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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Why Women Kill’s second season still has great female leads, but less intrigue than the first

Allison Tolman as Alma in Why Women Kill
Allison Tolman as Alma in Why Women Kill
Photo: Nicole Wilder/Paramount+

Why Women Kill season one was an inspired bit of whimsy by Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry. We found out in episode one that three couples would be residing in the same lavish Pasadena mansion—from the ’60s, the ’80s, and present-day—and all three infidelity-related stories would wind up with a dead body being carted out of the house. The pilot instantly set up numerous questions—namely, who would be murdered, and how?—to lure the viewer into the next nine episodes. Those scenarios, naturally, unraveled in mighty different ways, but the stylized machinations (a perfect housewife wed to a womanizer, a diva married to gay man, a modern couple attempting a throuple, respectively) were enough to keep the CBS All Access viewers guessing until the bitter (and in some cases, bittersweet) end.

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The attempt was successful enough that WWK has landed a second season now at Paramount+. Unfortunately, Cherry has streamlined this time around, to a single timeline in 1949. Frumpy Alma (Allison Tolman), the veterinarian’s wife, longs to be a member of the glamorous Elysian Park Garden Club, headed by Rita Castillo (Once Upon A Times Lana Parrilla, doing the Evil Queen again).

There are welcome throwbacks to season one: Rita lives in that same opulent house, with its unmistakable master staircase. The melodious voice of Jack Davenport, who played Lucy Liu’s husband last season, narrates. But even though the visual appeal of this WWK sports the same storybook-like quality of Cherry’s other efforts (as well as the cheerily dramatic score), unfortunately, that’s where the similarity ends. Rita is sleeping with a hot younger guy, a plot point that Cherry loves to lead off with (in Desperate Housewives and WWK season one). Davenport promises that that Alma will transform from “inconsequential to infamous,” as unlikely as that evolution may seem at the start.

A frump becoming a society diva just seems like a thin storyline compared to the complicated plot tapestry of WWK season one. Fortunately, Cherry once again knows how to cast his female leads. If there’s anyone we’d want to watch blossom over the course of a season, it’s the effervescent Tolman, while Parrilla has her cutting-with-kindness remarks (“I started the day convinced I would never laugh again… and then you walked in, wearing that frock.”) down to an absolute science. Granted, having Alma’s seemingly benevolent husband (Nick Frost) turn out to be an Arsenic And Old Lace-style serial killer instead of yet another philanderer is a welcome twist, although a big reveal to blow in the very first episode. But it’s the main storyline that holds some suspense so far: What Alma’s husband’s efforts torpedo all of her lofty social-climbing aspirations? On a lesser level: Rita’s transformation into Carlo’s Misery-style nursemaid does have amusing—and gruesome—possibilities.

Illustration for article titled Why Women Kill’s second season still has great female leads, but less intrigue than the first
Photo: Nicole Wilder/Paramount+

Even beyond Tolman and Parrilla, the casting here is stellar: B.K. Cannon is delightfully appealing as Dee, the veterinarian couple’s daughter and streetwise diner waitress. Jordane Christie is nailing the Phillip Marlowe/Sam Spade 1940s L.A. private eye archetype. The stunning Virginia Williams, so charismatic in Fairly Legal and Teenage Bounty Hunters, makes the most of her scene with Alma as apparently the only nice person in that garden club.

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Hopefully Why Women Kill will expand past the main plot and give these secondary characters a chance to shine. After all, there’s no real suspense over whether or not Rita will try to off her old, rich husband (although her histrionics upon learning that he will survive his stroke were hilariously over the top). Even though he’s sleeping with two of the women we’ve met so far, the unfortunately named Scooter really doesn’t add much intrigue. But if episode two is any indication, these plots are set to take off at a snail’s pace. Nevertheless, Alma is a good person who just wants a better life—although not good enough, apparently, to inform the police about her murderous husband if it means losing her shot at the garden club. But if Why Women Kill is apparently focused on her journey from drab to glamorous this season, it’s fortunate that Tolman is an exemplary performer who rarely disappoints.

Stray observations

  • Anyone else having a hard time with the similarity in ages between Allison Tolman’s Alma and B.K. Cannon as her daughter? They’re less than a decade apart in real life. When Alma was hemming Dee’s dress, they seemed more like contemporaries than mother-daughter.
  • Also anyone else hoping that Dee ditches the bland Scooter for Vern, the detective? Scooter’s agent should be suggesting a name change, stat.
  • This was a great Dee line: “Violence doesn’t bother me… keep that in mind when you tip me.”
  • Tony winner Rachel Bay Jones is having a rough week on TV, what with playing the lead’s drug-addled mom on Panic and the cirrhosis-plagued Death Vet victim here.
  • That was some interesting foreshadowing though, when the Doc dropped her off the first time: He wasn’t checking so much to see if he was being watched, but to make sure he’d have an easy escape route once the deed was done.
  • The show also did an excellent job casting young Alma and Bertram in episode two.
  • Loved the vintage wallpaper credits, to better reflect this season’s time setting than the Roy Lichtenstein-inspired animations of last season.
  • But how do we feel about those judgmental mannequins though? Kind of falling on the twee side for me.
  • Favorite Frocks: Mad Mens Janie Bryant is costume designer here, so let’s include a space to spotlight (at least) one great outfit per episode. This week, have to give it up for Rita’s deep-V teal dress the night of her husband’s stroke. And the grape-hued dress she wore around town in episode two. Parrilla should be required to only wear jewel tones.
  • And welcome to Why Women Kill’s second season recaps, everyone! Looks like a fun summer.
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Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.