Why Women Kill

3 out of 5

Created by: Marc Cherry

covers season 1

The campy set design and outfits; the chintzy music; the clever three-different-time-period cross-cutting; the pulp-comic animated opening titles, set to swanky lounge music… Why Women Kill’s first impression is way ahead of itself on sass and ‘tude, given a glittery and flighty direction in the first couple episodes by Marc Webb, and coming across as something of a slightly dated wish fulfillment: these three women (Ginnifer Goodwin; Lucy Liu; Kirby Howell-Baptiste) are each married to problematic dudes (Sam Jaeger; Jack Davenport; Reid Scott), and wouldn’t it be all rah-rah if our wives got a little murderous revenge? Sprinkle in an open marriage in the 2019 section of the show and now you’ve got something that seems all modern, is dressed up as a prestige series, but is wholly cookie cutter in its morals so as to remain palatable to a CBS audience.

Yeah, that was first impression.

Some things sell it, though: the lead performances, firstly, especially Goodwin and Liu, are hard to look away from, and you’ll catch some nuances in dialogue that maybe are clever. There are enough hints of this kind of stuff to hang in there, and sure enough, there’s some really smart subversion going on: Why Women Kill is absolutely leaning in to all of its tropes and the assumptions that come with them, very much playing in to the same type of assumptions we might have about the relationships in our lives, relative to each of the depicted eras. Over subsequent episodes, we’re allowed to dig deeper into our characters, and find some more realism, and challenge, hiding ‘neath the chipper surface. Each of the storylines takes some inventive swerves that balance TV sensationalism with plotting that follows with what we’re learning about everyone involve; that makes for pretty addictive viewing.

But there’s something of a tonal problem with this. As the series gets a bit more psychologically dense, it keeps up the chintzy exterior the whole time, playing everything with an undercurrent of humor, when scenes would likely have been better served with some consideration for restraint. This then tipples over into the plotting, unfortunately: the more obvious stuff we’d dodged ends up coming back into play in the back half of the season, as though the penance for having 3-dimensional characters is to have an uptick of 1-dimensional ones. The conclusions for each tale are satisfying, thankfully, but the leading-in problematic elements crowd the runtime such that the conclusions also seem rather rushed.

Why Women Kill’s first impression ultimately ends up being somewhat true: it’s trying to be too clever. However, somewhere in the middle of things, it manages to make you forget that impression, and it’s a strong enough reversal to make the season a worthwhile binge.