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New series review: Lipstick Jungle (NBC)

The women of Lipstick Jungle and sassy creator Candace Bushnell

Premiering: Thursday, Feb. 7, at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Brooke Shields, Kim Raver, Lindsay Price, Andrew McCarthy, Paul Blackhorne, Robert Buckley
Created by: Candace Bushnell

NBC's Lipstick Jungle has roughly the same makeup as ABC's already near-dead Cashmere Mafia.

OK, maybe the Peacock's three turbo-charged Manhattan career women don't wear quite as much mascara as ABC's four. Or maybe it's not even called mascara anymore. Your friendly male dunce otherwise can see right through these characters and judge them to be lacking in basic relatability to either gender. You don't pull for these women. But there is a rooting interest in seeing one of them get a high heel caught in a sidewalk grate and break a toothpick ankle.

Jungle is drawn from the novel by Candace Bushnell, who once collaborated with Cashmere Mafia maestro Darren Star on HBO's Sex and the City. They've since split up and decided to do essentially the same show for different networks.

Mafia, listless in the ratings since premiering on Jan. 6, has its season -- and almost assuredly series -- finale on Feb. 20th. Jungle arrives Thursday in NBC's ER slot. Two of its three main characters are named Victory and Nico. Medic, please.

The best-known cast member is Brooke Shields as the more conventionally named Wendy Healy. She's the head of Paramour Pictures, which allows her to drop an unseen Leonardo DiCaprio's name with recurring impunity As in, "Leo, hi. It's Wen."

When in doubt, Wen turns to her two grating best pals. Victory Ford (Lindsay Price) is a fashion designer whose latest lines have prompted unimaginative newspaper headlines such as "No Victory for Victory." Nico Reilly (Kim Raver from 24 and The Nine) is editor-in-chief of Bonfire magazine, which finally has gotten around to launching a Web site.

Both Wendy and Nico are married -- unhappily of course. Wendy, also equipped with a son, at least is in there pitching despite her hangdog husband Shane's (Paul Blackthorne) growing feelings of inferiority and resignation to cleaning up cat puke.

"I just thought my marriage was the one thing I didn't have to manage," she laments.

Nico's hubby seems like an amiable slug, but is too little-seen to be judged even that. She quickly and pantingly succumbs to the come-ons of a hunky young lecher named Kirby (Robert Buckley), sequentially met in a bar, a restroom and his place.

When not doing the doo-dah, high-strung, thoroughly unlikeable Nico rails against the sexists who are putrefying every damned high-level workplace in Manhattan.

If you want to start a family, "you're distracted," she moans. If not, "you're unnatural, you hate men, you're hiding testicles under your skirt."

Nico does not, however, bother to hide the big, bold phone number that Kirby scrawled on her leg. But her husband doesn't see it, and is quickly off to bed after proposing a little fire-starting getaway.

Meanwhile, Victory is being picked up -- in both a limo and a jet -- by a "bazillionaire" Mr. Big who otherwise has the garden variety name of Joe Bennett (Andrew McCarthy).

"Oh, don't give me that 'you're a whore look,' " Victory carps playfully after Wendy knowingly deduces they'll soon be sleeping together.

In today's increasingly wretched economy, wretched excess doesn't play too well. So in the end, who gives a crap whether Victory finds happiness with her smug bazillionaire. Or whether privileged Nico feels like having a testicle under her skirt after Kirby expertly rips her hemline.

Or finally, whether Wendy lands Leo to star as Galileo in the face of a rival studio's power play. "Dreamworks may be on our heels with their own Galileo movie," she frets. "If Dreamworks make a schmuck out of me, it's my ass on the line."

Cry us a river, all three of you. And then take a flying leap into the Hudson, would ya, please?

Grade: D