Getting out of a bad relationship can be murder. That sounds a little excessive, but Marc Cherry knows how to make excessive work; as the creator of Desperate Housewives, he was serving up slices of murder, sex and obsession years before the current crop of female-led dramas reclaimed TV crime from mobsters and meth labs. With Why Women Kill he’s created a candy-coloured camp classic with a compassionate core: when society has you trapped in a role that’s killing you, sometimes the only way out is to get a little blood on your hands.
Taking place in the same Pasadena, California house over three separate decades, Why Women Kill sees Cherry playing up each era’s quirks (and their potential for comedy) to give each storyline their own distinct style and tone. With a large, diverse cast and plenty of secrets to go around, you’d be forgiven for thinking the murder side of things would be the most straightforward part of this series. But even there, Cherry delivers a twist, pretty much ruling out the most obvious angle – wives murdering their husbands – from the start. The only thing we really know for sure is that by the end of each storyline, somebody is going to end up dead.
In 1963 the house is the domain of Beth Ann (Ginnifer Goodwin). Her aerospace engineer husband Rob (Sam Jaeger, The Handmaid's Tale) treats her more like a servant than a partner; he even bought their new house without consulting her. There’s a shared tragedy that binds them, but it’s clear the bond weighs heavier on her, and when she discovers he’s cheating on her with waitress April (Sadie Calvano), her first reaction is to blame herself. Her plan to win this jerk back? Become the perfect wife in every way.
In 1984, socialite and art gallery owner Simone Grove (Lucy Liu) is seemingly living her best big-shouldered 80s life, complete with a house full of multiple paintings of herself – until she finds out that her husband Karl (Jack Davenport) has been sleeping around with men. His response to her discovery is a suicide attempt that only pisses her off even more. She doesn’t want him dead – she wants him to suffer.
In 2019, Taylor (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), a bisexual lawyer who has an open marriage with Eli (Reid Scott), decides to bring a third party, Jade (Alexandra Daddario) into their house. Taylor and Jade aren’t a new pairing, but it is new that Taylor starts bringing Jade home to stay (it seems Jade’s fleeing an abusive boyfriend). Eli isn’t into this new development at first, but soon comes around to the idea, when he develops his own attraction: What could possibly go wrong?
There are twists and turns by the truckload here, though careful storytelling ensures things never spiral out of control. Each plot starts out outlandish and only gets more so with each episode, but Cherry knows a show like this can’t survive on gasp-worthy surprises alone (though this delivers plenty of them). The excellent performances from the three leads is no shock; what does come as a surprise is just how much heart this series has.
Each of the three main characters starts off painted in broad strokes; Beth Ann just wants to please, Simone is a cartoony socialite tipped over into rage, and Taylor is a hyper-competent woman who has it all. But they rapidly develop beyond that, and it’s that development that makes this series so gripping to watch. These aren’t just stories of women driven to murder – they’re about women trapped inside society’s expectations, and the real struggle here is for each of them to find a way to break out and be their real selves.
There’s plenty of sly humour here and the campy side of things is fun throughout. But beneath that frothy surface this has more in common with something like Killing Eve than a midday murder movie. At its core, this series is about women realising they have to be the heroes of their own story. They’ve been dealt a bad hand, and the only way out is by stepping up and stepping out of the societal confines of any era.
The title might ask Why Women Kill, but the answer is clear from the start. The real mystery is, who’s going to make the mistake of standing in their way?
Why Women Kill is now streaming at SBS On Demand:
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