast, which includes Stockard Channing, Rebecca De Mornay, Mia Farrow, Elle Macpherson, Glenne Headly, Kate Capshaw, Camryn Manheim, Allison Janney, Peta Wilson and Lynn Whitfield.

With its intriguing title, impressive talent roster, four-hour length and an urbane, percolating score by jazz trumpet master Terence Blanchard, A Girl Thing promised the kind of in-your-face, groundbreaking TV miniseries we've come to expect from pay cable giants like Showtime.

So why does it all fall so flat?

Possibly because A Girl Thing never seems sure of what it wants to be.

Featuring a quartet of stories centered on the patients of saucy, Manhattan-based psychiatrist Dr. Beth Noonan (Channing), this miniseries emerges as an ambitious yet annoyingly confused work.

Is it supposed to be a wry window into the lives of modern women? The first two stories, centered on a heterosexual woman who fears she's fallen in love with a bisexual friend, and three contentious sisters forced to live together to gain a huge inheritance, suggests so.

Is it supposed to be a comment on the ways some women sabotage their own happiness? The final story, featuring Manheim as a disturbed former patient who takes out her rage on Dr. Noonan in a startling way, points here. Or is it just an empty showcase for prominent actors to chew scenery and enjoy an almost pathologically woman-centered project?

Ding, ding ding. We have a winner.

It didn't have to be this way. Fashion model Macpherson shows real talent as an agonized, buttoned-down attorney struggling to handle her love for a bisexual advertising executive played by Capshaw.

But there is zero chemistry between the two women, adding a forced quality to every dating and love scene (despite the headlines over some explicit kissing and sex shown). It feels more like some guy's idea of what it would be like if two beautiful babes hooked up on pay cable.

Gathering De Mornay, Headly and Janney to play warring sisters was an inspired stroke. But Headly too often seems to equate shouting with emotion (a malady Manheim shares in her star turn), and all three prove such unlikable characters that when the unbelievable resolution finally comes, you're just glad it's all over.

As a guy, I was a little annoyed that nearly every man in this miniseries is clueless, ineffective, manipulative or all three. Even Sex and the City couches such one-sided portrayals in a cloak of urban satire; here, it's just clumsy demonizing.

Worse, besides Eve's Bayou star Whitfield's turn as a wife who turns the tables on her philandering husband (there's a story we've never seen before), there are no women of color who don't play sassy secretaries, maids or sidekicks.

In other words, if you're expecting artful insight, fresh drama or a new attitude, you'd better click over to Lifetime. A Girl Thing is too busy wallowing in its own star power to make an effective artistic statement -- a waste of talent and TV resources that should be a crime.

At a glance

A Girl Thing airs at 8 p.m. today and Jan. 27 on Showtime. Grade: D. Rating, TV-MA (Mature audiences).

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