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Television review

‘Mistresses’ quite good at being quite bad

Rochelle Aytes (left) and Alyssa Milano play two of the characters looking for love, romance, and sex  in “Mistresses.”

DANNY FELD/ABC

Rochelle Aytes (left) and Alyssa Milano play two of the characters looking for love, romance, and sex in “Mistresses.”

“Mistresses” is the kind of heated-up summertime soap opera that could become a popular guilty pleasure. But you probably already guessed that from the title.

The new ABC series isn’t good in any way, except in its ability to suck you in with pretty actors and titillating themes. The writing is stock, the acting is hollow, and the direction is perky and workmanlike. It lacks any of the clever stylistic accents and camp humor of the somewhat similar “Desperate Housewives,” and pity the poor viewer who tries to apply logic to some of the plot twists.

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But there is very little new on network TV right now, except for the endless march of reality clones. And it is true that during the summer, high temperatures have been known to erode viewers’ critical faculties and trigger bouts of mindlessness. “Mistresses,” which premieres Monday night at 10 on Channel 5, just may fit the bill for a certain audience looking for a more condensed, higher budgeted version of “One Life to Live.” The show, about four women looking for love, romance, and sex, is perfectly placed in the timeslot after “The Bachelorette,” that similarly artificial and sudsy melodrama.

Alyssa Milano stars as Savi, a responsible lawyer whose marriage is strained as she and her husband (Brett Tucker) struggle with fertility issues. Will she succumb to her very attracted colleague (Jason George)? Or will she continue to be the good girl? Savi’s younger sister, Josslyn (Jes Macallan), is her polar opposite. Josslyn is sleeping around and running away from anyone who wants commitment, two qualities that please her boss. She lives by a phone app called Shagga, which alerts her when other sexually interested parties are nearby.

Karen (Yunjin Kim, from “Lost”) is a therapist who has some moral shortcomings, namely that she had an affair with a dying client and provided him with drugs to end his pain. Woops. When his son comes to her for advice about how to deal with his father’s infidelity, she’s officially off the ethical grid. And April (Rochelle Aytes) is a young widow and mother trying to get back in the dating pool. She’s sweet and naive, and therefore she’s bound to get the least amount of screen time.

The four women are, of course, types in their varying temperaments. In “Sex and the City” terms, Savi is the Carrie, Josslyn is the Samantha, Karen is the Miranda, and April is the Charlotte. But “Mistresses” has none of the humor, poignancy, and character of “Sex and the City,” nor does it have New York. So don’t be misled. Based on a British series with the same title, it’s generic through and through. Even the sex scenes — and there are a number of them — are bland and rote. They’re as athletic and plastic as a commercial for that new, expensive gym you’ll never go to.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.
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