"Women on the Verge" of American TV?

Director Pedro Almodovar is developing a new English-language series. Please don't let it be another "Desperate Housewives"

Published April 24, 2009 1:28PM (EDT)

"Sex and the City." "The Real Housewives of Orange County" (and New York and Atlanta and now New Jersey). The recently canceled "Lipstick Jungle." The increasingly irrelevant "Desperate Housewives." In the past decade or so, it seems that every show -- be it a sitcom, reality series or nighttime soap--featuring an all- or mostly-female ensemble cast must conform to a certain set of rules: The characters must be broad caricatures. They must live for shopping and/or sex, preferably both. They must be inexplicably, incalculably wealthy. And if they do work, we can't hear too much about it.

But perhaps because the economic tide has turned and TV programming that celebrates rich people seems increasingly anachronistic, this vogue may finally be on its way out. As critics reserve their praise for shows like "30 Rock" and "Ugly Betty" that follow regular ladies' workplace travails, HBO is developing a series about a women's studies professor. And now Fox TV Studios has tapped Pedro Almodovar to work on an hour-long, English-language series based on his film "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown."

The Spanish filmmaker is famous for his empathetic, nuanced portrayals of women, in films such as 1999's "All About My Mother," 2002's "Talk to Her," and 2006's "Volver." Over the years, he has cultivated a talented ensemble of female actors, including Victoria Abril, Marisa Paredes and Penelope Cruz, in some of the most challenging performances of her career. Released in 1988, Almodovar's breakthrough "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (trailer posted below) follows a suicidal voice actress named Pepa (Carmen Maura) who is desperate to track down a boyfriend who has abandoned her. Meanwhile, Pepa's friend Candela (Maria Barranco), who happens to be dating a Shi'ite terrorist, is on the run from the law. Laugh-out-loud screwball antics -- featuring a young Antonio Banderas -- ensue.

The adaptation "will be a suburban drama about a group of women who have known each other for a long time, perhaps from college, who are in the middle of their lives and looking at the second half of their lives," said Mimi Schmir, a "Grey's Anatomy" alum who is set to write the pilot. That sounds different enough from the original -- and potentially similar enough to "Desperate Housewives" -- to raise my eyebrows. So here's hoping Fox gives Almodovar, who will supposedly be "very involved" in the project, the freedom to do what he wants with the series.

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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