Flashing forward to the mid-80s and the house has had a spectacularly garish makeover — purple sponge-painted walls and salmon-coloured sofas — by its new owners, glamorous socialite Simone Grove (Lucy Liu) and gallery owner husband Karl (Jack Davenport).
We first meet them as they’re hosting a lavish party attended by guests who could have stepped off the set of Dynasty, when Simone discovers an anonymous note revealing Karl, to whom she’s been married for 10 years, is gay.
Further into the future, in 2019, the house has been bought by screenwriter Eli (Reid Scott) and his bisexual lawyer wife, Taylor (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), a couple with an open marriage which ends up being tested when one of Taylor’s “playmates” moves in and they become a “throuple”.
Each situation is not straightforward, and the stories, while not exactly nuanced, do take some surprising and entertaining turns.
Rather than confronting her husband, Beth-Ann decides instead to befriend his mistress, which leads to an unlikely friendship (and one of the series’ more serious comments on life for women in the 1960s), Simone begins an illicit affair with her best friend’s 18-year-old son, and Taylor and Eli’s open marriage experiment turns into something from a slasher film.
Cherry, who began his career as a writer on The Golden Girls and has made his name as a writer of fierce female characters, uses the three leads here to explore the ways in which the expectations for women have remained the same since the 1960s, even if the solutions have changed over time.
Beth-Ann, Simone and Taylor each begin the series as stereotypes of their era but all evolve — something that doesn’t seem immediately likely as the melodrama and camp factors are high. Everything, in fact, is heightened, right down to the decor, but the often cartoonish nature is softened by the great cast and the unexpected twists and turns.
While Howell-Baptiste and Scott’s open marriage storyline is fun, it lacks some of the drama of the ’60s and ’80s stories, both of which are just a little more fun, both aesthetically and narratively.
Goodwin is terrific as the quietly seething Beth-Ann, who eventually comes to her senses and manages to emancipate not only herself, but a mistreated neighbour as well, and while Liu and Davenport appear to be having the most fun with their fabulous bitchy, over-the-top performances — they have the best lines and the best/worst costumes — the pair is also responsible for the most moving scene in the series.
Why Women Kill is on SBS On Demand from Thursday, July 16.
Kylie Northover is Spectrum Deputy Editor at The Age