Kim Cattrall Proves There's Still a Trail to Blaze After 'Sex and the City'

Cattrall plays a woman who is fiftyish, married, lost and puzzled by her midlife phase in the Canadian remake of 'Sensitive Skin.'

Michael Handelzalts
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Kim Cattrall in 'Sensitive Skin.' Prone to visions.
Kim Cattrall in 'Sensitive Skin.' Prone to visions.
Michael Handelzalts

Aspiring politicians are advised to acquire a thick, elephantine skin before they jump into the election fray, and voters had better follow suit, especially if they have to accept the defeat of their hopes. The voters who get their election-day wishes granted are thought of (by the losers, of course) as being a herd of rhinoceros – another thick-skinned creature – which stampede blindly forward, into an abyss.

So, instead of getting further into the thick and thin of the political “it,” I much prefer to follow other adventures in the skin trade, and draw your attention to “Sensitive Skin,” a Canadian remake of a 2005 British series with the same title. Unlike the recent myriad of series about young, independent, strong and successful women on the ascent (Olivia Pope, Claire Underwood, Annalise Keating or Alicia Florrick) this one is about a woman who is fiftyish, married, lost and puzzled by her midlife phase. The first season of six episodes is available on HOT VOD Xtra. A second season is supposedly being filmed in Toronto as you read this column.

The main magnet behind – or rather at the center – of the series is Kim Cattrall, the very sexy Samantha Jones of the “Sex and the City” quartet. She saw and liked the British version, which starred Joanna Lumley. As she was looking for a project to follow her more than a decade-long reign as the forty-something sexy lady, and being aware of what the passage of time means for her in the youth-and-beauty oriented world and its illusion-makers, she became passionate about it, and managed to get it on North American screens.

A mass of insecurities

Samantha Jones was very comfortable in her own unblemished, pampered, smooth and silky skin, and more than happy to show the viewer parts of it. Davina Jackson – the character into whose sensitive skin Cattrall sort of slipped here – is almost a full 180 degrees opposite: a fiftyish former model (more) and actress (less), she is temping at an art gallery, married to a completely self-absorbed journalist who loves her, of course, but loves himself much more.

To the viewer (at least this one, a self-absorbed journalist past his midlife crisis) she is a lovely, beautiful, attractive, intriguing woman – and my view is shared by almost any male character in the series, bar the husband. But to herself she is a mess of insecurities having anything to do with her – body, soul, skin, bones. She also has to deal with an older sister, an Alzheimer-ridden dying mother, a brand new apartment in the city that has to be “broken in” and furnished, and a twenty-something rather obnoxious son who blames his parents for everything.

As you may have gathered by now, it is not a very uplifting series. In a way, having glanced over my own description of it made me wonder why anyone would want to see the misery of his – or her – own daily life mirrored on screen. After watching the six episodes of the first season, though, I have to admit that I’m sort of infatuated with Davina-Kim, and very eager to find out what will happen to her next. Cattrall, who has a very successful theater career on both sides of the Atlantic, views the series as her contribution to the discourse about a Woman’s World, paving the way and giving a voice – and body and skin – to fifty-something females, just as she did for forty-somethings in “Sex and the City.”

In her passionate quest to produce the series (she is an executive producer, as well as the lead) she enlisted fellow Canadian writer Bob Martin and actor-director Don McKellar to direct and play her husband in the series. In a way, his personality overshadows hers, since part of her (Davina’s) problem is the fact that her husband, Al, behaves like life and the series are all about him. If she herself is a mess of insecurities, groping and puzzling her way along, he flaunts himself around, most of the time getting away with it.

The series takes its time, and dares to stray from the sitcom pattern into areas bleaker and quirkier. Davina is prone to visions – seeing her dying mother’s character rising up from its soon-to-be corpse and addressing her, or sensing her own double voicing her own doubts – and in one of the episodes it gets hilariously funny: Davina attends, alone, a performance of “Three Sisters” (This is the title of the episode; Al is otherwise engaged with himself), and starts to conduct – in her mind and on the screen – a conversation with the characters-actresses. They vie for Moscow, and she gets the dire need and the longing, but asks “Why Moscow? Why not Santa Monica?” One of the sisters does have an answer, and it gets really funny, in my humble male theater-critic view; but I don’t want to spoil your viewing pleasure.

It is, in a way, a very intimate, almost a “chamber” series that takes its time, and its characters do get under the viewer’s skin. But it is not only about him and her – or rather her and him. A couple of secondary characters also get the limelight: Theodore, the friendly, intelligent and extremely well-read neighborhood drug dealer (joints are partaken of freely on screen by all, bar the son); and Al’s physician, played with relish by Elliott Gould, who scares his patients witless with maladies that have to be checked by very expensive tests, only to come up with a negative result – doing wonders for the patients’ psyche and the good doctor’s bank account.

So, you see, elections come and go, but the important things – women, men, soul, body and skin – don’t care about such trifles. Getting a sense of one’s own sensitivity is probably the only thing that still makes sense.